LOUD WHISPERS: The Speech Olori Wuraola Ogunwusi Should Have Given In The United States

Towards the end of last week, Ope Oriniowo, our Content Editor at Above Whispers rushed over to me with his phone. He wanted to show me a recording of Olori Wuraola Ogunwusi, the wife of His Imperial Majesty, the Ooni of Ife, making remarks at an Emerging Women’s Forum in Maryland, United States. I listened to parts of her speech, and my heart sank. The major concern emanating from the Olori’s speech was the comment she made about women never being the equal of men because they have different roles. She went on to make more empowering comments about the role and status of women, but the earlier part of her remarks have not gone down well with a lot of people who  understand the issues at stake. Ever since he ascended to the throne of his forefathers in December 2015, His Imperial Majesty the Ooni of Ile-Ife, Oba Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi has demonstrated time and again that he is the kind of leader we need in this generation. Brilliant, progressive, forward looking, peace-loving and uniquely wise, he continues to earn respect as a very important Royal Father in Nigeria. I have met him a number of times, and one of those occasions was when I accompanied my husband on a formal courtesy visit to him at his Ile-Ife court.

I have been so impressed with our new Ooni, that I told some colleagues recently that at the appropriate time, we would need to draft him and other progressive traditional rulers into our advocacy work around women’s issues in the country. So you can imagine my dismay when I heard the Olori’s remarks. The timing and location of her comments were rather unfortunate. First of all, this is a time when progressive movements in Nigeria (made up of women and men) are trying to get the Gender and Equal Opportunities Bill passed. Second, the remarks were made at a forum that had been organized to share experiences and views of leaders from around the world. African women have fought very had to be taken seriously at such spaces. African scholars in the American academy had to struggle for respect and recognition for many years. Anyone who is given a platform globally to carry out research, engage in advocacy, teach, or advise needs to do  so with the intention of raising the profile of the continent. We cannot, by accident or design, fuel entrenched paternalistic and racist attitudes towards Africa and her people. I am sure that was not Olori Wuraola’s intention, but that speech in Maryland set African (not just Nigerian women) back. If I had the opportunity of talking to Olori Wuraola Ogunwusi before she gave her speech, this is what I would have advised her to say:

Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. I am delighted to have been asked to make some remarks at this very important event. I am pleased to be talking about the issue of women and leadership. I come from a part of Nigeria, from Yorubaland in South West Nigeria, where women have a long history of being acknowledged as leaders. One of the most important figures in the history of Ile-Ife, was Moremi Ajasoro. Due to her brilliant mind, willingness to sacrifice herself and her safety in order to save her people, she single-handedly delivered the Kingdom of Ile-Ife from invaders from another land who had been plaguing Ile-Ife  for years. If not for Moremi’s leadership, Ile-Ife would have been enslaved for generations. Where we come from, men and women have different roles and responsibilities. The man is acknowledged as the head of the family, and he has the responsibility to protect all those around him and provide for them. The role of the women is to support their husbands in all ways possible. We however recognize that men and women were created as full human beings in the sight of God. There is a saying in Yoruba, ‘Ori o ju ori’. This can be translated to mean, ‘We are all equal’. Our roles and responsibilities as men and women might be different, but women deserve to be treated as human beings and not property to be acquired, used and disposed of. Even if we once lived in times when the status of women was very poor due to the influence of culture, tradition and religion, we all know that culture is not static. Times change, and so must we. I know many people say that feminism was imported into Africa from the West. It is only those who are ignorant of our history and the role that women played in our societies who would argue that way. We have always had feminists in our society, they did not call themselves that, but they believed that women had rights and should be treated fairly and equally.

Our key challenge though is to change in ways which still honour our core values as Africans. We have values such as respect for our elders, a belief in hard work, caring for our community, being each other’s keeper, and a strong belief in our creator, God Almighty who we call Olodumare in Yoruba. My husband is an apostle of positive change. I too want to support him in this regard, particularly as it concerns the situation of women in my country and in my community. A number of things are of concern to me as follows:

  • The large number of women and girls living in dire poverty
  • The prevalence of violence against women and girls
  • Lack of access to basic healthcare services
  • Lack of voice in decision-making
  • The impact of conflict on women and children, resulting in their being the majority in the Internally Displaced Camps across the country
  • The large number of children who are out of school, many of them girls
  • The use of culture, tradition and religion to marginalize women

