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A Showcase of Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi’s Activism

Lisa has a wide passion for fighting against social inequity. She is currently completing her BA in Psychology and Gender & Women's Studies.

“Do you remember,

When we all walked tall and proud

When we were the salt of the earth

When we sang with voices loud and clear

And put the most vain of birds to shame

When we ran free of chains both visible and invisible

Long before the lies, the deception, the myths

Before the gradual destruction of our bodies, our spirits and our minds

Do you remember?

When God was a woman?

- Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi (“Creating and Sustaining Feminist Space in Africa”, 100)

In the year 2001, three women from three different African countries (Nigeria, Ghana, and Uganda) amalgamated to create an organization that would become one of the largest influences on Black feminism, African womens’ lives and well-being, and the development of healthy self-esteem of Black women around the world. These three impelling women are Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi, Joana Foster, and Hilda Tadria. Of these three significant activists and Black feminists, Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi remains one of the biggest names associated with both their organization, African Women’s Development Fund (AWDF) (the first Africa-wide grant-making fund) where she also served as the Executive Director from 2001 – 2010, and within the feminist movement across the continent of Africa. She is currently Principal Partner for Amandla Consulting, an organization that specializes in leadership development for women.

She continues to accomplish multitudes of feats in different branches of knowledge, such as advocacy, humanitarianism, gender, and politics, which all serve to uphold the strive towards equal rights for African women and pursuing the notion that all Black women are worthy of the same opportunities and experiences that white women or men of any race are. Adeleye-Fayemi’s work has created a progressive storm across not only Africa, but universally, the of fighting for equity, female empowerment, inclusion of women in governmental and political decisions and practices, and breaking down the acts of racism on an international level. Her fifty-seven years of living thus far have all, even if indirectly, impacted Black feminism in a firmly valuable way, and she undeniably has more to offer in the upcoming years. Despite Black women still being unjustly reprimanded for the colour of their skin and their gender, Adeleye-Fayemi has bolstered the acknowledgement of lack of women's rights in Africa and many Black communities through several different measures, as she has placed an immense importance on the concept of humanity not being able to exist as an ethical and honourable community if these abuses of power and discriminatory normalizations continue to be firm in action.

Early Life

On June 11th of 1963, Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi was born in Liverpool, England by parents the late Pa Akinola Emmanuel and Mrs. Olufunke Emily Adeleye of Ondo State in southwestern Nigeria (Adeleye-Fayemi, “The Story Of My Life”). Growing up in a highly political family, with her father being an accountant, professional boxer, and civil service member, and her mother who was a stay-at-home caregiver for Adeleye-Fayemi and her younger brother, she was exposed to generosity, discipline, assertiveness, and the unconditional support from both of her parents (Adeleye-Fayemi, “The Story Of My Life”). Being exposed to such distinctive and attentive parenting, combined with an exposure to “being part of a political family, the background and the training that [she] had from home, [her] mentors and [her] academic training” (Adeleye-Fayemi, “The Story Of My Life”), Adeleye-Fayemi developed a healthy sense of the importance of being confident and insistent with her voice and her behaviours. Obtaining this proficiency in leadership, determination, and poise from such a young age sparked her admiration for fighting against gender inequality and ethnic conflict, both inside and outside of Africa. She later married Kayode Fayemi, the state Governor of Ekiti State, Nigeria, from 2010 to 2014, and again from 2015 to present day. Adeleye-Fayemi became apart of his campaign, as she believed it was important for the women’s movement and women’s rights, the Pan-African movement, and also for the communities of Ekiti State to see what an authentic political leader is like (Adeleye-Fayemi, “The Story Of My Life”). More specifically, she helped to lead her husband’s campaign to “enact a Gender Based Violence Prohibition Law (2011), an Equal Opportunities Bill (2013), and a HIV Anti-Stigma Bill (2014).” (AboveWhispers and Adeleye-Fayemi). These legal documents seemingly have a notably progressive impact on the lives of women in Nigeria, providing them with a greater peace of mind, and knowing that they are being supported by a fellow Black women, proving to them that change is possible and that they are worthy of the same opportunities and rights as their male associates are. Adeleye-Fayemi sparked an important wave of Black women’s activism, not only pertaining to Africa, but flowing throughout a global level as she carries her expertise to different parts around the world.

