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Stigmatisation single mums face has gone on for too long — Weyinmi Eribo

By Esther Ijewere
16 April 2022   |   4:15 am
In a world where female breadwinners are constantly judged and misunderstood for walking out of abusive relationships, there are women who are bent on changing the narrative and making sure lone parents are supported, appreciated, empowered and economically stable.

In a world where female breadwinners are constantly judged and misunderstood for walking out of abusive relationships, there are women who are bent on changing the narrative and making sure lone parents are supported, appreciated, empowered and economically stable. Weyinmi Eribo is one of them. She is the founder and chief community builder of Wevvo Nigeria, a community based platform that supports female breadwinners with capacity development, access to finance and mentoring across Nigeria.

Weyinmi is a trained geologist cum development expert with focus on enterprise development, gender and financial inclusion. She has over 10 years’ experience across oil and gas, extractives, impact investing, gender lens investing and entrepreneurship. She is passionate about the economic development of women and has worked on several international and local projects that support the advancement of (female) entrepreneurship and financial inclusion. She is an Acumen West Africa ’22 Fellow, a StartingBloc ’19 social innovation Fellow and Regional Chair, West Africa Alumni, a World Bank Scholar, Orange Knowledge Programme Scholar, a Cherie Blair Foundation Alumni and an Alumni of EDC.

She is a contributor for a national newspaper in Nigeria and was drafted as a member of the ministerial focal group for the design of the Nigeria Youth Investment Fund. Her organisation recently signed a partnership with LAPO microfinance bank to financially empower female breadwinners.

Weyinmi shares her inspiring journey and the inspiration behind her passion to support female breadwinners in this interview with ESTHER IJEWERE

Childhood Influence
I am the last of six children, four of which are boys. Growing up, we all did the same chores, ate the same meals and mostly attended the same schools. My father was a very liberal man and in no way made me feel less than my brothers and so I grew up in a home with no gender biases. My father was intentional about his family. His philosophy about life was on humanity, as such men and women play different roles, he believed that we are all blessed and contribute to the value of life. This has played a major role in my work and career path. I don’t cower in the face of challenges and my decisions are not influenced by gender. I am able to take risks and dare to advocate for the causes I believe in.

Inspiration behind Wevvo Nigeria
I was at the airport one day traveling with my daughter, juggling several bags and trying to answer nerve wracking questions about the maternity of my daughter from immigration officials, while also trying to chase down a toddler who was running around. Suddenly a lady came up behind me and offered to help me with some of my bags, and after about a minute asked if I was a single mum. I responded in the affirmative and we both burst out crying, laughing and hugging each other, so many unspoken words were said in less than two minutes.

I realised how much pressure female breadwinners carry by themselves, in addition to the stereotyping and stigmatisation that the community places on us without any support of any kind whatsoever. I looked out for a group of women like us who could share our struggles together and still find a way to support each other in our work and businesses but did not really find one and so Wevvo was born; a community created to support female breadwinners through capacity development, access to relevant financial products and services and a safe space to heal, grow and thrive.

I have seen first-hand how women who were once strangers have built friendships and sisterhood and supported themselves through the journey of motherhood and self-discovery and we are all getting better for it. It is truly amazing to see and meet women who through shared struggles and values are creating a better life for themselves and their children.

Focus on female breadwinners
Wevvo Nigeria is intentional about the women we serve. Although gender issues are cross-cutting, we realised that we needed to speak specifically about female breadwinners because there is an upward surge in the number of female-headed households. The national Bureau of Statistics puts that number at about 19 per cent. There are women who are catering for more than four children alone, without any form of support, financial or non-financial. These were mere statistical numbers to me till I connected with women in the Wevvo community who this is their reality. There is no structured support for female breadwinners in Nigeria and that is what Wevvo Nigeria is trying to provide.

On Wevvo’s partnership with LAPO Microfinance Bank to support female breadwinners
Firstly, LAPO Microfinance Bank is such an inspiration and the leadership of the organisation within the financial sector is a real case study of what it means to patriotic. The project with LAPO MFB started about a year ago where we had an initial partnership to support women who run businesses with loans. The partnership at the time was simply an access to loans for the women in the Wevvo community. As we progressed however, we saw the need to design a special product that catered to female breadwinners across the country through the Wevvo community. This led to the re-launch of these special accounts that have been created now. I must mention that this would not have been possible without the exemplary leadership of the Managing Director, Mrs. Cynthia Ikponwosa, the Head of Communications, Mr. Remi Akande and the Head of Corporate Planning, Mrs. Dorcas Thorpe of LAPO MFB.