I give God the glory that I have an advocacy platform. I intend to humbly use this platform I have been given to lend my voice to some of these issues. We cannot clap with one hand. That is what Gender Equality means to me.  If we want to see any progress in our communities, we have to empower women. When women are empowered, men benefit too, and their own lives will be easier. This is why the Gender and Equal Opportunities Bill that is going to be sent back to the Nigerian Senate is very important. This legislation will help redress many historical imbalances. It will enable women fulfill their potential, and it will make our country and our continent more peaceful and prosperous.  No nation can ever succeed at any of its goals if women are subjugated. I am also calling on my fellow women to support me. There are so many role models who we are proud to showcase as women who have broken barriers and glass ceilings. I will look to many of them for advice and support, and I hope they too will find in me a worthy ally.   We need the support of our men too because they are our fathers, husbands, brothers and sons. We need them to also help us educate other men. I have beseeched my husband to do his best to ensure that he talks to other traditional rulers so that people stop using culture as an excuse to take Africa back. We are not going backwards we want to move forward. Our time has come. Thank you once again for inviting me. May the spirits of our ancestors be with you.’

It is not too late for Olori Wuraola to give this speech or something along these lines. We actually need her to give this speech because new, powerful, progressive voices are always welcome. When used appropriately, these voices can drown out the sycophants and confused elements who never want anything to change. Olori, long may you live. You stand on the shoulders of many who have labored and sacrificed to give women a voice. These labours have produced many gains which women, especially those of us who have certain privileges, might take for granted. May their labours never be in vain.

Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi is a Gender Specialist, Social Entrepreneur and Writer. She is the Founder of Abovewhispers.com, an online community for women. She can be reached at BAF@abovewhispers.com


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15 Responses to LOUD WHISPERS: The Speech Olori Wuraola Ogunwusi Should Have Given In The United States

  1. Elizabeth June 20, 2016 at 12:39 pm

    When I listened to her speech, I was heartbroken because I felt she didn’t really understand the motion behind the feminist campaign for gender equality before going up on that stage to talk. Her team did not do their research well, it has never being to replace men but as you said acknowledging that a woman is also a human being and like 1 of the bills in motion states : she should be paid the same wage if she worked the same amount of hours like her colleague who us a man which I think is a fair fight.

    Giving an opening the way she did will definitely be misunderstood and women fighting for the basic right of a woman in ‘a man’s world’ will be offended

    Hope her team will help her draft her speech to have a balance and not stir up anger next time. My opinion .

  2. Madam Butterfly June 21, 2016 at 6:00 pm

    I can only hope a copy of this is delivered to her. She has so set us back with that rant. I just hope that her handlers are kind and sensible people to guide her alone this journey which need thought and maturity….

  3. princess June 21, 2016 at 7:54 pm

    Waaaaaoh Beautiful, God bless you Ma. I will be glad if every woman can be this vibrant in our society. While I was reading this articles I pondered what will happen If someone like me is voted in as the first female president in Nigeria. This article made me feel I can achieve that because of the awesome things Mrs Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi said about Nigeria women. God bless you ma for this!

  4. Joshua Osam June 21, 2016 at 8:05 pm

    Not possible for any woman to have everything as men period. Almighty GOD never said in the Bible women to have everything as men but as helper, assistant only to men and home

  5. Femi Diipo June 22, 2016 at 1:05 am

    Impressive, yet I still can’t get my mind around the seeming vagueness of gender equality and it’s almost non existing social benefit rather than the societal fuss it’s being generating.. If i need to carry a heavy load I’ll most probably need a man, but if I need a shoulder to cry on or I desire empathy then mostly a woman. Despite the rare exceptions, a woman and a man are different in many ways that makes equalling them a societal farce. Women don’t need to be men to be respected in the society.

  6. maveedah June 22, 2016 at 5:40 am

    This is what happens when we have divided minds…God bless the writer,Nigerian women and those who are ready to fight the fight

  7. Timmie_k June 22, 2016 at 6:34 am

    What a man can do,wOMEN can do much more better …gender inequality not existing ..God bless the Olori, God bless women that are ready and that are fighting the good fight …
    A nice story i must confess#

  8. Taiwo June 22, 2016 at 7:58 am

    I also felt differently when I read the speech her Royal Highness gave but like I was telling my colleagues I think lots of people don’t really understand what Gender equality is about or what it entails therefore giving room to misconception. So I think it is time for us to raise the voice of awareness to make understand what ‘Gender equality’ is all about.

