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Her Story

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I started my love-hate relationship with food at a very tender age. I was about eight or nine at most and was preparing to get into secondary school. 

I had always been bigger than my classmates –taller, fatter and bulky.  

The State primary education board did not make life any easier for me when they introduced a literature book called ‘’The Fat Woman’’ to be used in all elementary schools in the state back then.

In one month my named had changed from that given at birth to the ‘’fat woman’’. The teachers whom I thought would come to my rescue did not even help matters as they resorted to calling me that at the slightest provocation from me, as the school had recently placed a sanction on teachers who punished their pupils by flogging.  My only safe haven was home, maybe because my siblings were equally fat.

I didn’t exactly have an easy time dealing with my weight when I finally got into secondary school. The teasing got worst and I was determined to do something about my weight.  I wasn’t sure of what I was going to do. 

 I got an idea from a dog.  My Aunt’s dog.

I had gone to spend the long vacation with my Aunty Emma. She was a matured single, living alone at the time and rumours had it that her attraction to dogs was to fill the loneliness that came with not having a husband and kids. She nurtured the dogs like she would a child, bath them and spoon fed them. A special vet came to the house every other week to look at the dogs and some of her friends will even jokingly say they wish they could be her dog. 

Nicky was the oldest among her dogs and was mother to almost all others. She was angry when her puppies were sold off and went on a protest fast. Maybe something else happened, because Nicky boycotted food for the rest of the year. She barely touched anything she was served and was getting leaner by the day. My aunt resorted to force feeding her every day and Nicky will throw up everything she was fed immediately she was let off the hook. Nicky stopped gaining weight and before I left, the once very fat dog was now a skinny bag of bones. 

I had learnt that one could stop gaining weight by not eating or throwing up after eating, and that started my long painful journey with bulimia.

I began restricting my food intake immediately I got back from vacation. I will try to skip breakfast and barely ever touched my lunch. My stomach would roll and growl all day long. I remember being embarrassed if the classroom was quiet enough for others to hear the rumbling. Inevitably, I’d return home in the afternoon ravenous. I’d binge on whatever I could find. Cookies, candy, cake, garri, all kinds of snacks, my mum was a caterer by the way.

Full Blown Bulimia

      Image Source –Psychology Today

My binging episodes got out of control. I was eating less and less during the day and would make up for it in the evening. This habit made very little difference on my weight even though I had been on it for years. I did not add the weight as rapidly as I did before, but stealthily, the number on the small bathroom scale kept increasing.  I was in deep thought about why I wasn’t losing weight when my aunt called to tell my mum that Nicky had been hospitalized for complications related to starvation. I then remembered. Nicky threw up every time she was force fed and she still was losing weight. I had found my missing link. Purge it all out after eating. And there began my journey with bulimia officially. The process seemed so easy. I could eat whatever I wanted and however much I wanted, and then just get rid of it with a simple flush of the toilet.

I was about 15 the first time I purged. I had just finished a whole pack of cereal combined with several cubes of sugar and a full tin of the much sweetened condensed milk. A wave of guilt immediately hit me and I sneaked into the bathroom, put my hand deep into my throat and brought everything out into the bathroom sink. After I had gotten rid of the offending calories, I felt lighter. I don’t just mean that in the physical sense of the word, either.

You see, bulimia became a sort of coping mechanism for me. It ended up not being so much about food as it did about control. I was dealing with a lot of stress later on in school. I had the difficult career choice to make, I had men who could father me hitting on me, (my size did not help mattes in this regard), and there was the domestic issue of dealing with the chronic illness of a beloved sibling. There were lots of things in my life that I just wasn’t able to manage. I’d binge and get a rush from eating so much food. Then I’d get an even bigger, better rush after getting rid of it all.

Not just weight control

My parents were very distracted at this time. My brother’s ailment had taken its toll on them and so it was easy for them to have missed my bulimia. Coincidentally, I had to leave home for university about a few months after I started purging and at my uncle’s house where I had to live in my first two years in the university, it was easy to go unnoticed. Nobody seemed to notice my bulimia. Or if they did, they didn’t say anything. At one point during my first year of university, I got down to just 115 pounds on my nearly 5’7 frame. 

There were so many changes that came along with moving away from home, attending lectures and dealing with life mostly on my own for the first time. I was binging and purging daily.

My mum was alarmed when I returned home on the first school holiday. She complained to my dad that my uncle’s wife must be starving me and that being very introverted in nature; I am not the type that will ask for food if I’m not offered. I felt sorry for my aunt who was nothing but nice to me. 

Sometimes I’d complete the binge-purge cycle multiple times a day. I remember going on a field trip with some course mates and desperately looking for a bathroom after eating too much cake. I remember being in the hotel room I shared with a course mate, after eating a box of chocolates and waiting and praying desperately for the girl to step out so I could purge. I will run all the taps at once and make a lot of noise in the bathroom to prevent her from hearing what was really going on down there. It got to the point where I wouldn’t really binge, either. I’d purge after eating normal-sized meals and even snacks.

I would go through good periods and bad periods. Sometimes weeks or even several months would go by when I’d barely purge at all. And then there’d be other times — usually when I had added stress, — when bulimia would rear its ugly head. I remember purging after breakfast on the day of my convocation. I remember having a very bad period of purging during my compulsory National Youth Service Corp. 

Again, it was often about control, coping. A lot was going on in my life that I couldn’t control, but I could control this one aspect.

Ten years, later

The long term effects of bulimia aren’t completely known, but the ones known are frightening enough. Complications range from cardiovascular diseases, blood pressure abnormalities, gastrointestinal distress, constipation, indigestion, heartburn, tooth decay, irregular periods and even depression. I had a fair share of most of these complications, but at this point I could not stop myself despite being afraid about what it was doing to my body. I remember blacking out upon standing quite often during my bad periods of bulimia. Looking back, it seems incredibly dangerous.

My then fiancé was the first to notice and I eventually confided in him. He encouraged me to speak with a doctor, which I did, albeit briefly. My own path to recovery was long because I tried doing much of it on my own. It ended up being two steps forward, one step back.

