Olufunke Baruwa : Working to close the Gender Gap

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Olufunke Baruwa is a gender and development practitioner who currently serves as the C.E.O of the Nigerian women’s Trust Fund. Hear her story about her life and career.

Tell us about yourself – a brief bio

I am Olufunke Baruwa, I was born on November 9, 1976; I am forty years old. I believe in and pursue the inclusion of women on all fronts. I am also a passionate gender and development practitioner with particular focus on inclusion of women and girls in economic, social and political circles in Nigeria. I have been interfacing with government, development partners and civil society. I am a public speaker and facilitator on women’s leadership, gender relations, governance and team dynamics.

I hold a B.Sc. Business Administration (University of Abuja); an MBA in Management (University of Nigeria, Nsukka) and post-graduate certifications in Public Policy & Management and Gender from the Universities of East Anglia and York, UK.

I am married with two young daughters one of whom is a teenager. My husband and I have made our home in Abuja with our children for the last 14 years.

My career in government spans over 16 years first as Program Officer (Roads) at the defunct Petroleum (Special) Trust Fund in 2000 and then as Program Officer on pro-poor programs focused on skills acquisition and economic independence of women and youth at the National Poverty Eradication Programme; then as Admin Officer in the Ministry of Police Affairs. After which I served as pioneer Gender Advisor at the Office of the Senior Special Assistant to the President on MDGs, with responsibility for designing and implementing programs to fast track the achievement of Goal 3 – “To promote gender equality and empower women” and as Technical Assistant on Research, Policy & Planning working on inclusion of women and girls in ICT at the Ministry of Communication Technology.

As one of ‘17 women changing the world’ identified by the Institute for Inclusive Development at its 2015 Colloquium held at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government in Cambridge, Massachusetts, I a member of the Institute’s Women Waging Peace Network.

I currently set the strategic vision and mobilize resources as the Chief Executive Officer of the Nigerian Women Trust Fund – a technical and financial resource for women in politics and decision making in Nigeria.

Interesting! what made you decide to choose a career in gender and developmental issues?

Oh well, I didn’t choose my career path, rather it chose me. I started out with the private sector, I wanted to be a successful woman in the corporate world (when my dream of becoming a medical doctor faded) but then I got a job with PTF in 1999 as a Program Officer (Roads). My time there showed me first-hand how the social sector really impacts on the life of the ordinary Nigerian. I fell in love with that line of work and subsequent postings as a civil servant have taken me to where I can help  ensure that government policies and interventions reach the masses.

My “aha” moment came when I worked in the MDGs Office for over 9 years as the Gender Advisor and that was where I really found my calling and here I am today and there has been no turning back.

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Usually when anyone hears you are a gender activist it paints a picture of a militant lady but we know that’s not the case. Tell us what your job entails especially at the Women’s Trust

I really don’t know why people demonize those who work on gender issues . The labels and stereotypes are uncalled for and I believe it’s a deep seated fear and lack of understanding of the issues that gender activism stands. A gender activist advocates for equal opportunities for men and women.

My job at the Fund entails mobilizing technical and financial resources for women, advocating for inclusion of women in governance and decision making positions as well as providing the indices on the gender gaps at all levels of government to policy makers.

So how are you able to increase women participation in governance and politics nationwide? 

Our work at the Women Fund is 4 pronged if I may use that word. We work in four thematic areas: Gender Advocacy, Democracy, Leadership & Governance; Research & Information and Fundraising & Grantmaking. Through this, we provide technical and financial resources for women to run for office. Since our establishment in 2011 we have funded the campaigns of about 125 women; lobbied government and other stakeholders to get more women in public office; churned out statistics on the gender gaps in decision making positions; built the capacities of hundreds of female politicians, mentored hundreds of young women through our mentorship and young women leadership programs; and showcase the capabilities of women politicians and leaders through a vibrant social media agenda i.e. blogs, newsletters, twitter conferences, Facebook and website.

Apart from gender discrimination women also face age discrimination, What’s your advice to the young lady facing gender based discrimination on the job? 

Ageism is an African phenomenon, it’s a culture that is both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand it’s a good thing to respect your elders and be courteous. However, when it reduces the capabilities of young people to the background, it is doing this nation a great disservice. According to the National Bureau of Statistics in its 2012 national youth survey report; youths of working age, in the age bracket of 15 to 35 years are nearly 70 million persons in a population of 166 million Nigerians; of these youths 54% are unemployed. So, we cannot continue to ignore the potential of our youth, we either give them their place or go extinct in this global world turned village.

