A speech delivered by Mary Temiloluwa Ajayi, a 2015 fellow of Moremi Initiative for Women’s Leadership in Africa, delivered at the sixtieth session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), which took place at the United Nations Headquarters in New York from March 14 – 24, 2016.
Today, I speak from a place of gratitude, gratitude to God who made it possible for me to be here through the resources, people, and platforms He sent my way – family and friends, Moremi Initiative, Whole Woman Network, mentors, Nigerians; the UN Women.
Platforms are what I’m here to speak about. Platforms and possibilities, and the positive output of these two which is a generation of confident young women who are fit to contribute to growth and development in any area, and can be at the forefront of global development.
When I think of platforms, I think of steppingstones for advancement and for me, these four have been just that: UN Volunteers, TEDx, Global Shapers Community, Moremi Initiative for Women’s Leadership in Africa.
In 2013, I signed up on the UN Online Volunteering portal, a platform that gives you the choice to commit your time, in your own way, to improving things, and went on to tackle, through writing, the lack of adequate awareness about the UN International Days and inspire people to take action on the messages of each.
Between 2014 and now, I am privileged to have been part of three TEDx events – TEDxYouthOrdinanceRoad, the only TEDxYouth event in West Africa in 2014, which I curated, TEDxBodija in 2014 as the Director, Volunteering, and in 2015 as the Content Editor, TEDxDugbeEd, as part of the Speakers’ Support Teams.
Moremi Initiative for Women’s Leadership in Africa, in 2015, awarded me a yearlong fellowship to represent Nigeria, and for three weeks in Ghana, I got trained and equipped with skills on effective leadership and development.
In mid-2015, I became a member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Shapers Community, Ibadan Hub and began work with other youths on grassroot development.
Perhaps, these sound like just titles, but as a girl who grew thinking she wasn’t good enough, and while others can take the lead at things, she cannot, because she wasn’t smart, not so diligent, not able, and well, she wouldn’t even finish if she started, these are platforms which have become steppingstones to liberation for me.
I think we grow up into different things, in our societies. For some, it is that leadership has a male face and girls have no right to it; for some it is that girls are never good enough, not able to handle some form of leadership.
For some others, it is that though they may be good, they may have something to give, no one would be willing to invest in them because of gender, background, or colour. But platforms, as stepping stones, become liberation points.
They prove that individuals, especially women, can make worthwhile contributions. For me, I used to be part of the not-good-enoughs till I came across these platforms. Although I am not sure why I thought myself not good enough, that negative mental hold was broken as these platforms were placed before me. With freedom came confidence and the liberating knowledge that whatever I do, matters.
In October 2015, I organized Purple Stories for World Mental Health Day. Carol Todd, the mother of Amanda Todd, the American teenager who took her own life as a result of cyberbullying few years back contacted me and asked if I could do something in Nigeria, with Amanda Todd Legacy Society, to call attention to mental health issues.
Purple Stories – an event where people were connected to different artistic representations of different mental health issues was the result. I had always co-worked on projects but I led this one and pulled through successfully. How? Through the platforms I mentioned earlier, I’d grown into a young lady who can plan and implement projects to successful completion, on her own.
Recently, I looked at my life and thought on the journey so far. Listening to Elizabeth Gilbert’s “The Flight of the Hummingbird” few days ago, I realized I was a hummingbird, gently hopping from place to place, cross-pollinating and weaving a web of growth and beauty.
I am a hummingbird and I am where I am as a result of avenues to land, cross-pollinate, become, and leave something better. What are we without stepping stones? Look at your journey and answer that.
This has become my creed: sometimes, a platform is all you need. Platforms were what I needed to evolve and they keep creating avenues for further growth.
At present, I am working on an initiative called Streets Connect – a platform for young people, regardless of location, to connect with opportunities for growth through trainings for responsive actions to challenges, and empowerment with resources for self and communal development.
Today, as we speak on enhancing the voice of young women for empowerment and sustainable development, we must realize the importance of platforms. We must be of good courage and create stepping stones for young women to grow and contribute to sustainable development.
With the Sustainable Development Goals, a global cause and resources and actions being combined to ensure they are realized by 2030, let us remember, as we go along, the place of young women in achieving the global goals, and give them platforms. And then, let us watch out for the amazing possibilities.