I knew I had to take my recovery process seriously when the complication of depression became very serious. I was surviving on antidepressants and had on two occasions being hospitalized for episodes of depression.

Recovery was a slow process for me, but I can confidently say I am free from bulimia now.

Yes, I have gone back to being ‘’the fat woman’’ but I am a beautiful and healthy fat woman.

The last time I purged was when I was 25. That’s 10 years of my life plagued with this draining eating disorder. The episodes were infrequent by then, and I had learned some skills to help me deal better with stress. I now exercise regularly, and have discovered exercise lifts my moods and helps me work through things that are bothering me. I also have developed a love for writing and cooking healthy meals. I read my bible daily and the comfort contained therein is better experienced than imagined. 

The complications of bulimia go beyond the physical. I can’t get back the decade or so I spent in the throes of bulimia. During that time, my thoughts were consumed with binging and purging. So many important moments of my life are tainted with memories of purging. I wish I could turn back the hand of those times.  

Don’t let the world rush you

The fashion, modeling and advertising industries have constantly made women feel they have to be a certain body type in order to be considered beautiful. Don’t let the world mold you to its standards. A wise man once said, “do not read beauty magazines, it would only make you feel ugly.” While it is good to maintain a healthy weight for a longer and healthier life, you can be beautiful no matter the number on your dress tag or result of the scale while standing on it.

Seek help

If you’re dealing with any eating disorder, please seek help urgently.  You don’t have to wait. You can do it today. Don’t let yourself live with an eating disorder for another week, month, or year. Eating disorders like bulimia are often not just about losing weight. They also revolve around issues of control or negative thoughts, like having a poor self-image. Learning healthy coping mechanisms can help.

Admitting that you have a problem is the first step. Be determined to break the cycle. A trusted friend or doctor can help you get on your way to recovery. The steps to recovery is not all easy, you may feel embarrassed at relapses, but do not give up even when you fail every now and then. You may feel you can recover on your own, but from experience, this is quite unlikely. Stay strong, seek help and cultivate healthy lifestyles . 

Your memory book should be filled with important moments in your life and not memories of your eating disorder. 

Kembet Bolton

With the various drives going on in Africa to reduce the number of people infected and living with HIV/AIDS, the Consortium of Leadership & Gender Experts (CLGE] has been set up to bridge the gender discriminations that exists on the continent. In an exclusive interview with Amazons Watch Magazine, Dr Tinaye tells us more about the future of Africa and what the plans for PLWHA are on the continent. Excerpts:

  1. Our findings reveal that you have put in over twenty years in the academia and social development in the areas of education, health – HIV/AIDS, & gender. Kindly tell about yourself and your career in these fields.

I am, first and foremost a nurse, at heart and by training but, I was never a clinical nurse! I went in as a Clinical Instructor/Student Fellow upon nursing training completion. After working for just over a year I went for further studies to read for a Bachelors’ Degree, Education at the University. Later, I obtained a Master of Science, Midwifery and Doctor of Philosophy (Sociology) Degrees.  I lectured health professionals – Midwives – over a 15-year period.  During this tenure, I rose through the academic ladder within a Public Tertiary Institution to the highest rank of Senior Lecturer and doubled as Program Coordinator for the program. I cherish those years since Midwifery is close to my heart. Back then, job satisfaction came from observing starry faced Midwifery novices turning into seasoned dexterous professionals capable of managing expectant women through the delivery of live and healthy bundles of joy! Many of my former students continue to humble me by expressing gratitude for setting them up a career advancement pathway every time we meet! As I also proved adept at administration, I swiftly progressed in my career to management level with the admiration of my peers and gratification of my employer. All this achievement came with hard work, humility and by Grace!

Notwithstanding this rather picturesque experience, professional agitation for better and bigger calls knocked at my door. This was in the form of organizational politicking and a nagging feeling to move on to other agendas. I was always passionate about making something out of myself by giving towards bettering other peoples’ lives. So, I joined international NGOs to do development projects addressing topical health issues of the day. In the early 2000s, HIV was the biggest deal. In 2002, together with the Country Director and I as Country Deputy Director set up a Botswana subsidiary of PSG-South Africa known as Matshelo Community Development Association (MCDA), to run an HIV Prevention Program for 11 SADC countries underfunding that was previously managed by the University of Botswana- Center for Continuing Education. The subsidiary CBO exists up to date.  The project was a broad-based project and aimed at addressing foundational and structural barriers to HIV prevention. It adopted participatory educational and outreach approaches through the use of peer education techniques and targeted vulnerable and hard to reach community groups (including youth particularly girls, out of school youth, unemployed women and sex workers among others). It was a multi-faceted project with capacity building of core groups to cascade skills and knowledge to peers in their communities serving as the main instrument for operating at scale to attain a felt impact. In Botswana, we worked in 16 sites along the railway line and border town communities. It was a marvellous project that allowed African countries to share experiences on the trajectory of HIV and AIDS; research engagements and bring results from various parts of the sub-continent together creating holistic telling loops about the scourge and; create a momentous feeling for regional clusters to catch up or do better amidst a sense of camaraderie and oneness!

With lessons from MCDA work, regional and international exchanges, I set up a project as Country Director for Johns Hopkins University Center for Communication Programs in Botswana. The project, Gender Initiative on Girls’ Vulnerability, simply known as GGI for Go! Girls Initiative aimed at reducing girls’ vulnerability through a multi-dimensional approach embracing all groups of people that impact girls’ HIV status. It included intervention research- pre-assessments, designing action packages using research findings and developing relevant materials for the programs, working with communities to act and reviewing results of the action. I couldn’t benefit any better from a project and I regard it as the epitome of my career! The pleasure of working with mothers, girls and boys, adult men and women in their communities, tribal authorities, extension workers, government officials (middle supervisors) and policymakers was immeasurable.  The enthusiasm and commitment to do something about their life situation and promote the safety of the girl child were palpable across communities. The greatest lesson for me was how lopsided our common top-down public planning undermines the very outcomes for which we strive! I thought a little nudge in the right direction for inclusivity and full participation of all towards solving social and development challenges can tip the scales positively big time. This was a turning point for me which explains my inspiration to found CLGE – a vehicle for transforming lives for the better!

