Oluwaseyi Kehinde-Peters is the founder of the Pan African Women Empowerment Network. She tells TOFARATI IGE about her advocacy for women empowerment and other issues
What led to the creation of the Pan African Women Empowerment Network?
In the course of my career and entrepreneurial journey, I have seen how some women work and live below their potential largely due to lack of education and exposure to the right information and networks. As someone who has benefited significantly from the support and investment of individuals and corporate bodies in my life and career, I decided to start an organisation that would equip women with the competence, connections and confidence to succeed in their chosen career, business and governance.
What are the services offered by PAWEN?
PAWEN is a capability development social enterprise with a focus on leadership development and economic empowerment of women. We leverage technology to deliver practical and collaborative learning programmes that help to develop the capacity and capabilities of African women. Our online community also provides a platform where continuous learning and sharing take place among our members. The two programmes we have launched are the Aspiring Entrepreneurs Programme (a development programme for aspiring and young entrepreneurs), and Accelerate (a career development initiative which comprise a series of sessions and seminars).
In what ways has PAWEN empowered women?
PAWEN started this year and we have executed the two programmes.
For the first edition of the AEP, we trained 130 women from 10 African countries by helping them to start and scale their businesses. While the world was experiencing a lockdown, these women were learning and developing their business models through our digital platforms. The impact has been marvelous as 48 per cent of the participants have reported increased revenues.
Our first Accelerate session also trained over 300 women on the Future of Work and how women can navigate the new world of work successfully.
As the founder of PAWEN, what are your duties?
My main role is to chart the mission and objectives of the organisation, drive strategy and design the execution of programmes to achieve these objectives as well as facilitate the resources required for execution.
What are the factors militating against women empowerment in Nigeria?
There are several factors responsible for this, but I will focus on the five main factors.
The first is legal constraints. There is a need to develop our labour laws in a way that actively promote the inclusion of women in the workforce and in strategic positions. We need to ensure that the empowerment of women becomes the ethos of public and private rganisations. Our laws discriminate against female police officers, women who are married to foreign spouses, as well as the significant variation in the legal rights afforded to women across the country regarding asset ownership and marriage.
Secondly, there are political constraints. Women comprise about 50 per cent of the population yet have less than 10 per cent representation in political positions. This is due largely to the systemic constraints coupled with violence and male domination of decision-making which prevent women from engaging in politics. Also, the oganisation of politics and influence significantly limit the ability of women to participate in politics.
Also, there are socio-cultural constraints. The patriarchal nature of the Nigerian culture constitutes a major factor for the relative disempowerment of women. This is coupled with a mix of cultural and religious beliefs that infringe on women’s rights and are integrated into customary laws. The deep-set role of men in decision-making in the household, the lack of self-identity, the legally justified abuse and ‘corrective’ violence, not forgetting the boy-child preference all serve to promote gender inequalities.
There is also lack of access to finance. This is one of the major factors impeding the growth of women-owned businesses in Africa. The key barriers include lack of ownership of collateral― as tradition would seldom cede property rights to women; coupled with the absence of credit histories.
Lastly is the issue of education. The girl-child has limited or no access to proper education. Currently, the female adult literacy rate in Nigeria is 59.4 per cent, compared to the male adult literacy rate of 74.4 per cent. This lack of basic education precludes further education which is crucial for empowerment. Lack of education is the biggest barrier to empowerment. Education equips women with the knowledge, skills and self-confidence necessary to participate fully in the continent’s development process
What’s your take on the seeming increase in rape cases?
Rape (and other forms of gender-based violence) is a violent crime that agonises the victims, devalues their sense of self-worth and affects them negatively. Sadly, Nigeria has an inherent and pervasive misogynistic culture of rape and abuse and we see this manifest in different forms in our society― sex-for-grades in our educational systems, sex-for-roles in the movie industry, sex-for-jobs/promotion in the corporate world, men sleeping with housemaids in the home , etc. Our legal system makes it nearly impossible to convict suspected rapist and there is a stigmatisation of rape victims. The responses by our law enforcement agencies make me wonder sometimes if they are complicit in these crimes. We need new laws that protect women from rape and gender-based violence. However, I want to applaud the work done by some civil society organisations who are actively working on educating and giving rape victims a voice, but we can all individually and collectively do more.
A lot of non-governmental oganisations get grants and spend it on themselves, rather than on the purpose the funds were earmarked for. How is your organisation different in that regard?
It is disheartening to hear of this trend among NGOs and I think it is reflective of the decadence in our ethical and moral values at large.
PAWEN started as my way of giving back to society and contributing my own quota to empowering African women. While PAWEN has been privately-funded and supported by friends and family, we are committed to handling any funding we may receive in future with utmost transparency and accountability. We have a strong governance structure and system (which we are currently expanding) to ensure 100 per cent transparency and accountability in all our activities.
Some people have said that women are their own worst enemies because they don’t help one another. What do you think about that?
I’ve heard that in the past but I think that narrative is changing. Women are more aware and are supporting each other now, more than ever.
How do you think small and medium enterprises can better position themselves to get loans and grants?
SMEs can better position themselves for loans and grants by making adequate preparation. They should know the type of funding they need, what the application requirements and process are, and prepare adequately for this.
They should also keep proper records of accounting transactions for the business distinct and separate from the personal accounts of the owner.
Cultivating a relationship with the financial institutions early is also important. This starts by opening and operating an account with them at least six months – one year before you would need funding from them. They should also avail themselves of the various products they have.
Keeping accurate and updated financial and non- financial records is also imperative.
Finally, they should articulate, document and follow a clear structure in their businesses. This includes having a functional business plan and model, having systems and structures that reduce the business’ dependency on the owner, as well as having governance, audit and risk management structures in place.
What are your other interests?
I am a great lover of technology and how it is transforming the way we live, interact and work. I used to write software codes while pursuing my university degree and would have been a software developer if I had not pursued my HR career.
What are some of the personal qualities that have helped you get to where you are today?
These include my faith in God, innovation and creativity, diligence, integrity, resilience and empathy.
What advice do you have for young professionals?
They should learn and learn. It is important to develop a passion for learning. If they do, they would never cease to grow.
They should also have periodic career/work, health, relationship, and spiritual goals and have laser focus on these. There will be little battles that would creep up to distract them (and waste their time) as they navigate this journey of work and life. However, when one is focused on one’s goals, one wouldn’t be distracted. Social capital (also known as emotional bank accounts) is also essential. As you grow in life, never burn bridges.
Lastly, they should also build personal brands.
What are your educational qualifications?
I have a Bachelor’s degree in Accounting from the University of Lagos, and an MBA from University of Bradford, England. I am also an alumnus of the Lagos Business School and I have eight professional certifications in Human Resources, Project Management and Information Systems.
How do you unwind?
I love to hang out with friends, swim, travel and spend time with my family.
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