What began as a mere conversation on social media later snowballed into a serious discussion that caught the global bug with 19,200 members. Recently, women under the auspices of Women Ageing Gracefully (WAG) converged on Lagos during its first summit with the theme, ‘Cultivating the art of care as we age gracefully’, to discuss issues that affect women. Funke Olaode caught up with the convener and founder of WAG, Maero Ozako, who threw more light on how the not-for-profit organization would help address some areas in women’s lives

What is WAG and how did it begin?
Last year, I went to America for about a month, and I had to go to about seven states trying to promote my book; because I am an author of children’s books. I was trying to break into the new grounds, so I spent a lot of time reading stories to children over there. I came back, and I started feeling ill. I was so ill that I had to do the almighty comprehensive test. And I was on medication for quite a while. I recall that one of the doctors, after reading my reports, I saw where he wrote menopause. I know what menopause is. I’m not due yet. I’m just 55 years. So I said to myself it can’t be. So one day, I was in bed at home and I said to my daughter, that I am very sure there are other women who are experiencing this same thing. I really need to know what is wrong with me. Because I don’t have hypertension. So she said to me how, and I said to her, ‘let me go on Facebook and search it out. I am very active on Facebook. And I decided to search for it. In one week, we were about 1,000 on Friday. By Monday we were about 2,000. I am a socially flamboyant person. I am very expressive and at the same time private. I don’t like too many people in my space. So I said to myself, this might get out of hand, let me stop now. That was how we actually started. And then we took to YouTube, and we got 25,000. So this time, we decided to make it a closed group, where you have to request to be added before we do. We are now 19,200 members with 15,900 from Nigeria; 5,600 from Lagos. There are Indians, Philippinos, Kenyans, etc. Facebook gives us all the statistics. Our members are aged 18 to 80 years old. We are from 93 countries. It’s a very active group. It is interesting that women all over the world go through the same thing. I decided to register it as a not-for-profit organization so I coordinate with a team of administration.

You recently had your first summit. Can you throw more light on that?
We had our first summit on Wednesday, October 2 in Lagos called WAG Sole to Soul Summit with the theme, ‘Cultivating the art of care as we age gracefully’. We formally launched WAG and did a registration of members in Lagos, Nigeria. It was a day of fun, learning, and networking. Not only that we had a full day of self-care, wellness, business education, we also listened to other women’s experiences which would make us feel connected. That day, we had specialists on the topics with an array of speakers such as Elsie Oghenekaro, Omowunmi Mabel Adewusi, Abigail Simon-Hart, Bebe Durojaiye, etc. For instance, we had Abosede Ozah-Osho who spoke about falling and getting up again. You know, women are regarded to be very emotional beings. It can go either way. So sometimes when we are knocked down, there is a tendency that we may just give up. So she talked to us about how she advanced through her own challenges in life, but she has turned out to be a very successful person.

We had Abigail Simon-Hart who has had cancer. Her mother died of cancer in her arm. Five days after her mother died, she decided to do a test and found out that she had cancer and decided to tackle it. Today, she is an advocate of women going through stigmatization. She also has an NGO. It was an eventful day for us as people came from outside Lagos. There was a woman who came from Onitsha. We had attendees from Ilesha, Ife, Benin, etc. Most of our attendees are based outside Lagos. Someone even flew in from London specifically for the event. As she said, she had just left Nigeria but has been following us and we were in touch, and she said she must attend it. So what it did for us was to bring us together, and we could encourage ourselves and network.

A doctor’s reports that you’re experiencing menopause moved you to start WAG. What were the symptoms you noticed when it started?
I was in Atlanta that particular year and it was very cold. I noticed that I was having cold, but most times, I was sweating. And I noticed that I was freaking out emotionally. I am an emotional person but this was to the extreme. It was something I could not explain. And then, I used to have aches, complaints, and all of that. I remember my gut spirit was telling me something wasn’t right.

What was going through your mind at that particular moment?
Well, because I had just lost a friend to cancer, I was thinking, I must be very ill to be feeling this way.

What is the actual age of menopause?
For some people, it happened to them at age 30. But what we are after is that every woman should have an idea. The truth is if I had an idea it would prepare my mind. Also, having access to a doctor who specializes in menopausal issues would be of great help. But I need to be well informed to be able to take the right step. There was a member who had a terrible experience of a severe case of menopausal issues. So she was just packing salt in her palms and licking it. Eventually, she decided to see a doctor, and you know what, it was a Nigerian doctor who checked her and told her it was a case of menopause. So bodies react to menopause differently. Every woman has the ability to tell when something is wrong with her body because there is a way your body would feel. And you may just find out that you just need a massage, and it might not even be menopause.

With over 19,000 members that cut across 93 countries, how have you been able to synergize your members?
I can tell you that I didn’t plan anything nor set this up. And like I said, I am a naturally spontaneous person and I think the core of my essence is that I am a liberal person. So I am open to all kinds of things. Initially, we were like, ‘Oh we must be 50 years and above.’ But I debunk that because, if these younger girls find out about what menopause is earlier, it would help them. Also, we are learning from them. So what we do for synergy, is to let people be. We have rules, and if you break those rules consistently, we would ‘unwag’ you. And when we do, there is no coming back. So you must understand that we need to strive together. It doesn’t mean you won’t be yourself. It means that we are liberal but we are considerable.

So we have simple rules. We don’t encourage religious content even though we respect everyone’s religion. We also don’t allow anyone to talk about medication because bodies are different. What necessarily works for A, may not work for B. There are people that have died because of using drugs not recommended to them personally by a physician. We don’t allow jokes, vernacular because we have women from other countries that may not understand. Generally, we are able to exact control on activities of the closed group.

How often would you be holding the summit?
With hopes of maximum support from every stakeholder, it’s a thing we intend to be holding yearly.

On a lighter note; you’re currently wearing two caps as a writer and now convener of WAG. Where does your passion lie?
My first love is children. And I must thank you too because you were one of those people that enabled the process. I remembered the first day I walked into the THISDAY newsroom at its corporate office in Apapa over a decade ago, you were the first person that I met and you gave me all the necessary assistance that accelerated my meeting with the current managing director, Mr. Eniola Bello. THISDAY has been a fantastic platform for expressing myself. My first love is children and now do a lot of work in New York with children. The women thing is my vision. Some women are over 50 years and have never put up a picture on Facebook. I do encourage them to do so. It’s a way of expression. Do you have a good voice, put out a picture? A natural hair put out a picture, etc. And they are very happy to do that. And I feel very good about what I do.

Are you open to add more members?
We are not taking new members now. We have a very selective process in place now. At a point, we learnt some lessons, and we are trying to curtail them. And some women were also bringing in their husbands. But now, all that has been resolved and put in a better perspective.

So how can people reach out to your WAG organization?
We have a website, www.womenageing or they can also reach me through Facebook, or my personal mail, etc.