Working for the UNDP, Botswana felt like a final stopover in my employment career for advisory/policy formulation and advocacy purposes. Given the wealth of lessons from the amazing organizations I partook in, surely, I wasn’t short of contributions. As Manager for the Country Office Health, HIV and Gender Programme, I smoothly contributed to the formulation, review and design of policies and guidelines working alongside government institutions. Some strategic formulations include; the National HIV/AIDS Strategic Plan and its implementation tools, Gender and Development Policy and needs assessment studies for various policy reforms e.g. family policy, gender mainstreaming in various policies etc. I enjoyed engagement in different dialogue platforms for many social and development work.

Familiarity with the UN system was an eye opener about the institutionalization of power and how national/regional/international efforts sidetrack the man on the ground despite the good intentions. Indication – there are gaps that require to be filled to complete the circuit by reaching out to where it matters most – grassroots!

  1. Botswana has the second highest HIV prevalence in the world with latest reports estimating it to be around 17.6% of the general population, 24% for 15 years and above age group, and 48.9% of women aged 30-34 years, while 33.3% of pregnant ones are HIV positive. What is your take on the prevalence of HIV/AIDs in Botswana?

Actually, figures were slightly adjusted according to the results of the last Botswana AIDS Impact Survey IV of 2013. Botswana has moved to third place after Lesotho and Swaziland. Prevalence now stands at 16.9%. Figures may not indicate a drastic improvement but, the downward trend is a promising sign. However, prevalence remains extremely high and it is expected to remain so for quite some time. To clarify, national prevalence shows how widespread the infection is in the country, i.e. the proportion of infected individuals to the population size. Given Botswana’s high infection rates in earlier years, it will take time to have more people in the population who are free of infection. These individuals are expected to come from uninfected newborn babies who will grow up into older population groups without being infected. Also, older people (children, youth and adults) who will remain uninfected should increase the size of the group of those people who remain free of infection in the population. I am happy to say we see signs that this picture is emerging. One good reason for this is the drop in the incidence rate (2.47 in 2013 from 2.9 in 2008). Incidence is the speed at which new cases occur over a period of time.  But, Botswana’s challenge is to step up behaviour change efforts by helping individuals to become stronger in adopting safety measures. These measures should not be those highly reliant on biomedical techniques like PMTCT, which in our case contributed much to fall in incidence. We should plan of launching our HIV free infants into a childhood and youth space where they can be bold and resilient to avoid infection at all costs as they approach the riskiest years of their lives (adolescence and the childbearing period).  These periods cover years that individuals are most sexually active. Serious dangers of HIV spread during the periods are associated with socio-cultural and gender inequalities and discrimination that increases risks for girls, women and inversely affects everyone. So, Botswana should implement combination prevention as soon as yesterday to reduce HIV incidence across a wide spectrum of population age groups resulting in much prevalence reduction. Such prevention measures require deliberate and coordinated empowerment of women, girls, men and boys towards a common vision, in addition to biomedical techniques

  1. Kindly tell us about your work and efforts in the fights against HIV/AIDS.

I am a people person who likes helping out all the time. So, I believe my work against HIV/AIDS began well before I started working on formal HIV related projects through my efforts as community worker towards all those around me – family, co-workers and social groups. I was always concerned about the consequences of behaviour on one’s life and was ready with a word of encouragement or counsel to support pro-life behaviour with tangible and sustainable benefits. This life outlook drifted me from the training of health professionals towards development projects. I started off as Country Deputy Director for Botswana in a regional HIV Prevention Program run for 11 SADC countries back in 2001 by Project Support Group (PSG) – a South African based NGO. We worked with universities on intervention research projects towards prevention – University of Botswana- Center for Continuing Education, University of Zimbabwe and the University of Oslo- Center for Anthropology. We also worked with vulnerable groups such as girls, out of school and unemployed youth, and women in communities to build their capacity and improve livelihoods. Then, I was Country Director for Botswana in a Johns Hopkins University –Center for Communications Programs project known as the Gender Initiative on Girls’ Vulnerability in three SADC countries – Botswana, Malawi & Mozambique. I was directing research activities for Botswana, planning program activities and overseeing all program activities in communities to complement regional project efforts. The focus was still on capacity building with an evidence base from the research findings to reduce girls’ vulnerability to HIV infection. I derived the greatest satisfaction out of my work life from these years as I could relate the value of academic work to life realities and at the same time bring worthy experiences to the learning table for dialogue and investigation. I regard this link as one of the biggest missing factors between education and its role in developing lives. Still in development work, I then worked for UNDP heading their Health/HIV and Gender Program. At this level my work focused on advisory services and policy formulation at national level. Tapping from my previous work experience I finally set up the Consortium of Leadership & Gender Experts [CLGE], a social enterprise that seeks to build leadership capacity for all to transform lives by addressing barriers such as discriminatory practices like gender, social exclusion by class/status etc. I believe the most lethal weapon for prevention of HIV transmission is the capacity to take charge of one’s life and avoid likely pitfalls that compromise individuals’ resilience and independence e.g. socio-cultural and gender pressures.  I believe that taking charge of self is a leadership function! 

  1. Findings reveal that gender discrimination continues to undermine efforts to ensure education for all, while over 80 per cent of children are in school in Botswana. Violence against women and girls, as well as problems with girls’ retention, continue to plague the school system. What are your thoughts on these and how do you think the society can address these challenges?

Challenges in the school system are only but an iceberg of a much wider social problem that plagues girls and women. Problems faced by girls at school are true signs of institutionalized social problems by gender lines. Problems in schools stand out because of the larger pool of girls in the same space over a period of time. But, imagine that individuals, girls and women are suffering the same fate silently in their various corners. Although everyone agrees that acts of violence and discrimination should be stopped, on a social level, tokenism exists. What I mean is that people believe that this is how society is and so, such acts should be expected – foundational misconceptions! It is important to instigate action for social transformation of both men and women at all levels – individual, peer networks, institutions and wider society.  I believe the key to transformation is the creation of a shared vision in which both men and women are winners and beneficiaries with a vested interest in the change. As it is now, the gender equality drive appears to be characterized by opposing interests. We can never win, that way!  

