Young, Bold, Feminist: How Is Nigeria’s Damilola Odufuwa Creating Space for Africa’s Women?
Feminist Coalition co-founder Damilola Odufuwa on empowerment of women, equality, and education.
Damilola Odufuwa is quite the force among Nigeria’s emerging young feminists. The University of Kent graduate has worked at media juggernauts like MTV, Universal Music Group, and National Geographic; and led teams at CNN, Zikoko, Konbini, and now cryptocurrency firm, Binance, leading its public relations efforts across Africa.
Odufuwa also takes her success and talents into her activism, particularly where Black women are concerned. For her, it’s about creating opportunities for Black women to succeed, generating financial power for women, and achieving equality of women in society.
Feminist Coalition Co-Founder Damilola Odufuwa
“I love putting people on. Especially Black people and especially Black women,” she once told OkayAfrica. “Telling engaging African stories brings me joy…everyone has a different experience in their various African countries and every one of those experiences is real.”
Women in Nigeria are faced with many challenges: harmful cultural practices, poverty, the highest maternal mortality rate in the world, economic inequality, misogynistic laws, and political exclusion.
From 2010 to 2015, for example, only 38% of federal employees in Nigeria were women on average, according to the National Bureau of Statistics. Nigeria also has the highest number of out-of-school girls in the world, and has one of Africa’s lowest rates of female parliamentary representation, globally ranking 181 of 193 countries.
These are some of the problems Odufuwa is trying to solve for Nigerian women through the two nonprofit organisations she has co-founded with entrepreneur and activist Odunayo Eweniyi: Feminist Coalition and Wine & Whine Nigeria — which hosts women-only events and aims to create safe spaces where Nigerian women can feel physically and emotionally safe to have the important conversations about sexual abuse, financial literacy, and more.
In the second of a mini-series spotlighting the women behind Feminist Coalition (read the first on Eweniyi here), Global Citizen spoke to Odufuwa about the Feminist Coalition’s work, why it is important, and why it’s so vital to create spaces for women to excel and ensure women are better represented across all levels of society and government.
GC: Why did you start the Feminist Coalition?
Odufuwa:I wanted to do even more for women. So many feminists like me are constantly speaking up on social media, doing our part in our communities to fight the discrimination Nigerian women face daily.
These actions are bringing about a sea change in society but it just feels like it’s not enough, there’s so much more to do. In 2020, with the rise in violence against women during the pandemic, I felt even more frustrated by what is clearly a state of emergency on gender-based violence.
Over the past few years, Nigerian women and activists have crowdfunded on Twitter to support other women and girls who have experienced gender-based violence, marginalisation etc. These funds were used for legal aid, education, mental health support, housing and shelter, and more.
Odunayo and I wanted to do more than just support or crowdfund donations intermittently. We also felt the fight for women’s rights needed to include financial freedom for women and many changes to the misogynistic laws and norms in Nigeria. But we knew we couldn’t do this alone.
So in July 2020, we decided to come together to create a coalition of feminist women. We were formed with a vision of a Nigeria where equality for all people is a reality in our laws and everyday lives. Our mission is to champion equality for women in Nigerian society with a core focus on education, financial freedom, and representation in public office.
Why did you specifically approach these 12 other women?
Odun and I have worked with many of the founding members through our individual activism and also through Wine & Whine so we knew they were truly committed to advocating for gender equality.
In addition, these are women who possess strong skills and knowledge across various sectors. They work across community organising, tech, media, public health, fintech, gender advocacy, and more.
Many of the coalition founding members also run NGOs and women-focused communities: such as Ayodeji with Stand to End Rape (STER), Karo with Sanitary Aid for Nigerian Girls, Fakhrriyyah with Arewa Me Too and North Normal, Laila with We Rise Initiative, Odun and I with Wine & Whine.
A lot of the other founding members like Jola and Ozzy, for example, have also supported or helped crowdfund for women affected by gender-based violence and other inequalities. We also all have similar views on feminism and we understand the urgency in the fight for women’s rights in Nigeria.
Did any learnings or experiences from Wine & Whine inspire the creation of FemCo?
Definitely. A lot of lessons around building an organisation, having an authentic strong voice, leveraging social media, and understanding the importance of the feminist community and a community of women in general.
Also a lot of lessons around being transparent and accountable when receiving and disbursing donations. Also Odun and I are honestly just really organised and efficient people and we apply these skills to every aspect of our lives.
In your opinion, what are the most important challenges facing Nigerian women that speak to the need for an organisation like FemCo?
To us, our three pillars are the most important issues and that’s why we chose them:
- women’s rights & safety — like women’s access to quality health (mental, physical, and sexual) and quality education
- financial equality for women; and
- representation of women in office and legislative power for women
In what unique ways would you say you contribute to the organisation?
FemCo as it’s known today is only possible because every founding member is at the top of her game. We handle it the same way we handle our professional work, and bring the same amount of focus and dedication to the table.
But personally, I would say my expertise leading Wine & Whine and cultivating a community of highly engaged women; my expertise leading and growing various digital media companies from the ground up; and my experience managing both small and large teams across various startups.
Why is the work FemCo is doing important?
Our mission is to champion equality for women in Nigerian society with a core focus on education, financial freedom, and representation in public office. We are currently planning on our next projects around our three pillars and this is something we can share when we launch them.
What are the biggest challenges to FemCo's work?
Misinformation and defamation of who we are and what we stand for by bad actors. We are a women’s rights advocacy group and our mission and vision are clearly visible on our website.
How has COVID-19 impacted FemCo's work?
We’ve regularly had monthly meetings since our inception, but due to COVID and social distancing measures we’ve actually never had an in-person meeting! Like many people around the world we have worked virtually and remotely and if anything, our level of organisation over the past month is proof that remote working can and does work. Digitisation of economies is so important.
How is a founding member of the coalition different from a member?
Members can choose to work on specific or standalone projects in line with their passions. They are not involved in the day-to-day workings of the organisation and do not have voting rights (only the founding members do). Founding members are actively involved in all projects and all activities of the coalition.
What are your thoughts on the recent rise of young Nigerians (like yourselves) who are driving campaigns for change through social media?
I absolutely love to see young people realise that their voices matter, own that power, and use their voices responsibly: to speak up for the disenfranchised and to demand much-needed change, dignity, and respect for all people.
Nigeria is a deeply patriarchal society, and that means not only are women’s voices often silenced but young people are treated as second-class citizens. We all matter and deserve to be treated with human dignity and respect, regardless of age and other discriminating factors.
What does FemCo hope to achieve in the short and medium-term?
Significant advancements in women’s rights. Especially advancement around our three pillars.
Why is it important to empower women economically and politically?
We have seen the quick pace of development across Africa and other countries when and where women have led the charge. There are several clear indications that when women have a more prominent role in all forms of society it contributes positively to economic growth and sustainable development.
Looking at 2020 alone, the economies and organisations which women have led handled this pandemic much better. For me, it’s really simple and this quote by Thomas Sankara captures it perfectly: “There is no true social revolution without the liberation of women.”