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Amy Oyekunle: Getting women involved

Nigerian executive director of KIND sees women's involvement in politics as the key to progress in Africa.

Rape is a major target. KIND notes that 10 rapes a day are reported in one hospital alone out of Lagos' 57 municipal districts, by women and children of many ages. Lagos police don't bother to keep records because it is not really considered a major crime. Another issue is securing the right for women to inherit property when their husband dies.

In 2006, to commemorate Women's Day, KIND brought Eve Ensler's “Vagina Monologues” to Lagos, and the country's federal capital, Abuja. Abuja was important because KIND wanted Nigerian lawmakers to hear what women really thought. For KIND, it was a gutsy move.

“What we were most worried about,” says Oyekunle, “is that our throats would be slit while we were sleeping at night.” There was a bit of backlash, but on the whole the message found a receptive audience.

“For many women it was an 'Ahaaa!' moment,” Oyekunle says. The performances raised enough money to support a women's shelter in Lagos, and KIND began organizing other performances based on Nigerian stories. This time, they mobilized talent from “Nollywood,” Nigeria's budding film industry.

“We do most of the performances in the universities that are producing our next generation of leaders,” she says. “If women don't develop an awareness at that stage, they never will.”

In the meantime, Oyekunle, who is 33 and married with two small children, finds that her activist approach is having an impact on her own family.

“My husband tells me that I am the philanthropist and that he is a businessman. I am the social worker and he is not,” she says. “He told me that I would spend my time better working in a bank or for the U.N., where I would make more money with less stress.” But she adds that over the years, he has come to accept what she does and that there has now been a turning point in the relationship.

“He went through denial, acceptance and now he is actually helping,” she says. “In a way, I have changed the way he thinks. Before, it was me, myself and I and it doesn't affect me. This is my house, my family and it is not my problem whatever is going on out there. But in the last few months, he has actually become involved in our community. He has started to become involved in where we live, and he worries that there are no roads or lights. He is taking a lead, and I am pretty proud of him.”

The message seems to have gotten through to Oyekunle as well.

“In the future,” she says, “I want to run for political office in Nigeria."