  1. How do you balance your family and career obligations?

I don’t cry for balance. I give thanks for the opportunity to do what I need to do when I do it! And still, give thanks for relaxation windows! That is what life is about. Balance comes because you are able to do what you like best, anywhere! My family is priority number one because relationships matter most to me. But, I am most pleasant and meaningful to them when I contribute at best towards my life course…. i.e. doing and saying that which brings a smile to everyone, fighting for fairness and justice for ALL. I am a grandmother of a lovely young girl. While I have always felt so much love for our son and daughter, I never felt so much fulfilment and a sense of extension into infinity until my granddaughter was born. It is such an amazing feeling…a blissful feeling of accomplishment that you cannot ascribe to any effort of yours! Although my husband hasn’t expressed it, I have always caught a glimpse of that contented smile on him when he watches the girl during her funny moments! The other thought that carries me through tough times is the love from mum and dad, and the feeling of belonging I developed growing up with my sisters.    

  1. What’s the best way for the readers of Amazons Watch Magazine to connect with you (You can include links to your social networks and websites)

www.clgebw.org

QUOTE: “I believe the most lethal weapon for prevention of HIV transmission is the capacity to take charge of one’s life and avoid likely pitfalls that compromise individuals’ resilience and independence.”

A gender equal society with a framework in which both sexes have access to equal opportunities is one that every woman looks forward to. In this exclusive interview with Amazons Watch Magazine, the General Manager of Central Bank of Ecuador, Ms. Veronica Artola Jarrin, discusses the progress made in promoting gender equality in her country over the years and more. Excerpts:

  • More than half of Ecuador’s population is made up of women. How would you rate the participation of women in socio-economic and political activities?

In recent years the gender equity has faced important improvements; however, it has a lengthy path ahead. The gap in gender equity has been bridging during the last 20 years, in Ecuador there are several examples that show the improvement in this topic. María Alejandra Vicuña is the second women in being nominated as Vice President of the Republic during Ecuador´s political history. Several local governments already have women as mayors and there are currently more women as candidates to assume positions of elected office.

The most important progress seen in Ecuador is observed at the National Assembly where the 38.69% of its members are women. The participation of women as heads of public institutions has increased, even in government bodies that were occupied by men through time, such as the Interior Ministry, Defense Ministry and the Central Bank of Ecuador.

But the gap still persists and in other areas it is more evident, the socio-economic situation of women is even disturbing. The last 20 years until 2016, have faced a phenomenon of poverty´s feminization, which is undoubtedly related to other problems such as the gap in wage and work. Women still work up to three times more than men, and much of that time, without any remuneration. There is a marked job insecurity in women, despite the fact that access to education gap had been closed, the labor market is still governed by gender-generic parameters that affects women. This cause that many women prefer to chose low-paid and precarious jobs where they are faced to labor exploitation, such domestic service or child care.

Additionally, the gender violence is still alarming in Ecuador, by 2011, one in four women had suffered some type of sexual assault and the current femicide situations have shocked the society. There are important gaps from the economic perspective, women are excluded from the financial system, economic violence and traditional roles still limiting the participation of women in the economic field.

  • Ecuador has over the years maintained economic stability rising in ranks among other Southern American countries. What will you say is responsible for this?

The management and financing model in recent years has focused on taking advantage of the positive externalities presented in the world economy, especially the ones related to the high price of commodities, which were channeled into public investment to generate the necessary conditions, in particular in infrastructure to boost private investment.

In this regard, public management played an important role in the economy and fostered the dynamism of a large part of the economic sectors, promoting public purchases to Ecuadorian suppliers, the incorporation of capital goods and national raw material into strategic projects of the State and the articulation of public and private actors, and universities and popular economy actors as well.

In this context, the Central Bank of Ecuador has searched for the proper functioning of the monetary and financial system through the optimal administration of liquidity and economic flows, protecting the systemic stability and promoting the access of the population to credit and financial services.

Currently, we are faced with a new macroeconomic scenario where it is evident the necessity to take advantage of the conditions previously generated in the benefit of the private sector. Meanwhile the public sector should focus its management towards efficiency of the resources that were previously provided and look for new actions and tools that allow us to cope with a less favorable economic outlook for our country, since the price of commodities has shown a lower price level and it has been complemented by the appreciation of the dollar and unfortunately we had to manage non-predictable natural events, such as the April 16, 2016 earthquake.

In this way, we believe the productive sector will be decisive (as it has always been, but now with greater emphasis) in pursuing national objectives and thus the economic situation. Therefore, we have seen the need to articulate spaces and actions aimed at this objective, such as the disclosure of the “Organic Law of incentives for public-private partnerships” and the “Organic Law for productive promotion”, which are aimed to a healthy articulation between the public and the private sector.

  • In your opinion, what are some of the trade policies which can be put in place to boost economic growth?

We are looking to generate opportunities for the development of our exports and therefore achieve our national objectives like: the productive diversification based on the incorporation of added value, in the impulse of exports; its expansion in products and destinations, and import substitution; the inclusion of actors and the continuous improvement of productivity and competitiveness, in a transversal way in all sectors of the economy. In this sense, it is possible to analyze a greater commercial openness to the world, focused towards economic recovery, so the best strategies are being analyzed to initiate relations with blocs of nations with which we can count on synergies that mutually benefit us.

It is important to note that non-oil exports as a component of the total exports of Ecuador, have emerged strongly in the last ten years, showing a greater participation in the total composition of the goods sent abroad. In 2008, non-oil exports accounted for 38%, while the weight of oil exports amounted to 62%. On the contrary, in 2017 a structural change in the economy was reflected, since 64% corresponded to non-oil exports

Although, it is necessary to continue working on the diversification and positioning of our products and services at international level, there is still evidence of a predominance of primary products (especially banana and shrimp),and the quality and global acceptance of our products compel us to support our national production through the modernization and aggregation of value to our products. This should be complemented with the management of attraction and promotion of investments, in line with the development of objectives and strategies for the generation of employment and promotion through the income of currencies.

