Growing up in Nigeria on the same street as a girls’ orphanage made an impression on Amy Oyekunle at a young age. She remembers how the girls struggled, and how she vowed to make life better for them and for all Nigerian girls.
Today, Amy Oyekunle stands at the heart of the women's movement in Nigeria. As executive director of the Kudirat Initiative for Democracy (KIND), an NGO that advances democracy and development in Africa by supporting women’s and girls’ leadership, she has overseen the training of 2,900 young women in economic empowerment and prevention of gender-based violence.
Amy’s first lesson was to prove to young women that they have voices, and that they must stand up to create change in Nigeria. It’s a tall order in Nigeria’s patriarchal society.
“You know what’s ironic about it, most of these girls don’t even think about going into that field…[they say] I’m a girl, I’m a woman, so I really have no business in leadership or politics, or getting involved in decisions that affect me,” Amy shares. The KIND teaches these girls that it is not only their business to get involved in Nigerian society, but it is their responsibility to demand improvements for themselves and other women.
Kudra, “power” in Arabic, is the KIND’s flagship program, offering leadership skills, financial management skills, employment skills and mentorship. A junior program for girls ages 11-15, teaches entrepreneurship skills with a starter pack of beads, a small sum of money and tools to sustain their businesses.
It’s one thing to be economically empowered. It’s quite another to transform girls into agents of change. Gender-based violence still persists. When people say micro-finance is the answer for women in Nigeria, Amy shakes her head. “It’s never that simple.”
In fact, Amy sometimes observes a spike in violence against women as jealous husbands and boyfriends feel threatened. They resent the new financial independence of their partners and lash out. Too often, women in KIND and Amy herself — economically empowered and highly educated — face violence at home.
“I see myself as a voice for the voiceless,” says Amy. She’s a leading advocate for ending violence against women, and has expanded Kudra to include workshops on gender-based violence and sexual harassment.
“Women must know their rights. As a woman, if you know your rights you can transform into an agent of change,” explains Amy.
“I see myself as a voice for the voiceless.”