  9. Tivo June 22, 2016 at 8:54 am

    Olori ogunwusi was catapulted into limelight. She has no real reason to give a better speech about gender equality because the concept is beyond her. I don’t mean this as an insult. This is the situation with so many women……..

  10. Olakunle Olajide June 22, 2016 at 9:55 am

    Okay fine.. Olori didn’t table her speech well and well done ma for a well composed one. But come to think of it, why so much fuss about this gender equality? I still feel gender equity should be the watchword. Personally i don’t see it possible for any different being to be equal either both sex or different sex. I totally agree with standing up for women because i have witnessed domestic violence but i stand to disagree with the word equality.

  11. Yemi Afolabi June 22, 2016 at 10:12 am

    @joshua Osam, Your are right, just as it is not possible for every man to have everything as women. The context you are referring to in the bible is as regards marriage, in which he gave leadership to a man based on a relationship of ‘love’. Am sure you don’t expect your wife to be an assistant/helper to Everyman.
    Am also sure that if you have a daughter, you are not sending her to school just so she can get married and slave away. I don’t see any reason why daughter can’t aspire to be president of Nigeria if she has the skills.
    Lastly, what gender equality refers to is equal opportunities for both sexes.
    Gender refers to societal construct of what a man and a woman should be, e.i girls should like pink and boys should like blue, girls should cook food while boys should play football. God did not say any of these.

  12. Adeniji Ade June 22, 2016 at 10:19 am

    If ‘Gender Equality’ means: equal opportunities for both sexes. Why can’t they just call it that. The phrase Gender Equality to me is ambiguous. It means: MAN=WOMAN, which is not true. Physiologically, Genetically and even Spiritually they’re not equal. Equal Opportunities,yes it fair enough. So, i think someone should coin a less ambiguous phrase for it

  13. Adeniji Ade June 22, 2016 at 10:30 am

    Some of us attended Jakande school, so remove the ambiguity in that Phrase Gender equality. Also, i don’t understand why people are trying to crucify the Olori. She’s only made her point based on how she perceived the the equality.

  14. Faith June 22, 2016 at 4:25 pm

    @Adeniji on what yardstick did you arrive at Man not equal to woman Physiologically, genetically and spiritually? Or maybe you are right, they are not equal bcos I can say women are higher than men physiologically and genetically….How can we not ascribe the position of higher being to a specie whose body goes through that process of bringing another human to life?
    But on a more serious note I think it is a fruitless effort to ascribe superiority to any sex on the bases of biologically differences. Being different biologically is not the same as being unequal! So I consider ‘Gender Equality’ to be an appropriate phrase, especially in a society where if you ask your son why he came 2nd in class and you find out the 1st position went to a girl…we start to hear things like ‘obirin lasan lasan Lo la eh’ (emphasizing the jaudiced bais of female inferiority)
    I don’t see any reason why our sex should confer us unearned entitlement.
    you should also see the statistics of men to women ratio in education, agriculture, healthcare….it nothing short of grand gender inequality and ‘ no nation can progress leaving half of its population behind’

  15. Abby June 22, 2016 at 6:11 pm

    I believe every human has a right to their own beliefs and ideologies. From the little I know from history about Yoruba monarchy, the king is supreme and every other person is more or less a subject, including his wife(s). To equate the “oba” with the “olori” is more like commiting a sacrilege. Coming from a kingdom where she embodies a role model to many other women (married and single), it would be unwise to carry on about a woman’s equality to a man, just because she’s in an international gathering of educated, successful women, because where she comes from that’s just not the case. So regardless of what the writer thinks, the Olori shouldn’t be prejudiced for her speech or intimidated that her speech is lacking just because she’s not propagating gender inequality. In addition, I agree with someone’s comment about the term being ambiguous. Gender equality in what sense? I believe every human should be treated fairly without discrimination of gender, but when I comes to some certain issues, women do not need to battle out equality with men. It’s a waste of time and headache. I believe women should revel in being who they are, let the man take the reins when he has to, don’t go struggling with him for it. However, I believe what the society needs is to protect the woman(female child as well) and understand her indispensability if anything goes wrong with her.


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