What is previously mentioned is articulated and implemented through the policies projected in the national development plan called “Plan toda una vida”, aimed at boosting productivity and competitiveness for sustainable economic growth in are distributive and solidarity way.

  • The Central Bank of Ecuador has put in place an institution which supports pregnant and breastfeeding women. What specific occurrences prompted this move?

The Central Bank of Ecuador permanently advocates actions that allow the promotion of a positive working culture, as well as promoting the improvement in the living and working conditions of those who are part of the entity. We are committed to build a proactive, empowered and socially responsible organizational culture. On the basis of this challenge, the institution has worked from various points, in which the promotion of gender equity has been addressed as a priority and integral strategy plan of the Bank.

 

Consistent with this line of action, in July 2017, I arranged the implementation of a lactation area in the bank, knowing the importance of breastfeeding to contribute to the gender equity strategy and ensure compliance with the rights of female workers in postpartum period. To date, among the bank officials we have 216 women of childbearing age, 8 are pregnant and 13 in breastfeeding period, which could benefit from this space. Among them I am one who will be a user of this area because last Thursday October 25, I gave birth to my little daughter Paula, who will also be a direct beneficiary of the lactation area of the Central bank.

This space is certified by the Ministry of Public Health due to compliance of high sanitary and technical standards, but also because it is a cozy, quiet and luminous place, where it will be a pleasure and joy for me to feed my beloved daughter.

  • In recent times, women protested several injustices from workplace marginalization to assaults of different kinds. How best do you think the rights of women can be protected?

One can protect women’s rights first of all, through acknowledgement, awareness raising and self appropriation, that is, as women, demanding respect of rights and educating children and men to do the same.  Also, there must be punitive action against those who disrespect these rights, and the act of filing a claim should count on clear means of communication.

I am one of the few women around the world, at the head office of a Central Bank. It seems we are only a bit over twenty in total, and I have recently given birth to my little baby girl, Paula. It is appalling to see at a local, but also international scale, the impact caused by a female Governor of a Central Bank being pregnant and exercising her right to go on maternity leave, when this is something natural and it’s a basic right; maybe even at the basis for the existence of human race. Nowadays it is still a step forward to see a high official simply benefiting from a right and that alone lets on that there is still a lot of work to be done.  Hopefully these small examples  make an impact on society, making it every time more natural to see women exercising rights such as maternity leave, and generating no criticism or amazement.

When we stand up for our rights, we’re also standing up for the rights of other women.

On the other hand, to make other women’s rights true, facilities must be given for them to be effective.  During my time in office at the Central Bank of Ecuador, I have worked widely around the country with events and round-table discussions, aside from promoting research on gender equity from economics.  This way, we further respect to women’s economic rights and gender equity and we reassert our total rejection to gender violence.

As a final step, we’ve set forward a ten-million-dollar fund for women that are currently suffering abuse, to finance entrepreneurship, thus providing them with a tool to effectively leave that circle of violence through self-generating income. This is key from a women’s right perspective, because it creates tools that allow effective enforcement of these rights.

  • To which of your career experiences do you credit your quality service and outstanding work ethics as Chief Executive Officer of the Central Bank of Ecuador?

My professional career has being closely linked to the Central Bank of Ecuador for a very long time. I started working in this institution over fifteen years ago as a young professional of the Studies Department and was later promoted to other positions that demanded more responsibilities.

Being part of this institution and to have been considered to hold such positions, is the result of an arduous effort, but also of the opportunities that were given to me by an institution that treasures commitment and professionalism beyond one’s gender.  It is precisely this tight link to the Central Bank of Ecuador that has motivated me to always give the best of myself in this important task that I have been assigned.

This experience in the Central Bank of Ecuador, added up to other high responsibility positions that I’ve held as public server[1] and in several working areas that include public policy configuration and effective implementation, have restated my commitment with community service. I believe this is expressed through empathy, transparency, efficiency and ethics. A service-minded attitude and a high sense of professional ethics are a condition, but not the outcome of a successful professional experience, which is why they should be applied on every task that we perform.

QUOTE: The most important progress seen in Ecuador is observed at the National Assembly where the 38.69% of its members are women. The participation of women as heads of public institutions has increased.

Mrs. Felicia Twumasi is the CEO of Homefoods Processing and Cannery Limited, a high-scale ethnic food processing and packaging company, with 70% market share in the Red Oil business and a distribution network across The United Kingdom, Italy, Switzerland, North America and West Africa. In this sequel interview with the Amazon Watch magazine, Mrs. Twumasi discussed her expansionary drive and the impact of hercompany in the lives of women and children in Ghana. Excerpt:

In your previous interview with the Amazons Watch magazine in February 2018, you were quoted to have said that Homefoods has Kept 70% market share in the Red Oil business for 14 years and counting on your customized brands such as BLUE BAY, TROPIGOLD, AFRICA’S FINEST, GHANA BEST, YADCO, BIGGIE MAMA, HOMEFOODS AND HOMESENSE, with a current distribution network including; The United Kingdom, Italy, Switzerland, North America, West Africa and future projections into East and Southern African markets. Please tell us how you have been able to achieve this feat and what differentiates your brand from the others?

My vision has always been to create, build and establish a quality food chain industry by fusing flavors and spices from around the world, to meet the needs of our consumers with a mission to focus attention and creativity on basic food ingredients and services to all and sundry, homes, catering, hotels and fast food industries; food ingredients and products they absolutely need and want, thus making every meal an experience. These have been achieved through adaptive production, effective inventory management and renewed product designs while creating value and wealth for our nation through agriculture in order to maintain a sustainable legacy for posterity.  The consistency, high standards, quality and speed to markets have been our hallmark to achieve this feat. These have resulted in setting high standards in our business relationships leading to forming partnerships with customers globally and locally, and are evident in several local and international awards. This strategy and business model differentiates us from our competitors locally and internationally.

