Ifeoma Monye: ‘If women are respected in their homes, it will flow into other aspects of life’
Ifeoma Monye is the 65th President of the International Women’s Society (IWS). A management consultant, execution focused strategist and political economist, she is partner at Ciuci Consulting. Monye has a degree in Economics and Politics from the University of Essex, and also obtained a General Management Programme (GMP) in Business Administration and Management from the Harvard Business School. In this interview with IJEOMA THOMAS-ODIA, Monye shares her passion for helping people expand knowledge and self development through her activities in IWS, with focus on her agenda bordering on STEM, coding and mentoring, as well as other women-related issues.
Take us through your professional background?
I moved back to Nigeria 20 years ago; I had studied Economics and Politics in the United Kingdom, and I moved back to Nigeria wanting to work for the United Nations to come up with policies that affect businesses. I came back and realised that things are slightly different here, so I thought about what else I could do.
I worked at Viju with Mrs Funke Osibodu where I learnt tremendously from her and then, I moved over to Minaj where I was the Head of Strategy for the conglomerate. Minaj is into media, real estate, and printing. From there, in 2011, I moved over to Ciuci, where I work as a partner. My background has been in strategy, Management Consulting and Operations Management.
Tell us some of the programmes you have for your tenure?
We have six projects; we have a day Nursery, which was started in 1957 in Yaba for the market women to ensure that their children have the right foundation; this is still ongoing. We have the skills acquisition center in Lekki where we teach ladies catering and events planning; they do sewing, fashion and designing. We have the adult education, IT and we also have a home for abandoned children in Ijebu Ode and our scholarship programme. We also have our widows Trust Fund.
For my tenure, I will be focusing on three main things, which are STEM, Chess and mentorship. The game Chess is very important and people don’t realise the skill set that you have. Chess is almost a strategy – you are tensed up ahead of your opponent, and you are thinking of their next steps and how you will handle them. So, these are lifelong skills that they are going to use in different areas of their lives. These are cognitive skills we are teaching children to adapt in other areas of their lives.
Mentorship is also important, because it will help give a sense of obligation and understand how to handle and overcome life issues when they happen. We can’t do it alone and so we are partnering with organisations like Chess to Slums to achieve this. They are the ones helping us with programmes as they are already in Oshodi and Makoko.
However, spreading to other states is based on available resources. We have been to IDP camps in the North, but it is important to have people on ground to drive the programmes.
Are there plans to expand the activities of the International Women’s Society to other parts of the country?
IWS can’t do it all, so we are partnering with organisations like Chess to Slum and many others to bring initiatives to a lot of places. It goes back to the resources and people in those states. Right now, we visit IDP camps in the north as well. But then, we need to have an adequate workforce to coordinate these things in these areas. It’s one thing to say yes, we want to want to spread, but are there people on ground, who would continue to drive this vision there? But whenever we are needed, we have gone to the places as well.
Which of the previous 64 IWS president would you emulate the most or do you admire the most?
I admire all of them and I would explain why. When I came in, I decided that I would want to learn from all of them. I organised a lunch date and we had about 27 of them in attendance and it was a beautiful experience. So, for me, it is getting the best from each of them and also learn from those that people think did not do well. IWS is not about the President; it is an institution. It is all about serving to push the organisation forward.
In your opinion, how do you think women can become more relevant in the political space?
It starts with the home. If women are respected in their homes, it will flow into other aspects of life. How would it be if our husbands, brothers, sons, respect the women? If we respect our wives, daughters and sisters, it would translate in every other sphere. We must start having these conversations in our homes.
I have been in situations where men talk to me anyhow, and people say things like, ‘but you have a wife at home.’ Of course! If you can talk to me like that, it means you don’t have respect for your wife. So, we must have these conversations in our families and our homes. I think that’s one key part we need to do.
Also, we need to tell our husbands, our brothers, our sons to be part of this conversation. We need to have a conversation with the men, as well as get them on our side. We are not trying to make them feel threatened; they have a part to play. Equally, women also have a part to play. Until we play our part, our own economy would not move forward.
On the rejected gender bills, what do you think government should do?
I think it boils down to us having this conversation. One of the things I would say is that it is important that we keep emphasising our importance and showing it on different platforms that we find ourselves, whether it is in rallies or protests.
But at the same time, nothing stops us from putting women in power, if we find a woman who is competent enough. We need to realise that we are the voters and we have the power. We must realise that whether they rejected the bill or not, we could put as many women as we want into positions; the power lies with us.
Research suggests that girl children are wired from childhood to be natural caregivers and homemakers, in that when a boy is bought a motorcar or a toy gun, a girl is bought a baby doll or teddy bear. The study believes that girl children are wired to not think about technical things, do you agree?
I agree that it is a societal thing. But when you look at it, you would see that girls are naturally as curious as boys. How society has now succeeded in shaping the mind of these girls is one thing. I have two daughters, and I’m bringing them up the way my father brought me up to be anything they want to be. There are no limits.
Growing up, I have never thought of ‘I’m a girl or I’m a boy’, I was given all of the opportunities. I was able to expand my mind and to see things beyond how they are. What we are doing is to make girls what they want to be as long as she decides she wants it. It’s not for society, or her family to decide what she should become, but by finding her natural talents. What are her talents? Let her try different things and see what she’s good at and that’s part of what we are trying to do with our programs. They try different things and then see what comes to them naturally and through mentorship, we can speak to them that whatever it is they have been told; they can be much more. We would let them know that whatever it’s that they want, whether it’s to be a lawyer, singer, stay-at-home mom, they have the choice and they are the ones to make up their mind on what they want.
What is your message to those who think that feminism is a war against men?
There are different ways of saying something and still getting the message across. If the word feminism is the issue, maybe we drop that word for them. Let them hear and understand what it is all about. If they can’t get past feminism, we make them understand what it is.
What we are saying is that we have a right to choose what we need to do. We have a right over our own lives and to say whether our husbands can become Nigeria nationals by marriage. That’s all we are saying.
Again, we need to understand how to make the people who are not listening to us listen to us; it’s not necessarily a fight. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t fight for our rights, but we need to learn to get people on our side; we need to get them to listen. We need to understand their issues and then get their buy-in.
What challenges do you envisage, and what is your strategy to overcome those challenges?
If we are looking at Nigeria as a whole, just like what we are talking about rejected bills, how can we be part of the conversation with the people who oversee making the law? Asides from protesting; yes, protesting is good, but how do we get to have a seat on that table so they can understand us and give us the change that we desire?
I see IWS as a face in this case and at the same time, we need to empower more girls and equip the women as well to ensure that when the time is right, they can stand there and do great things.
What are your thoughts on pay gap between the male and female gender?
I believe that if a woman is bringing as much value as her male colleague, she should be paid equally. Paying should have nothing to do with gender, and for sure, it still exists in Nigeria.
What advice do you have for other women who are looking to sitting at the same table as you are now?
Focus on doing your best in whatever tasks you are given and whatever area you are in. I think sometimes, we miss it when we keep looking at the top, forgetting where we are. You must start from somewhere. For you to be a good leader, you must be a good follower.
You must be able to take instructions from those before you. Understand them, because that’s how you learn, you understand how they’re doing certain things. Ensure that whatever position you’re in now, you’re giving your best and building that track record so that by the time you get there, nobody would dispute that you deserve it.