Fixing the gender gap in Nigeria – an alumna story of Foluke Ademokun
Covid-19 has affected men and women differently. That’s not just a gut feeling of Foluke Ademokun; as an expert in monitoring and evaluation, she likes to prove her ideas. Foluke: “Monitoring and evaluating is about 'proving', but for me the bottom line is really 'improving' the lives of Nigerian women.” “First, I want to use this platform to thank the Dutch government and the Dutch taxpayers for providing me with this opportunity to study.” Foluke Ademokun insists on getting this particular message across before she shares anything else. Currently heading the Ajoke Ayisat Afolabi Foundation (AAAF), Foluke plays an important role in the empowerment and inclusion of widows, orphans and vulnerable children. “As the executive coordinator of the foundation I provide strategic leadership. How do we put things together to achieve the sustainable development goals, particularly goal 4 and goal 5, respectively creating access to education and empowering women?”Women in Nigeria often get the short end of the stick. Foluke explains: “In our country we have just about 4 percent of women in elected positions. There are more boys than girls in school. And then there is domestic violence - the lockdown measures with regards to the spread of Covid-19 have led to an increase of violence.” Nigeria also has a large number of widows who suffer a double loss: when a husband dies, they often inherit nothing, often leaving them impoverished. Pulling women away from abject povertyFor Foluke and her foundation it is essential that women and girls start participating in the nation’s economy. “That’s what I consider ‘empowerment’. The work women do is not economically quantified; that means that they lack the position to change the society. Often the widows themselves are not educated and they do not have any gainful means of employment. That makes them especially vulnerable, pushing them towards abject poverty if help does not come their way.” The foundation is able to advance access to education for vulnerable households with support from the World Bank Group Staff Community Connection Campaign projects. Foluke: “In three years, we have been able to provide school bags and solar lamps to 230 school children, promoted access to computers for 3,080 school children at Ajeromi Ifelodun Local Government Area of Lagos state.”Foluke continues: “On a practical level the foundation provides access to education. We offer scholarships to children of widows, so that they can have an education. Once the children are able to go to school they can break the vicious cycle of poverty. Even if you sent your children to public schools, you still have to buy the uniform and books; that costs money. And often they need private lessons to catch up with their peers.”Sewing machines and face masksWhat else does the foundation do to help disadvantaged women? Foluke: “We organise vocational skills training and entrepreneurial skills training for these women. We also provide resources to help them set up businesses. This week for instance, we provided sewing machines to women who are seamstresses.” Foluke looks ahead to post-pandemic times.“We focus on the recovery. With the sewing machines, the women can produce face masks on the short term. In Nigeria facemasks are expensive to buy, so women can design ways to make them cheaper. Since face masks are obligatory in public places, we support women to sew reusable facemasks from local fabrics.”Advertising through social media"If you look at what’s happening all over the world now with Covid-19, you will see that women are unduly impacted because of existing gender inequalities." Still Foluke regards the pandemic also as an opportunity: “We help women seek entrepreneurial opportunities. For example: we encourage them to contact private clinics, so that they can help to produce personal protective gear. Covid-19 does not have to be just negative.” Foluke sees in particular technological opportunities: “Ever since the lockdown globally, the investment in technology has been huge. Women, especially women in sub-Sahara Africa, need to focus on those opportunities. If they don’t use technology, their business will not grow. In Africa there still is a huge gender gap with regard to technology.”“As I gave them sewing machines I told them: because you cannot open your shops now, you have to take a picture of your designs and share your products through online channels like Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram. You have to advertise your products online. I’m not talking about technology for technology’s sake, but technology to make your life better! If you use it well, you will have more money.”Memories of WageningenFoluke did two short courses in the Netherlands between 2012 and 2014 on the topics of Multi-Stakeholders Process and Participatory Planning and Monitoring and Evaluation at the University of Wageningen. She looks back positively at this period, especially since the training matched her work perfectly. “It was not just a question of absorbing knowledge, but we were taught to relate it to our specific situation.” Her approach to monitoring and evaluation changed in Wageningen: “My former approach was to prove that input equals outcome. I was working from an accounting perspective. But after the course I realized that monitoring and evaluation is not just about proving, it is also about improving.”Foluke in shortFoluke was born in Nigeria where she first did a bachelor’s degree in English language and literature, before taking up the studies of Public Administration in Benin. Afterwards Foluke did various other courses among others on monitoring and evaluation and multi-stakeholders’ processes in Wageningen.Currently Foluke heads the Ajoke Ayisat Afolabi Foundation and she serves on a range of committees concerning issues of child protection and empowerment of women. Foluke contributed to a series of academic papers for a variety of local and international conferences and journals. At the moment Foluke works on a publication on Nigerian widows.Foluke’s tip for future international students: try to find a direct relation between the subject matter and your work back home. “In my opinion that combination gives context to hands-on skills within home country development plan.”Find Foluke on Linkedin and on the Holland Alumni Network.The Orange Knowledge Programme - the successor of the Netherlands Fellowship Programme - is a € 220 m Dutch global development programme, available in 54 developing countries and managed by Nuffic, a Dutch non-profit organisation for internationalisation in education. Launched mid-2017, it aims to have provided tens of thousands with the possibility to change their future through education and training by mid-2022. The programme is funded by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Information about scholarship opportunities under the Orange Knowledge Programme can be found www.studyinholland.nl/okp.