Homefoods Processing and Cannery Limited have been able to build and sustain the company for the past 23 years in highly competitive and discrete and identifiable markets by configuring multi markets activities based on our experience with such great success. We continuously expand our distribution networks through constant rejuvenation of our key quality products; non-perishable rich red oil processed from fruits of the palm; diversified into new product ranges, such as Palm Cream Soup and other edible innovative derivatives of palm to meet international as well as local standards. 

 We have been able to maintain consistent taste and quality throughout these 23 years in Agro Processing business. Specifications of our products are all standardized and certified, hence the loyalty of consumers and recognition abroad through multiple awards.

You have also said your passion has been to engage and train women out-growers and to empower them to capably give better care to their families.  You also have been quoted to have said that Homefoods thrives on her corporate social responsibility, among others. Please tell us more about your cooperative system for women farmers and some of your accomplishments in giving back to the society?

The drive and aim to leave a sustainable legacy in food  production and processing in my country and to alleviate poverty for especially women farmers led us to a cooperative model for our supply chain have we term as “SUBSET Cooperative” system.

Our cooperative system that started with 5 women has grown into more than 5,000 women over the years across the farming belt of the country. The subset system help us group them in 100’s having 50 groups and they choosing their leaders to be trained by us and subsequent also practically train the larger group using the Ministry of Agriculture extension officers at various farming area for the training and supervision.

Yields have increased resulting in creating massive wealth in terms of when we started 23 years ago when the annual turnover of a farmer was nothing to note. The wealth creation to these cooperative farming groups has remotely resulted in massive corporate social responsibility. Ready markets provided to these farmers have led to improving of nutrition, health, education production and creating confidence, stability and sustenance in a fragile community before we went in to start business. This socio-economic empowerment has resulted in their self-confidence, self-dignity, and increasing life expectancy. My overall joy is seeing these women exhuming happiness.

We also sponsor loads of social activities in these societies

In accordance with our ‘Giving Back Policy”,

  • We educate the children of some of these women farmers who are mainly single mothers.
  • We have provided financial support to street children by creating scholarship schemes that enable needy children to attend various schools, and as a result of our social intervention these children have come back to work for the company in various capacities.
  • As a condition for our suppliers, Homefoods admonishes its suppliers not to use child labor. Homefoods will unequivocally not purchase supplies from any agro group that resorts to the use of child labor.
  • The company has also embarked on a concerted effort to employ single women heading households as factory workers and as well as young girls. This has empowered these women to assume responsibilities, which they would otherwise not be capable of as they are paid above the minimum wage.
  • Working to instill the same courage and ambition in her fellow Ghanaians, she empowers local female farmers by teaching them the business savvy methods that have led to her many successes.
  • I fervently work to instill the same courage and ambition I have used to manage Homefoods in her fellow Ghanaians. I endeavor to coach leadership skills by empowering local female farmers.

Yesterday, October 16th, was marked as World Food Day. The World Health Organization, WHO, African region disclosed that hunger, is on the rise in Africa after a prolonged decline as nearly 14 million under-fives are wasted, 59 million are stunted due to under nutrition. As a key stakeholder in the food sector in Africa, what are your thoughts on hunger and food security in Africa?

The World Food Day as we all know is celebrated yearly on the 16th October, by over 150 member countries of the UN. It was established in November 1979 at the 20th General Conference by the Food and Agriculture Organization, a branch of the World Health Organization to raise awareness on issues pertaining to poverty and hunger, a prevalent problem in Africa in spite of the abundance of natural resources on the continent. In brief, not only are the14 million under-fives being wasted and 59 million, stunted due to under nutrition but in effect the parents of these precious ones themselves are incapable of meeting the basic needs for themselves much less of their families. The World Health Organization throws more light on the fact that a surge in population, has contributed to the increase in poor people and causing poverty and its associated challenges to remain.

As an African, I can confidently say that political and ethnic conflicts and unorthodox means of changing Governments have contributed to the menace as the focus then shifts from the developmental needs of the people. This situation causes unstable economy/markets, increases inflation and the cost of living of the people. The obvious detriment is that the wealth of the continent would lay stagnant and unexploited, as there would be lack of investments, especially in the Agricultural Sector that is so freely given.

In my view, the aim would be to focus on the factors that mitigate against poverty by our governments by empowering private sector agro business with long term financial facilities to build and establish food and formulation plants around the country to mitigate hunger.

Homefoods main focus is to eliminate poverty, enhance the value of food and help women become financially independent, not only for themselves but also for their families and in the long run, their communities through the cooperative system that we have created.

We have future plans to develop storage and formulation capacity of 50,000 metric tons facilities for grains, legumes, edible oils, nuts creating a food corridor for all and sundry ensuring food security for our nation and other countries.

I personally go by the principle where poverty is not an option, as I reiterated in my previous interview with you in February. This has been one of my driving forces through this journey. We have made frantic efforts not only for myself and for my family but many other families nationally and globally.

I believe that with joint efforts from stakeholders to create jobs, investing in the developments of agriculture and the resources in our continent, partnerships with Foreign Bodies and through Corporate Social Responsibility to our communities, poverty and hunger will once again decline.

Research has shown that food insecurity problem is fundamentally influenced by subsistent production, which in turn is usually characterized by low and declining production and productivity, and the employment of rudimentary technology. Homefoods core business is linked to improving Nutrition, Health, Agriculture and Productivity in Ghana. Kindly tell us how you are able to enhance productivity.

Homefoods Processing and Cannery Limited started from the subsistence enterprise on the kitchen table, which we have nurtured into an internationally recognized agro-processing entity. Homefoods has had steady growth of 203% local revenue between 2016 and 2018 as well as, 44% growth in export. This has been possible as a well-focused and conscious effort was put into the drift from rudimentary technology of operations to a double clean filling technology. Going forward, Homefoods will be operating with fully automated clean filling lines. We envisage to increase productivity by 400% in 2020. These achievements have not only been by the adoption of technology but also, the rapid strategic customer based product development and branding, highly reliable and dependable raw material suppliers source transparent value chain, fair pricing and concern for the environmental, social and cultural values have been a catalyst for enhanced productivity managed by highly skilled and professional human capital, and a high demand of our product lines.

