Ifeoma Monye: “If women are respected at home, it will spill over into other aspects of life” | The Guardian Nigeria News

Ifeoma Monye is the 65th President of the International Women’s Society (IWS). Management consultant, execution-focused strategist and political economist, she is a partner at Ciuci Consulting. Monye holds a degree in Economics and Politics from the University of Essex and also completed a General Management Program (GMP) in Business Administration and Management from Harvard Business School. In this interview with IJEOMA THOMAS-ODIA, Monye shares her passion for helping people expand their knowledge and personal development through her activities at IWS, with a focus on her program touching on STEM, coding and mentoring, and other women’s issues.

Tell us about your professional background?
I returned to Nigeria 20 years ago; I had studied economics and politics in the UK, and returned to Nigeria wanting to work for the United Nations to propose policies that affect business. I came back and realized things were slightly different here, so I thought about what else I could do.

I worked in Viju with Mrs. Funke Osibodu where I learned a lot from her, then moved to Minaj where I was responsible for conglomerate strategy. Minaj is in media, real estate and printing. From there, in 2011, I moved to Ciuci, where I work as a partner. I worked in strategy, management consulting and operations management.

Tell us about some of the programs you have for your tenure?
We have six projects; we have a day nursery, which was established in 1957 in Yaba for market women to ensure their children have the right foundations; it’s still ongoing. We have the skills acquisition center in Lekki where we teach catering and event planning for ladies; they do sewing, fashion and design. We have adult education, computer science and we also have a home for abandoned children in Ijebu Ode and our scholarship program. We also have our widows trust fund.

During my tenure, I will focus on three main things, which are STEM, chess, and mentoring. Chess is very important and people don’t realize the skills you have. Chess is almost a strategy – you’re tense in front of your opponent, thinking about their next steps and how you’re going to handle them. They are therefore permanent skills that they will use in different areas of their lives. These are cognitive skills that we teach children to adapt into other areas of their lives.

Mentoring is also important as it will help instill a sense of obligation and understanding how to handle and overcome life’s challenges when they arise. We can’t do it alone, so we partner with organizations like Chess to Slums to make it happen. They are the ones who help us with the programs as they already are in Oshodi and Makoko.

However, the spread to other states is based on available resources. We have been to IDP camps in the north, but it is important to have people on the ground to lead the programs.

Are there plans to extend the activities of the International Women’s Society to other parts of the country?
IWS can’t do it all, so we partner with organizations like Chess to Slum and many others to bring initiatives to many places. It comes down to the resources and people of those states. At the moment we are also visiting IDP camps in the north. But then we need adequate manpower to coordinate these things in these areas. It’s one thing to say yes, you want to want to expand, but are there people on the ground who would continue to carry this vision there? But whenever we needed us, we also went to the scene.

Which of the 64 former presidents of the IWS would you most imitate or admire the most?
I admire them all and I would explain why. When I arrived, I decided that I wanted to learn from each of them. I arranged a lunch date and we had about 27 of them present and it was a great experience. So, for me, it’s about getting the best out of each of them and also learning from the ones that people think didn’t do well. IWS is not about the president; it is an institution. It is about serving to move the organization forward.

In your opinion, how do you think women can become more relevant in the political space?
It starts with the house. If women are respected in their homes, this will spill over into other aspects of life. What if our husbands, our brothers, our sons respected women? If we respect our wives, our daughters and our sisters, this would translate into all other areas. We need to start having these conversations in our homes.

I’ve been in situations where men talk to me anyway, and people say things like ‘but you have a wife at home’. Sure! If you can talk to me like that, it’s because you have no respect for your wife. So we need to have these conversations in our families and our homes. I think that’s an essential part that we have to do.

Also, we need to tell our husbands, our brothers, our sons to be part of this conversation. We need to have a conversation with men and get them on our side. We’re not trying to make them feel threatened; they have a role to play. Similarly, women also have a role to play. Until we do our part, our own economy will not grow.

Regarding rejected gender bills, what do you think the government should do?
I think it’s up to us to have this conversation. One of the things I would say is that it is important that we continue to highlight our importance and show it on the different platforms that we find, whether it is at rallies or demonstrations.

But at the same time, nothing prevents us from putting women in power, if we find a sufficiently competent woman. We must realize that we are the voters and that we have the power. We have to realize that whether or not they reject the bill, we could put as many women as we want in positions; the power belongs to us.

Research suggests that girls are hardwired from childhood to be natural caregivers and housewives, in that when a boy buys a toy car or gun, a girl buys a doll or teddy bear. The study finds that girls are wired not to think about technical things, do you agree?
I agree that it is a social thing. But when you look at it, you see that girls are naturally just as curious as boys. How society has now managed to shape the minds of these girls is one thing. I have two daughters, and I’m raising them like my dad raised me to be whatever they want to be. There are no limits.

Growing up, I never thought about ‘I’m a girl or I’m a boy’, I was given every opportunity. I was able to expand my mind and see things beyond what they are. What we do is make girls who they want to be as long as they decide they want to. It is not up to society or her family to decide what she should become, but by finding her natural talents. What are his talents? Let her try different things and see what she’s good at and that’s part of what we try to do with our programs. They try different things and then see what comes naturally to them and through mentorship we can tell them that whatever it was, they were told; they can be much more. We would let them know that whatever they want, be it a lawyer, a singer, a stay-at-home mom, they have a choice and they are the ones who decide what they want.

What is your message to those who think feminism is a war against men?
There are different ways to say something while getting the message across. If the word feminism is the problem, maybe we drop that word for them. Let them hear and understand what it is about. If they can’t get past feminism, we make them understand what it is.

What we are saying is that we have the right to choose what we should do. We have the right to control our own lives and whether our husbands can become Nigerian nationals by marriage. That’s all we say.

Again, we need to figure out how to get people who don’t listen to us to listen to us; it’s not necessarily a fight. I’m not saying we shouldn’t fight for our rights, but we have to learn to get people on our side; we have to get them to listen. We need to understand their issues and then get their buy-in.

What challenges do you foresee and what is your strategy to overcome these challenges?
If we look at Nigeria as a whole, just as we talk about rejected bills, how can we participate in the conversation with the people overseeing the making of the law? In addition to protesting; yes, protesting is fine, but how can we have a seat at this table so that they can understand us and give us the change we desire?
I see IWS as a face in this and at the same time we need to empower more girls and equip women as well to ensure that when the time comes they can stay there and do great things.

What do you think of the gender pay gap?
I believe that if a woman brings as much value as her male colleague, she should be paid the same. Paying has nothing to do with gender, and of course it still exists in Nigeria.

What advice do you have for other women who want to sit at the same table as you right now?
Focus on doing your best whatever tasks are given to you and whatever field you are in. I think sometimes we miss it when we keep looking up, forgetting where we are. You have to start somewhere. To be a good leader, you must be a good follower.

You must be able to follow the instructions of those ahead of you. Understand them, because that’s how you learn, you understand how they do certain things. Make sure that whatever position you are currently in, you give your best and build that track record so that by the time you get there, no one will dispute that you deserve it.

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