Nothing can stop me now
Ismailia Oluwayemisi Grace never imagined she would emerge as the first ever female President of the Estate Management and Valuation Department in the history of Lagos State Polytechnic, Ikorodu Campus. But she was determined to challenge the students and lecturers who thought a woman could never lead the department.
Convincing her colleagues to vote for her was no easy task, but she succeeded, beating her male counterpart by 50 votes. “Before joining Purple, I never believed I could go for this position. I was shy, I could hardly voice my ideas and I simply did not believe in myself,” explains Yemisi. “I would find myself speaking in hushed tones but this didn’t stop my facilitators from believing in me. They’d always say, ‘Yemisi, you can do this, believe in yourself. Their confidence in me helped bring about a new direction in my journey’’ she adds.
A V4C survey exploring young people’s core values and influences highlighted that while there is an appetite among young people to embrace women as leaders, a series of misperceptions exist about women’s ability to lead and make decisions under pressure which justify the low level of women vying for leadership positions. As part of its work to empower adolescent girls and young women, Voices for Change (V4C) has been reaching out to both young women and men who are students aged 16-25 through its ‘Purple Safe Spaces’ programme. Seen as a place where participants can feel physically and emotionally safe and are free to express themselves without fear of being judged, Purple Safe Spaces take place over a period of 12 weeks in selected post-secondary institutions. During this time, participants are taken through a curriculum aimed at equipping them with necessary life and leadership skills.
By providing Yemisi with the encouragement to speak up, the Purple Safe Spaces programme has helped her to understand that she has equal rights in society. The programme has also taught Yemisi how to improve her communication skills, plan properly and negotiate better – qualities she swiftly put into practice when she had to explain the need to strike a balance between doing her house chores and meeting her academic and leadership commitments, to her mother. “Initially my mother was not happy about my getting involved in politics, as she had concerns I could neglect house chores, but I was able to convince her by ensuring that what is necessary for me to do in the house is done at the right time.” “Now, she gets happy when she hears my colleagues call me President,” she adds.
Yemisi isn’t the only one in her family to have changed as the result of her participation. “My younger brother who just went to his NYSC camp cannot stop thanking me for giving him that opportunity to learn how to cook and wash. He now understands.” Yemisi always makes an effort to share what she has learned to make him understand that “if he truly wants to see his future wife in a good health, happy and still youthful regardless of age, he needs to learn how to assist in the house chores.” “If my parents did not have any female child, who would have been doing the house chores?” she smiles.
Yemisi is determined to break the widely held societal myth that a woman cannot lead or could be a ‘proud’ leader and continues to find ways to break down gender boundaries. By designing her own clothes and taking on jobs during the holidays, she has become financially independent and is now able to support her family. “I started my own tailoring business after attending one of our safe space sessions on Money and Power. The session really resonated with me. I realised I can avoid depending on a man or even my parents financially. I don’t have to wait to beg my boyfriend or my parents; having this business gives me a choice. This is my understanding of equal rights.”