Education

In 1984, Adeleye-Fayemi graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in History from the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University), Nigeria, as well as a Master of Arts in History also from the University of Ife in 1988 (AboveWhispers and Adeleye-Fayemi). In 1992, she received a Master of Arts in Gender and Society from Middlesex University, UK, and in 2014 she received an honourary PhD in Sociology from the Tai Solarin University of Education, Nigeria (AboveWhispers and Adeleye-Fayemi). All of these academic certifications interknitted with one another to allow her to develop a greater sense of feminist thinking and theories, advocacy, entrepreneurship, communications, and philanthropy (AboveWhispers and Adeleye-Fayemi). She progressed forward with these skills to attend workshops, seminars, and interviews, and to write scholarly journals on topics regarding womens’ experiences within Africa.

Awards & Achievements

Apart from her academic achievements, Adeleye-Fayemi has also received a plethora of awards and invitations to institutions over the span of twelve years:

  • “Dame Nita Barrow Distinguished Visitor in Women and Development and Community Transformation”, University of Toronto, 2000/2001
  • “Outstanding Contributions to the African Women’s Movement”, Akina Mama wa Afrika, 2000
  • “Contributions towards empowerment of African women in the Diaspora”, Women of Nigeria International, 2001
  • Selected to join “Synergos Institute’s Senior Fellows Program”, 2003 – 2005
  • Elected President of “Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID)”, 2004 – 2006
  • Obtained a leadership award for promoting women’s rights, Sigrid Rausing Trust
  • “Chairman’s Award, Pan-African Women Invent and Innovate”, Global Women Invent and Innovate, 2005
  • “Achiever’s Award”, African Communications Agency (ACA), 2006
  • “Distinguished Alumni”, Faculty of Arts Obafemi Awolowo University
  • “Timbouktu Leadership Award”, Femme Africa Solidarite, 2006
  • “Changing the Face of Philanthropy”, Women’s Funding Network, 2007
  • Honourary Chietaincy titles: Ochiorah (People’s Leader) of Enugu State, Nigeria, 2008; Erelu (Queen Mother) of Ekiti State, Nigeria, 2011; Ajiseye (Philanthropic leader) of Ado-Ekiti, Nigeria, 2013
  • Named by New African Magazine as one of the twenty most influential African women, 2009 and 2011
  • Named one of the world’s leading one-hundred personalities working for the interests of women and girls, Women Deliver, 2011
  • “David Rockefeller Bridging Leadership Award” (a highly prestigious award in the field of philanthropy), 2011
  • Appointed Peace of Justice, Ekiti State

Global Views and Scholarly Perspectives

Adeleye-Fayemi appears to hold a keen interest in the relationship between politics on a local scale versus a global scale, and how each interact to affect the overall prosperity and advancements for communities, particularly pertaining to Africa, as it has “fared particularly badly over the past two decades.” (Adeleye-Fayemi, “Creating and Sustaining Feminist Space in Africa”, 100). She uses her training and experiences to elaborate on important topics for Black women’s activism, such as globalization, the economic, political, and social status of women, the importance of feminism in Black communities, vital directions for the growth of Black women’s activism, and creating space for “shaping policies and development agendas for reconstruction of war-torn societies and countries in democratic transition.” (Adeleye-Fayemi, “Creating and Sustaining Feminist Space in Africa”, 113 – 114).

In March of 1994, the World University Service held their annual conference at the London School of Economics to predominantly discuss the role of northern non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in the processes of “democratisation and reconstruction in developing societies” (Deva, 222), in which Lynda Chalker (British minister for Overseas Development), Rita Giacaman (founder of the Institute of Community and Public Health at Birzeit University, Palestine), and indubitably Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi herself. At this time, Adeleye-Fayemi was the Director of Akina Mama wa Africa: a small community organization developed in the UK for the support of African women. Adeleye-Fayemi focused most of her presentation on the cultural aspects of identifying as an African women, and how “African customs and traditions were sharply rebuked for doggedly insisting that offensive behaviour was ‘customary’ and necessary for the preservation of culture; and for thereby denying women’s human rights.” (Deva, 223). She made the audience aware of the unavoidable calamities that come with existing in a Eurocentric global community as a woman of colour, and the importance of the need for stronger relationships between the NGOs around the world. Her proposal also touched on the increasing levels of all types of violence against women and how it is becoming progressively normalized. She tied these factors in with the economic and social rights status of specifically Black women, and that “giving priority to such rights requires a thorough review of development practice.” (Deva, 223). Her delivery at this conference portrayed her motivation to create innovative work and advocacy for Black women, not only within African populaces, but for Black women around the globe. Seeing a confident, knowledgeable, and tenacious Black woman who persevered her entire life to get to where she is present the gravity of the issue that is the exploitation and abuse of Black women proves to the global populace that social injustices and patriarchal violence have zero excuse to continue to thrive within any institution or society.

