LOUD WHISPERS: Every Woman Has A Story

Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi | One of the many lessons I have taken to heart is that we should all have an opportunity to tell our stories, so that other women (and men) can learn, empathise and draw strength.

I have a friend from South Sudan who I will call Janet. She fled her country in the 1980s during the civil war in Sudan and was a refugee in Nairobi, Kenya for many years. Janet suffered terribly during this period, going through many of the horrors associated with violent conflict. She reunited with her husband after years of being torn apart by the war. They tried to start a family, but Janet lost eight pregnancies in a row. Inspite of all she had been through, she worked with other Sudanese refugees on peace and reconciliation issues. She also set up economic empowerment schemes for refugee women. I met Janet  in 1998 at one of the training programs I initiated for young African women leaders at the time, a three-week African Women’s Leadership Institute (AWLI) which brought together women aged 25-40 from different African countries. The AWLI was a project of Akina Mama wa Afrika (AMWA) based in the UK and Uganda, an international development organisation for African women where I served as Executive Director for ten years. Over the past 19 years, the AWLI has produced over 6,000 women leaders.

When Janet attended the Institute that year, we did not know that she was pregnant. Then something wonderful happened. That was the first pregnancy she did not lose. According to what she told me, she firmly believed that it was the positive energy, warmth and solidarity she found with other women during those three weeks that saved her baby. I was of course skeptical, but happy for her. In 2000, we had a conference to bring together some of the alumni of the leadership institute. Janet brought her little boy with her and we all fussed over him. And then it happened again. Janet was pregnant when she attended and she did not lose the baby. Shortly after, when tentative peace returned to South Sudan, Janet went back home and became a senior government official.

Growing up, moving around the world for education and work, through my experience as a development practitioner, donor, women’s rights activist, wife, mother, and public servant, I have many stories to tell. Every woman has a story – of trials, triumphs, pain, tested faith, loss, betrayal, healing, renewal, joy, and re-invention. Not all stories have a ‘happy ending’ like that of Janet. However, one of the many lessons I have taken to heart is that we should all have an opportunity to tell our stories, so that other women (and men) can learn, empathise and draw strength.

I left AMwA in 2001 to co-found the African Women’s Development Fund (AWDF), an Africa-wide grantmaking foundation for women’s organizations based in Accra, Ghana, where I also served as Executive Director. I started planning my transition out of AWDF in 2011 after ten wonderful years of building a very successful Women’s Fund. During this period I worked with hundreds of women’s organisations  in over 40 countries, overseeing resource mobilisation, due diligence, communications, advocacy, research and documentation. What I wanted to do in my post AWDF years was return to Nigeria and start a project that would enable African women tell their stories through short films, documentaries, exhibitions and books. In October 2010, my husband Dr Kayode Fayemi became Governor of Ekiti State, Nigeria. This not only meant leaving AWDF one year earlier, I also had to put my story telling project on hold.

I have now decided to revisit the idea, this time as a social media project. Above Whispers is a platform  primarily (but not exclusively) for middle-aged women who want to have a more mature engagement online. I also hope some of our content will appeal to younger readers. This new platform will serve the following purposes:

1. An opportunity for women ( and the men who would like to join us) to engage in discussions about a range of topics such as politics, social justice, development, financial security, women’s rights, health, entrepreneurship, popular culture, faith, parenting, relationships, and other relevant issues.

2. Learning from experienced people in various fields of expertise who will share their knowledge as guest columnists

3. A forum to find and engage with other people in an atmosphere devoid of rants, passing judgement  on others and related unpleasant experiences which have sadly become a key feature of the use of these spaces.

4. A way to showcase some of the unique ways in which we build community in Africa, through our personal and collective philanthropy, stories that usually do not get told in the international media.

5. A place to mentor younger people as we share advice and experience and to also learn from them

6. A platform to explore the ways in which our communities are evolving for better or worse due to the impact of globalization. Values such as character building, respect for diversity, promoting a culture of peace, dialogue, and an appreciation of our own positive narratives as Africans are becoming increasingly important.

7. A safe space for women to ‘exhale’ by telling their stories (in person or anonymously) so that we can learn from their triumphs and challenges, and in return, they will know that they
are not alone.

I believe that through this effort, we can build a new community of African women able to express their thoughts, and grow a marketplace of conversations around issues of concern to us. I also look forward to the intra and inter-generational exchanges that will be part of this journey.

I would like to say a big thank you to all my friends who responded promptly and enthusiastically when I spoke to them about this initiative. Thank you to all the guest bloggers who have joined us. A big thank you from the bottom of my heart to the Above Whispers team for all their dedication and creativity. If you are reading this and would like to contribute to the platform, let us hear from you. Just like Janet felt the solidarity and warmth of the women she spent time with in Uganda, I want every woman who shares her story or insights on this site to feel respected and valued.

This platform intends to include the voices of women who usually do not have access to this mode of communication. You will be hearing from women in rural communities, non-literate women and many others whose perspectives are often excluded. We also plan to organize occasional activities offline to enable interaction amongst our readers.