For the young woman in Nigeria, it’s almost double jeopardy – first, she’s female, then she’s young. So, my advice to young women is to continue to strive for perfection, “don’t give up….dare up!”

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What’s your take on mentoring especially in changing the narrative towards women in this nation?

Our Creating Spaces Project encourages women to participate in the political process by running for office, making their votes count for candidates of their choice and sparking civic awareness amongst girls and young women. The Women Fund approach to engaging young women is to steer them towards credible and cerebral leadership through mentorship. With the support of Voices for Change Program (V4C), we mentor 60 aspiring young women in a mentorship program for a period of six (6) months. This intellectual interaction between mentors and mentees aims to groom a successor generation of women leaders and increase women’s leadership capacity and ability to participate in decision making platforms.

I believe African women are burdened by the weight of patriarchy, misinterpretation of religious tenets and a culture that has refused to grow beyond the Stone Age. These factors are exploited by a majority of men who are sole beneficiaries of the status quo to continue to keep women and girls behind.

I also see the culture that grooms women to aspire to marriage and motherhood beyond and above all other virtues while grooming men to aspire to greatness in other spheres as flawed. Marriage and family are good, but that shouldn’t be all that women should be encouraged to aspire to. This societal expectation of marriage and children places an unnecessary burden on women to see themselves as failures if they do not have a family of their own even when they are successful in their own way.

I strongly believe that the African woman has great potential that we can harness to really develop our continent. Africa is decades behind the rest of the world because we choose to play ostrich to the changes taking place in our world. The custodians of our culture and tradition are comfortable with lording it over women when the rest of the world are now working together with men and women; our politicians have marked the political landscape as “men only”; our law makers are busy legislating over women’s bodies and right to their future; our educational system has refused to plan with futuristic ability. As President Barrack Obama’s words “Nigeria is playing with half her team when we refuse to include women in our development agenda”

Chimamanda Adiche  says “everyone should be a feminist” what’s your take and what does feminism mean to you?

I support  that statement. I am a feminist, no apologies. Feminism is the radical notion that women too are people and that women’s rights are human rights and that’s important.

Concerning current policies and legislation do they promote the womenfolk enough or do more policies need to be created in this area?

I believe we have good policies in place, I was part of the team that produced the National Gender Policy in 2006 and it was reviewed in 2015. However, the issue is with implementation. The Gender & Equal Opportunities Bill for instance if passed is another sure way of putting in place useful legal mechanisms to protect and advance women’s issues vis a vis those of men. The National Assembly will do men and women a great service by passing that bill.

You are a mum! How are you able to cope with family commitments given your hectic schedule?

I believe as women, we have been programmed from childhood to multi task. The key is to know that everything has its place. There’s time for work and there’s time for family. I try as much as possible not to bring work home. I only check my mails at home.

In addition to my day time job which is 9-5, I consult for a number of international and local development partners as well as private sector organisations and I still run an event management company called “Hiquest Event Solutions Ltd where I leased a garden as an event centre in Abuja.” I have been doing this for almost 2 decades! Talk about Plan B’s!

How do you unwind and relax?

Sleep, sleep, sleep! I am a certified Joseph the dreamer! When I am not sleeping, I spend time with my family watching our favourite TV series, rent a new box office movie over cooked/roasted corn or just go to the cinemas. Every quarter, I go for a traditional Borno body wash or a Hamman wash (a traditional Moroccan spa treatment) and get a good massage whenever I travel.

What’s your advice for women seeking a career in the development and policy sector?

My advice is for them to find their passion first, then an economic source to support your livelihood especially in this recession . At some point you will get frustrated, tired and even discouraged but passion gets you going. However, passion alone doesn’t pay bills. You have to find a way to translate your passion into an economic source and if that’s not possible, have a plan B to C and Z if possible!

Thanks Funke I admire your passion!

 

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7 Comments

  1. Very engaging and enlightening piece… as she said, our problem tends to be with effective implementation even when there are good policies in place. And it’s really time to stop demonizing gender issues and realizing the importance of having everyone at the table for the sake of national development. As Funke said, we can’t afford to bench half of our team if we want to win! Recognizing women’s rights works for the benefit of us all.

  2. Well said, I totally agree with what Funke has said. My challenge is continuity. Is there sustainability in the mentoring programmes? And what is the spread?

    1. Hello Sekyen,
      Thank you for your comment and feedback. Yes, there is continuity.. the mentorship program has been on for 3 years and mentees also mentor other young women.

      1. ..and the spread is currently national and has birthed a young women in politics forum. You should join!

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