In one of, if not the, most prominent articles by Adeleye-Fayemi is her scholarly working “Creating and Sustaining Feminist Space in Africa: Local and Global Challenges in the Twenty-First Century”. In this piece of writing, she examines the ramifications of both local and global issues for women in the continent of Africa, and how said issues fit in with the struggle of collaborating between different cultural communities. She explains her personal use of African feminist theory, and elaborates on globalization and neocolonialism have had, and continue to have, such an adverse effect on Black communities.

Adeleye-Fayemi’s perspective and analysis of globalization’s impact on Black communities prioritizes globalization’s favouring of white communities, providing them with opportunities such as the broadening of goods and services and the increased spread of information and technology. Meanwhile, globalization is “a bane to poorer, vulnerable societies and economies. Globalization favours the deregulation of markets, free trade and privatization.” (Adeleye-Fayemi, “Creating and Sustaining Feminist Space in Africa”, 101). Due to systemic and institutionalized racism, a majority of low-income communities are highly occupied by people of colour. Globalization is usually seen as a positive concept, but according to this brief analysis, does it seem very fair for minoritized or financially burdened persons?

Adeleye-Fayemi’s particular definition for feminism withdraws from the idea that it only exists to serve certain groups of people at a time. She believes that the purpose of feminism is to “articulate the interconnectedness and specificities of women’s experiences, identities and struggles all over the world and which does not have to be qualified. [She] senses a danger is such qualifications because they obfuscate the real issues around difference and diversity, and substitute these understandings with false notions of hierarchy and importance.” (Adeleye-Fayemi, “Creating and Sustaining Feminist Space in Africa”, 107). This definition encompasses the very notion of intersectionality: the enmeshed social categorizations of persons, and how it effects their personal status of discrimination and privilege. Any feminism that is not intersectional is problematic as it is disfavouring specific social categorizations. As a feminist scholar and Doctor of Sociology, Adeleye-Fayemi provides her own adaptation to the definition of feminism to pertain to the common exclusion within certain feminist theories that is people of colour and women of colour. Her expertise and professionalism within politics, advocacy, and philanthropy open the minds of her listeners to the continuing segregation of Black women within both local and global communities.

Black Woman Afro Africa Map Wall Canvas Art

Black Woman Afro Africa Map Wall Canvas Art

Conclusion

Despite Black women still being unjustly reprimanded for the colour of their skin and their gender, Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi has bolstered the acknowledgement of lack of women's rights in Africa and many Black communities through several different measures, as she has placed an immense importance on the concept of humanity not being able to exist as an ethical and honourable community if these abuses of power and discriminatory normalizations continue to be firm in action. Her ability to communicate so proficiently through her extensive academic background and be such a strong leader and trainer in disciplines surrounding Black women’s activism has acted as a fierce catalyst for the cultivation of Black lives around the world. Her activism in the settings of politics, globalization, and education have all intertwined her thorough and equitable understanding of feminist theory to justify the importance of granting Black women the same quality of life and opportunity for growth as their privileged counterparts. Adeleye-Fayemi’s work continues to enrich the lives of Black women around the world.

Works Cited

AboveWhispers, and Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi. “About Me.” AboveWhispers, abovewhispers.com/about-me/. Accessed 16 Nov. 2020.

Adeleye-Fayemi, Bisi. “Creating and Sustaining Feminist Space in Africa: Local and Global Challenges in the Twenty-First Century.” Feminist Politics, Activism and Vision: Local and Global Challenges, edited by Luciana Ricciutelli et al., Toronto, Inanna Publications and Education Inc., 2004, pp. 100–121.

Adeleye-Fayemi, Bisi. “The Story Of My Life.” P.M. News, 19 June 2013. Accessed 16 Nov. 2020.

Deva, Siddarth. “The Role of NGOs in the Democratisation and Reconstruction Process.” Development in Practice, vol. 4, no. 3, 1994, pp. 222–223. JSTOR. Accessed 16 Nov. 2020.

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2020 Lisa Hallam

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