You have been recently endorsed by the Board of the Centre for Economic and Leadership Development (CELD) to be conferred with the Medal of Honor as a Honorary Patron of her flagship event- the South America-Africa-Middle East-Asia Women Summit (SAMEAWS)- and inducted into her International Advisory Council as a Distinguished Member. How do you feel receiving such an honor and recognition?

It is an honor for our company and myself to be endorsed by CELD once again. This time, to be conferred with the Medal of Honor as an Honorary Patron for her flagship event by His Royal Highness Sheik Juma bin Maktoum – the South America-Africa-Middle East-Asia Women Summit (SAMEAWS) and inducted into the International Advisory Council as a Distinguished Member to empower women as powerful agents of change. This is an inspiration for Homefoods Processing and Cannery Limited. Not to mention the Georgia Congressional Commendation in recognition of my personality as a face of Ghana’s business integrity and passion for development. This has really been breathe-taking and overwhelming for us all.

We believe that this mutual partnership shall continue to serve as a platform for our company’s global recognition as we continue to penetrate into other sub-regions through the feature on the Amazon’s Watch Magazine and its sister publication, the frontline Africa Leadership Magazine.

I look forward to networking with the over 1000 prominent women and stakeholders from the various regions under the SAMEAWS to gain knowledge from each other and confer ways to access untapped potential for women around the world. I believe the theme for this year is appropriate,   “Realizing Legislation and Policies on Gender and Sustainability” as UN has declared the 7 Sustainable goals;

-No Poverty

-Zero Hunger

-Good Health and Well Being

-Quality Education

-Clean water and sanitation

-Affordable and Clean Energy

-Decent Work and Economic Growth

Homefoods is playing a crucial role in our agro business supply chain within these UN Sustainable goals as we create wealth for thousands of women who have developed confidence and self-dignity as they become economically independent enabling them to provide balanced Nutrition, Health, Quality Education, Clean Water, affordable energy.

 We are emotionally and physically satisfied that our business have impacted lives which have spill over on our socio-economic and geographical lifestyles. We are poised to offer help to up and coming women advancing into businesses sphere to overcome many of the obstacles some of us experienced on our business journey.

I take this opportunity to express my appreciation for the African Impact Leadership Award (Agricultural Development Category) and for being showcased as one of Amazons Watch Magazine Blue Ribbon List of Top 50 Women in Business and Governance, which was the cover focus of the Magazine’s special exclusive in the March 2018 edition. We are certain this spotlight on Homefoods Processing and Cannery will open key doors that will enhance and sustain our business as a global entity.

 

Thank you and this award goes to all women!!!!

 

Mrs Francisca Karikari, CEO, Glorygate Capital Limited, has a very rich experience in the insurance industry that spans 20 years. She brings a great mix of leadership, inspiration, operational experience, technical breadth, and passion for customer care to the insurance industry of her country. In an exclusive interview with the Amazons Watch Magazine, Mrs Karikari shared some of her successes and accomplishments in Ghana’s financial services industry. Excerpt:

Kindly tell us more about yourself and some of your experiences growing up.

Mrs. Francisca Nyamekye Karikari is my name. My maiden name was Baah. I am a Christian, married to Dr. Anthony Yaw Karikari for Twenty Five years.

I am a Ghanaian by birth, born to Mr. & Mrs Johnson Baah of Kyekyebiase in the Ashanti Akyem  North District of Ashanti  Region. I grew up in the Volta Region of Ghana where I had my Elementary and Secondary Education in Shia Roman Catholic and Kpedze Secondary Schools respectively.

My sixth form was with Konongo Odumasi Secondary School, after which I pursued my university degree with Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Kumasi. I hold a BA(Hons) in Social Sciences, majoring in Economics and Law from Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, a Chartered Insurer and an Associate of the Chartered Insurance Institute UK. I am a Fellow of the Chartered Insurance Institute of Ghana.

I have a double Master of Science degrees, MSc Insurance and Risk Management from City University, United Kingdom (now CASS Business School) -and MSc. Financial Services Management, also from London Guildhall University, United Kingdom (now London Metropolitan University). I have undergone many training courses in Insurance, Risk management, finance, leadership Corporate Finance and Corporate Governance among others.

As a child I was trained, as my father will put it ‘when you train a child as a slave he/she will live like a King or Queen in future, but when you train a  child as a Prince or Princess he or she may grow up and become a slave to another’. I have not yet attained the dream I had during my teenage years. It was bigger than where I am at the moment but I am on course.  I am determined to excel in everything I set my mind to, which always require making an extra effort than others.

Growing up,my father had eleven children and so life was not as easy as we expected. We supported our parents in many ways to make ends meet. As hardworking parents who were into many endeavours, I was trained into bakery, sewing, manning a glossary shop and a corn mill machine. I usually trekked long distances to the farm, and carried firewood back to the house. Also, we had to fetch water from a distant river many times in the morning before going to school. This we did with much difficulty.

During my university education, I had to do petty trading to look after myself and some of my younger siblings. I believe I owe my hard work to early years experiences. I must say we lived harmoniously together as a big family and that thought me how to relate well to people. I am sure that my business acumen started from my early years.

I believe strongly it is the providence and favour of God that has brought me this far. I will be quick to add that determination, staying focussed and hard work have contributed to my present position.

You have built a name for yourself in Ghana’s financial services industry, having started your insurance career with Enterprise Insurance as a Technical Trainee in March 1993. Kindly tell us about your career journey and some of the accomplishments you have recorded in your career.

I started my insurance career with Enterprise insurance company in March 1993 for about three years where I was promoted from the Technical Trainee position to Assistant Superintendent. There was a brief break in Career ( to have a baby) and I joined Metropolitan Insurance Company (Now Hollard)  on 1st June, 1998 where I was in charge of the Claims Departure. I rose from a Claims officer to Depute manager, Claims within two years and then travelled to UK to upgrade myself.  

