Tuesday 22 October 2019


Participants at the Speech Contest
I have been volunteering with Sow Purpose Initiative since 2017. At that time, it was called SOW Foundation and the general mandate was to empower young (and vulnerable) women and girls by reaffirming their worth, addressing societal bias that keep these women and girls struggling to catch up with men and boys in this century, and promoting a culture of excellence for them.

When the founder, Dr. Victoria Kumekor, reached out to me in 2017 to give a talk to the girls about body positivity, I was excited to do it. A number of students were chosen from different schools in Zaria, Kaduna State, Nigeria, for the pilot event. It was a beautiful event where we got to bond with students from different backgrounds and ideologies. I knew that I was invited to teach the girls, but it really was a give-and-take session; I learned so much from our interaction. Seeing how much we inspired these young women, I decided that I would continue to volunteer with the Initiative as long as I was required to.

So when Dr. Victoria, or as I call her – Vick, reached out to me to talk about the event planned for this year, I knew that I was going to make myself available. While the first two sessions had happened in Zaria, this one was going to happen in Akure, Ondo State.

I remember when I saw the theme for this year’s event; ‘Half The Sky’. I wondered what it was about and asked Victoria to explain. She sent me the working document for the event.

When I finally understood what she meant, I was even more excited. But more than that, I was pumped that the format for this year’s event was a little different from the previous two.

SOW Purpose Initiative was going to organize workshops on educating girls and discussions on equality in the different schools they had reached out to, with a speech contest by representatives of each school serving as the culmination of these workshops. These workshops were meant to dispel myth and misconceptions about the place of girls and women in the home, their immediate community and the world at large.

After months of planning, the events began to draw near. The team started with workshops in each of the schools and on October 12, 2019, the speech contest was held in commemoration of the International Day for the Girl Child.

The workshops were eye opening…but not as shocking as I would have expected. I think I am now jaded but that is a conversation for another day.

When the conversations started with the students in their schools, two major talking points were focused on;

1.     Career choices the students felt were off-limit to girls; and
2.     Their thoughts on basic equality, human respect and rights.

Photos from the Workshop
Most of the students – and it begs to be emphasized that this includes male and female students – believed that girls shouldn’t be in engineering, construction, mining, carpentry, politics, professional driving (and they didn’t mean Formula 1), and a couple of other supposedly male dominated careers. They all agreed that these jobs were ‘inappropriate’ for women and girls as they were not ‘strong enough’.

In similar fashion, when asked if girls should be respected the same way boys are, there was a resounding ‘no’. The reasons were many: ‘Girls were made to serve boys by God’, Boys are more special than girls’, Boys are physically stronger than girls’, ‘Girls are incompetent’, ‘If given same level of respect girls tend to misuse it’ and the ever present and usually unsurprising, ‘Girls are not equal to boys’. They were literally parroting what the greater society thought and felt towards women and girls. But as unsurprising as it all was, I was still sad that at their young ages, they already had these beliefs that seemed so set in stone. Could we really change their views?

Not to be daunted, the Initiative explained why these postulations were untrue and why it was of utmost importance that these students unlearn the things they held as truths. Each of the schools were then tasked with presenting one boy and one girl who would speak about girls holding up half the sky at the speech contest.

The day finally arrived.

As the students began to trickle into the venue of the event, I wondered what I was going to be hearing from them. I was to serve as a judge for the contest and I think I was probably more nervous than the students. I am very easy to read, and I needed to get my poker face on. Soon enough, we were good to go.

The Judges.
From left to right: Mr. Eze Chinedu, Dr. Oguntade Funmilayo and Ramatu Ada Ochekliye (me).
It was interesting hearing the students speak about the topic. With many of the boys and girls, you could tell they were just going through the motions. With others, their belief shone through. Two girls in particular caught my interest; Okhiulu Gima from Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA) Group of Schools and Nancy Orisamolor from Becky Parker School, both in Akure. Gima was amazing with her storytelling, linking each of her points to the next in a way that just made you stay glued to what she was saying. It is important that I mention that she was soft-spoken; something that could have worked against her as most of the other students were boisterous. But her cool and calm, coupled with her storytelling technique, kept me rivetted. Nancy on the other hand brought her points home. While most of the other speakers were mentioning Malala Yousafzai – I mean, everyone mentioned her! – Nancy led by sharing the work of Becky Anyanwu-Akeredolu: an aquaculture farmer; proponent for early detection of, and curing cancer; and First Lady of Ondo State. Nancy mentioned other women who were Nigerian, before she spread out to the continent and the rest of the world.

I was impressed with both girls!

Winners of the Shades of Us Prize for creative storytelling.
From Left to Right: Gima Okhiulu, Ramatu Ada Ochekliye, and Nancy Orisamolor.
And though I didn’t know if they would win, I knew I had to do something for them. So, on behalf of Shades of Us, I donated a cash gift to these amazing girls and promised to publish their articles on the blog in the future. Surprisingly, they both came 4th place in the contest, but it was good. They have such a bright future ahead of them.

At the end of the contest, we all agreed that the students were able to speak to the central themes of the contest and we hope it becomes the spark that goes on to burn into raging passion for these global goals.

Overall, I think SOW Purpose is doing a fantastic job with young women by changing long-held narratives that limit the contributions of these women towards the sustainable development goals. In Dr. Victoria’s words, We do a great disservice to the world if we do not teach girls that they can achieve great feats, that they hold up half the sky. Consequently, we do ourselves a great disservice if we do not get boys into the equality conversation and raise a new generation of men who know they hold up half the sky; and women and girls, the other.’

More photos from the event below.

Speech Contest participants.

Gima Okhiulu making her speech. 

Announcing the winners of the competition.

Third place winner

Second place winner.
Winner of Half the Sky Speech contest.

Winners of the contest with the SOW Purpose Initiative team in Akure.

Dr. Victoria, Dr. Oguntade and other members of the SOW Purpose Initiative team in Akure. 

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