Esther Ijewere-Kalejaiye, the Olabisi Onabanjo University-trained sociologist, came to the limelight when her foundation, WAR, an acronym for Walk Against Rape, organised a walk against abuse and rape of women. It became an annual event that sees women and men from all spheres of life walking for miles to denounce rape in the society. Her NGO is an advocacy initiative created to lend a voice for the victims of rape and demand justice against perpetrators. It is endorsed by the Lagos State Ministry of Women Affairs and Poverty Alleviation. She speaks with Azuka Ogujiuba about her projects
Tell us about your childhood?
I grew up with a single mum of three. Independence and giving are some of the dynamics that my mother taught us. She made me realise the power of giving from an early age. We have a strong belief that you should always support people no matter what, with what you have. My mother taught us to give to people as much as you could and show support to people. I influence the world with my giving spirit and my affinity for change. Iâ€™m also influencing the world through some of my projects like Women of Rubies. I fight against rape and stigmatisation that comes from being raped through my orgaisation. I also empower women through the Women of Rubies Initiative.
Is there a story behind your passion for children with respect to rape and abuse of any kind?
My passion for humanity and my inability to withstand any form of injustice or violence against women inspired the initiative. So far, itâ€™s been a worthwhile journey. I love when everyone is given a chance to be heard in the society
What inspired you to start Rubies Ink Initiative?
The inspiration behind the creation of Rubies Ink is to lend a voice to voiceless women and girls in the society by adding value to their lives. There are so many deserving women and young girls seeking for opportunities. Our vision is to continue to make the right platforms available for them through our projects and activities. We work to give them an enabling environment where their voice is not only heard but attended to. As an organisation, we believe in equal opportunity for everyone
You have been supported by different Lagos State Government parastatals. How effective has this been for your social programmes?
It has been highly effective. I must say that since 2009, the Lagos State government, through its Ministry of Women Affairs and Poverty Alleviation, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Youth and Social Development down to the local government level, has contributed to the success of our programmes. The Ministry of Women Affairs, for example, has been partnering with us since the inception of our Walk Against Rape campaign in 2010 and they also take up most of the cases reported to us while we follow it up to a conclusive end. I really must appreciate the Lagos State government for continually opening their doors and collaborating with us every time.
How are you able to generate funds to run your various initiatives and programmes?
For several years, I used my personal funds. Those were the start-up years and most brands only want to identify with known organisations. Luckily, things are different now as we have brands sponsoring our projects an also considering our media platforms viable enough to advertise and showcase their work. All these took many years of personal investment and also working very hard to make the vision believable.
What challenges have you faced as a social advocate?
One of the biggest challenges is when people just misunderstand my kind gesture. You reach out to a woman; you want to support her career and the next thing is sheâ€™s thinking you want to take up her space or you want to take her crown away from her. Through my Women of Rubies platform, I bring success stories of exceptional women to the front burner and itâ€™s very sad when you have one thing in mind and the person has other ideas. Another thing is criticism. A lot of people donâ€™t like my openness about rape and the way I continually address it openly. I have learnt and mastered the art of handling these challenges
What age brackets do you target when you go out for your sensitisation programmes?
Our target audience majorly are teens and they cut across all our projects
You are a mother of two. How have you been able to juggle between motherhood and your social programmes effectively?
Well, it has not been easy but family comes first so I try as much as possible to spend quality time with my children. I manage my time effectively but I do not compromise family time for work.
If you are able to do more for the society, what would you do?
I would do everything possible to make the society a better and safe place for women and children, especially abused and vulnerable women. One of my biggest dreams is to be able to set up Help Centres in every local government. A place where women can get counselling, medical support and also justice. And also a place close to where they reside and can walk into freely when they find themselves in any negative situation.
Which person in your life or in the world inspires you to do more?
My mother. This is because she had every reason under the sun not to bring me to the world, but against all odds she did and made sure I became the woman I am today. My mum is my biggest inspiration and also doubles as my supporter. She believed in me.