These special products include a loan facility where female breadwinners can access loans up to N3 million without collateral at 2.5 per cent reducing balance and a savings account with target savings of N15,000 to access free medical health insurance policy for one year and N60,000 for six months with the chance to access scholarship for a child. Through these products, single mothers across the country will have access to credit facilities across all the 500 branches that LAPO MFB has. So, regardless of their location and economic strata, they have the opportunity to grow their businesses regardless of the kind of business they are involved in.

How her 10 years’ experience in the oil and gas and impact investment sectors influenced her work ethics
Having had years of experience across several sectors, this has helped me in broadening my knowledge and interaction with women and men who are also in these sectors. It has also helped me to understand a cross section of women and what challenges they face at different stages of their careers and life and how this affects their mindsets and sometimes their response to life, as well as the opportunities that exist in supporting women. This understanding has further helped in spurring the right kind of conversations that can create a shift in the way society responds to the issues of female breadwinners and inspires the kind of solutions and empowerment programmes we design and create for them.

The most challenging issue I face is the mindset of some female breadwinners. Unfortunately, because of society’s narrative of single mums, a lot of women have bought into the victim mentally and this ripples into most other areas of their lives. They assume a defeatist position in the way they react and respond to life. A woman who may have undergone a divorce or broken relationship thinks she is synonymous with failure; a widow assumes she is plagued with bad luck and this keeps them shut mentally and they are not motivated enough to chase their dreams or take advantage of the opportunities we provide.

As an organisation, we also face the issue of funding as there are quite a bit of empowerment projects we want to undertake for the women in the community that we cannot run presently. Wevvo has been self-funded since its inception over two years ago but I’m hopeful that as we continue to grow, we would find ways to become self-sufficient.

Other projects and activities
Most of my work is built around the support and economic empowerment of women. I am co-founder of an agric-financing company, SEEDS Services Limited, which is a social impact organisation that provides women with the opportunity to learn, earn and grow. At SEEDS, we support the work of female smallholder farmers and women in agribusiness by enhancing their capacity, creating market access opportunities and giving them the opportunity to grow and scale their businesses through relevant financing opportunities.

I am also a certified business development service provider and so I support local and international projects focused on building a better entrepreneurship ecosystem and creating more opportunities for entrepreneurs to succeed.

What she enjoys most about her job
Funmi is a hairstylist who had a little shop at the corner of her neighbourhood. She accessed a loan from Wevvo and was able to purchase hair extensions in bulk and acquired a few pieces of equipment to improve the services she offered. In one year, Funmi was able to pay her loan back in full, increased her store capacity and employed an extra hand to help with customers. Funmi is just one of the many success stories that have come out of our community. It gives me great joy to see women blossom because this also means an improved access to healthcare, education and better livelihood for her family. This possibility of improved and happier lives for not only the women we work with but also their children and communities make it all worthwhile.

Beyond that, however, is the privilege of seeing people. This is the hardest thing for everyone. We don’t see ourselves or others. My job helps me to see people, their challenges, their triggers and trauma, which has made me a kinder person.

Women who inspire her and why
My mother, Mrs. Kate Eribo, remains the most tenacious, hardworking and loving person I know.
Mrs. Imaobong Amaechi, who is the current CEO of Gobeth Reliance Investment Company. She is a silent force and does so much with a big smile on her face and so much grace. Oprah Winfrey, who teaches me every day that you can define life on your own terms.

On how to educate the society on the stigmatisation of female breadwinners
We need to call it out. This stigmatisation that female breadwinners face has gone on for too long because we have remained silent. The movies that continue to portray single mothers as loose or desperate women looking for any opportunity to “dig gold”, the conversations that make women who leave abusive marriages or relationships as victims rather than survivors, the narratives that female breadwinners are “secondhand goods”, they all need to stop. And this starts with those of us who know better calling it out when people peddle these stories.

We all have friends who were raised by single mothers, or were ourselves raised by single mothers ourselves, or a sister, cousin, friend, colleague who is one and if we truly admit, some of these women are the most hard working women you can come across. We must intentionally begin to create opportunities that support them rather than box them into walls that we as society have created.

Being a Woman of Rubies
I believe that a woman of rubies is one who uses the bricks thrown at her to build stairways for herself and other women to climb up. The average woman is faced with systemic disadvantages and this is mostly as a result of financial constraints and lack of education. I am deeply passionate about the economic advancement of women and will continue to find ways to advocate and support policies and interventions that provide solutions and opportunities for women.

On how female breadwinners can #Breakthebias
It starts with the mind. The narratives we believe about ourselves have a lot to do with the way our lives play out regardless of whether one is a female breadwinner or not. Raising children on your own is not a plague and it doesn’t make you any less than the next person; no one is isolated from challenges, single or not. We must continue to strive for better opportunities and dare to dream for better lives for ourselves and families. We can change these norms by collectively challenging the status quo through education and advocacy.

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