The prevalence of male-dominated career fields and more-than-common narratives of a woman’s supposed emotional and intellectual inferiority to men – to the point where women are deemed “too emotional” to run the country – are just a few of the constant reminders of the patriarchal world we live in and the unfavourable conditions women have to endure as a result of it. And it’s definitely not news that women on this side of the world have it even worse than our western counterparts. Laws against women are glaring proof of this. For example, section 360 of The Nigerian Criminal Code makes the unlawful and indecent assault of a woman or girl a misdemeanour which is punishable with a two-year prison sentence. Assaulting a “male person”, on the other hand is a felony punishable with a three-year prison term, under section 353 of the same law. The positive side, however, if we choose to see it that way, is that women are way past the times of sitting at the back of the figurative bus and lowering our voices so we’re not accused of being too loud. Young women are taking charge, breaking barriers and even better, creating communities and platforms to foster strong bonds and give women the spaces and platforms to thrive and be empowered.
Odunayo Eweniyi and Damilola Odufuwa are two of the young women doing just this. They started Wine & Whine NG, with the goal to “create a women-focused network” for women to “learn, relax and more importantly, connect with other women” says Odunayo. The community hosts regular events where women can discuss social issues, share common experiences and vent over a glass of wine, or two.
Beyond the monthly events, a growing online community also exists, providing a platform for women to connect and engage with one another through content and conversations encouraging women to take charge and denounce patriarchal narratives.
One of the highlights of Wine & Whine NG is the all-female parties where women are able to network while partying and having a good time in safe spaces completely free of unwanted male attention and the dangers many women face when we’re required to be in the same spaces as entitled, overbearing men. The murder of Regina Kinya, a Kenyan woman who was stalked and killed in 2017 by her estranged husband, Daniel Oyondi Moi after she reportedly turned him down is just one of the multiple reports of women being harmed and even murdered for rejecting the advances of men.
In addition to such dangers, women tend to face unwarranted barriers when trying to break into a new career or industry as many, if not most fields are still very much male-dominated. This is one of the reasons why starting Femme Africa; “a community for women in the creative industry” was a no-brainer for Ayomide Dokunmu.
“For me, it was something I couldn’t believe no one was doing already and at first, I thought it was because it wasn’t possible.” Working in media however made her realise that it was something that was necessary as every woman she came across had stories about the difficulties and harassment that came with working in the creative industry.
In an effort to create the most ideal situation of women being provided with equal access to break into and succeed in the creative industry, Femme Africa hosts a number of events, one of them being the Femme Showcase, which is a quarterly event with a line-up of just women; a band, performers and a DJ. Ayomide’s main goal with starting the platform was to “connect women to each other, the fans and to the industry”, something that is undeniably important for female creatives to fully and successfully thrive in the industry.
Despite the efforts being made to ease women’s sometimes long-winded journey to success, barriers no doubt still exist. “Not having enough mentors to go to, to start your journey, or speak to for advice… the rampant sexual harassment in the industry… also the idea of tokenism; that there can only be ‘one top woman’ in the industry” are just some of the barriers that exist for women in the creative industry, says Ayomide.
Such barriers and difficulties unarguably have a negative impact on women’s mental and emotional health. And unfortunately, this tends to affect our work and productivity, which puts us at even more of a disadvantage. This highlights the importance of spaces such as Tribe XX Lab.
A women’s only co-working and wellness hub, situated in Lagos Island, Tribe XX Lab was founded by Emalohi Iruobe because she wanted women to have “safe spaces to expand, research, network and grow, in order to tackle the insidious ways institutionalised misogyny impedes their path.” She created the community with the intention to not only “change the perceptions of women and their role in society” but to also create a dynamic where women are “working together to get each other a seat at the table.”
With everything from open-plan working areas and private offices to nap rooms, pop-up restaurants and wellness retail, the hub provides a much needed space for women to work and connect but also let their hair down and unwind after a long day or week.
The Covid-19 pandemic and the resulting government ordered stay-at-home measures, leading to the postponement of any group gatherings and activities, have meant that these women-focused spaces have had to adopt a more virtual format. This has proven to be a challenge for many businesses but has also fostered many innovative solutions. Tribe XX Lab, for example, have created XX-CEED, an upcoming “virtual celebration of humanity and culture, with a special focus on women, girls and black people across the globe”. The event, which is scheduled to take place one weekend in each summer month starting on June 19th, was created to “bring people together, educate and entertain them safely” says Emalohi.
These communities are all working towards the same common goal: Creating safe spaces for women to not only succeed, but also just be. In Emalohi’s words, “The unified goal of all groups committed to helping women scale up in every area of their lives is admirable and an opportunity to link and learn”.
In recent times, the prevalence of gender based violence and the ongoing cases of rape and sexual assault against women and girls, have only further highlighted the need for, and the importance of these spaces, as well as more specific centres for women and girls, designed as a haven from these incessant attacks.
“Femme Africa is always happy to lend our voices to causes that seek to protect and ensure that women are safe. We use our platform to amplify voices already in that space as they are more equipped to handle such sensitive matters”, which they do through sharing resources with their community and “ensuring more women are heard in the creative industries” says Ayomide Dokunmu.
Platforms such as Femme Africa, which are dedicated to catering and caring for women have the effect of promoting and encouraging a sense of solidarity, making women feel secure that there are indeed many of us who are united in fighting against gender based violence and fighting for the survivors of rape and sexual assualt to be given justice.
An important conversation to still be had is whether patriarchy and gender inequality are knocking on the doors of extinction as a result of the movements and initiatives being implemented by women all over the world.
For Odunayo, the co-founder of Wine & Whine NG, while some progress has been made, we still have a long way to go. “Women are braver, more outspoken, and generally more visible than we were, say, even five years ago. This generation – my generation – of women is inspiring, and I think that when we look back in five to 10 years, we will have made even more progress and we will owe it to [the] women who took a stand in this very moment, at this very time.”
We might not be where we want or need to be just yet, but with the plethora of women-led and focused communities centred on providing safe and connected spaces for girls and women, to thrive, express and network safely, in addition to women making a conscious effort to directly empower one another, we’re definitely headed in the right direction towards eradicating harmful, gender-fueled practices and thus, making the world a safer and more conducive space for women and girls.
Photo of Ayomide Dokunmu by Demilade Roberts.