One evening in 1998, during one of our AWLI programs, I sat with a colleague to comfort her over the loss of her aunt, she had just received the news from home. As I sat with her, she told me, between sobs, how wonderful her aunt had been. ‘She was such a sweet woman, generous, kind. She never spoke above a whisper’. Later on, when I was on my own, I reflected on what my friend had said about her deceased Aunt. “She never spoke above a whisper”?I thought to myself, ‘I, Olabisi, I do not want to be remembered as someone who never spoke above a whisper’!

Welcome to your own unique forum in cyberspace – a place where you can tell your story and show others how to excel, exceed and exhale – well above a whisper.


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17 Responses to LOUD WHISPERS: Every Woman Has A Story

  1. Folusho October February 9, 2016 at 12:56 pm

    Big congratulations my darling sister. ‘There is power in the word’
    I am sure this platform will provide succour to soo many women who bottle up their problems but desire comradeship. It is a comfort and relaxation centre for sharing bitter sweet experiences . Above whispers is a must visit site, like our daily vitamins!
    Your Excellency,Our dear Erelu Bambam! I admire your resilence.

  2. Funmi Owolabi February 9, 2016 at 1:05 pm

    Woah. I also want to learn to speak above the whispers.

  3. Bunmi Adejuyigbe-Imolehin February 9, 2016 at 2:58 pm

    Women need one another. So gpod

  4. Olajumoke Aunty J February 9, 2016 at 3:11 pm

    After reading your post, I decided to read up on Whispering and what I found out further convinced me without a doubt that I, Olajumoke; like you Erelu Olabisi, do not want to be remembered as “someone who never spoke above a whisper”.
    I found out that while it takes less effort to produce a whisper, it actually tires out the vocal cords more than engaging in normal speech. Apparently, when we whisper, the vocal cords do not vibrate and this creates a strain! This would mean that a woman who is considered gentle and mild-mannered because she speaks in whispers is more likely to get easily worn out and less comfortable in her throat than those who speak above whispers!!!
    I congratulate you on the birth of this forum and I’m very excited about the opportunity to “excel, exceed and exhale – well above a whisper”.

  5. Oluremi Ajayi Babinton February 9, 2016 at 8:13 pm

    Am very pleased with this development this is a platform where women can confidentiality voice out whatever might be their experiences. Am not surprised coming from a very brilliant and very bold woman who have impacted so on womenfolk

  6. Oluremi Ajayi Babinton February 9, 2016 at 8:15 pm

    I meant confidentily

  7. charles oluwatusa February 9, 2016 at 8:30 pm

    In this focus pls put men’s opinion on a very good platform as they may be good enough to achieve this inestimable desire for women and the young at heart. I want to appreciate your excellency for your indefatigable efforts at bringing about the much expected life not only for women but also for humanity. It would be a great pleasure and fulfillment to be taken as part of this wonderful development. Oluwatusa Charles Iyioluwa(Nigeria)

  8. Gloria Ogunbadejo February 9, 2016 at 10:14 pm

    Something feels authentic and wholesome about the intentions behind this website. A real desire to create a community that empowers and heals and enables a sense of belonging. There is so much negative press, aggressive journalism and media hysteria about at the moment, that a website that strives to bring the noise down a bit and encourages people to exhale is a breath of fresh air!

    Bisi you have always been a trailblazer so this is just another foot forward in that vein and in your quest to give a voice to as many people as require it.


  9. BAF February 9, 2016 at 10:56 pm

    Thank you so much for the warm feedback. I look forward to having a great time with you all. Charles, men are certainly welcome, as long as this space is respected.


  10. Fola Richie-Adewusi February 10, 2016 at 7:25 am

    Wow!! This is a site with a difference. It is so loaded such that I am setting time aside to savour all that has been posted. Thank you Y.E. for giving us something different form the regulars.

  11. Fola Richie-Adewusi February 10, 2016 at 7:27 am

    Something different from the regulars

  12. Demola Obanise February 10, 2016 at 7:55 pm

    This is loaded and uniquely positioned to give audibility to those critical whispers that often get us drown when we can actually be better, maximising our lives against all odds and lend hands to many by speaking above whispers.

    Thank you ma for bringing this on at such a time like this as we get ready to a life – saving ride with you and other like minds.

    Congratulations ma !

  13. Dupe Bakare February 11, 2016 at 7:20 am

    Thanks so much for this initiative, it is a site for women to bear their minds and receive right counselling and direction. It is a welcome development. Kudos to you ma

  14. Adenike Aribasoye February 11, 2016 at 8:40 am

    Waoh! This is unique, educating, instructive and motivating. I thank YE for coming up with this idea for the womenfolks. You are indeed a blessing to this generation.

  15. Fola Aiyegbusi February 11, 2016 at 1:28 pm

    Good thinking!
    Good product!
    It takes the deep to call the deep.
    Congratulations on this blog ma.

  16. wole February 12, 2016 at 3:18 pm

    great thinking

  17. Dseed June 4, 2016 at 7:56 am

    This platform has been a blessing to me. Still in the process. Believing God to end up strong so that I will be able to tell the story.


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