I came back after two years with double Master of Science degrees, MSc in Insurance & Risk Management and MSc in Financial Services Management. I was made a Manager in 2003 where I supervised underwriting, Claims, Reinsurance and Risk Management departments.  In 2004, I rose to the position of a Senior Manager and the Head of Corporate Department. Within seven years that I worked with Metropolitan Insurance, I was promoted every year, from An Officer grade to Senior Manager. A record none has been able to break till now.

I took on a challenge at the then CDH Insurance Company limited (now NSIA) as a Deputy General Manager in charge of operations in June 2005. Six months down the line, I was confirmed and promoted to a full General Manager. I was part of the team that restructured CDH Insurance Company Ltd. (CDHI)(Now NSIA) to put it on a sound footing in the Ghanaian insurance industry

In April 2009, I took on another challenge at GLICO General Insurance Company limited as an Executive director. On 2nd January, 2010, I was appointed the Managing Director of GLICO General Insurance. Whiles at GLICO I played a significant role in turning the Company around and driving its growth.

Under my outstanding leadership GLICO General Insurance Company, as a result of hard work and a commitment to duty, was awarded the A-Rating by the Global Credit Rating Company (GCRC). Besides the GCRC rating, GLICO General Insurance Company ranked second in the category of non-life insurance companies on the list of the Ghana Club 100.

GLICO GENERAL was also the only non-life insurance company to receive the Business and Financial Services Excellence Award for 2010-11 instituted by the International Christian Business Excellence, Ghana.

I joined Donewell Insurance in January 2013 as the Managing Director after putting the building blocks of Liberty Insurance Brokers in place. I was responsible in shaping Donewell’s strategic direction and established the needed organizational structure and operating systems and aligned the Company’s operations with the strategic direction and priorities established by the Board. I also turned the Company around into profitability and spearheaded its growth within the 10 Month period. In the National Insurance Commission(NIC) Annual Report 2013 page 53 states that “the improvements in the ratios in Donewell Insurance was as a result of improvements in operational results.” Change in Capital and Equity moved from -9 (negative 9) in 2012 to 52 in 2013.

My achievements within the short period confirmed the introductory remarks from the Donewell Board at the time as “Mrs. Karikari is an accomplished leader, with a track record of working with high-growth companies. She brings a great mix of leadership, inspiration, operational experience, technical breadth, and passion for customer care. She has a very rich experience in the insurance industry that spans 20 years. Donewell is fortunate to find someone that has such a perfect set of skills during these challenging times”. My praise and thanks goes to God Almighty for making it possible.

You are today Chief Executive Officer of Glorygate Capital Limited. What would you say inspired you to entrepreneurship?

It all started with the desire to affect my generation and to motivate young people especially ladies that they can reach higher heights. The Bible says in Mathew 19:26 that “…with God all things are possible.”

The passion to give others the opportunities to work and touch lives by making them meet their basic needs, to shape other visions (workers) and career through mentoring and to impact the society better. Also, the desire to implement some of the ideas I could not implement whilst working for other corporate organizations.

The question I asked myself was ‘What can I do after passing all the exams to become a professional and more?”

Can she do it? Do you think she is capable? Does she have time? She has a family to take care of. Anytime I hear or I am confronted with these statements or hear the male counterpart or group of people say it, then it gives me more reason to up my game and challenge myself the more. This has helped me “The can do spirit”.

My husband, who is a Scientist noticed my entrepreneurial skills and decided to study Insurance and worked as a Partime Agent to have a practical knowledge in Insurance. He was among the First team of students the Ghana Insurance College trained to be awarded a Diploma and an Advance Diploma in Insurance by the Malta Insurance Institute. He founded Liberty Insurance Brokers in 2012 and that is why I am privileged to manage two companies.

We all have a life span to live on earth but none of us know when we shall be called “home”. We need to make a mark. To leave behind a legacy is my strongest motivation. Something I can be remembered for when I am no more. I want to pass the business on to a future generation.

The challenges entrepreneurs face in Africa are often more visible for women. For instance, the challenges entrepreneurs in Africa face when accessing finance are more visible in women-led businesses. Studies reveal that female entrepreneurs that sought funding from venture capitalists only received 25%, on average, of the amount they asked for; while men received, on average, over 50% of the amount they asked for. In the same vein, studies showed that 53% of women had applications for finance denied, compared to just 38% of men. What are some of the gender-based challenges you have faced in your business life and how did you sidestep them?

The Key challenge was capital. I mean funding. I initially approached my bankers for a loan but the best they could offer was a personal loan which was not enough to do the strictly regulated business.

I therefore started accumulating my savings from my salary for sometime whilst  holding on with my vision. I also depended on some of the capital investments I had, to generate funds to kick start. I have discovered that if you believe in your dream you must invest in it in order for others, likes banks to support.

It was my personal decision to be an Entrepreneur. I knew it was about taking risks but I was sure of what I wanted to achieve. I therefore prepared myself against any disappointment gender may bring my way. Since I had worked for many years and invested towards my dream I took off smoothly and stabilized my company before approaching a bank for a loan. The initial financial disappointment from the bank could not kill my dream.

How do you think that Africa can scale up access to affordable finance for female budding entrepreneurs and smallholder farmers in rural areas?

Governments of African countries must come up with a deliberate policy through their gender ministries to assist women assess funding in all sectors based on ability to deliver.

Also, there should be a deliberate pursuit of policies for making financial services accessible at affordable costs to all individuals and businesses, irrespective of net worth, size or gender.

What are some of your efforts in mentoring and making inroads for women in your industry?

Public Speaking Engagements within the Ghana Insurance and the Capital Market and also Religious gatherings.

Wherever I am, at work, home etc, I take personal interest in everyone to improve on their skills. When I see young people especially ladies, I engage them, appreciate them, caution, challenge them and offer solution to any queries they might have.

I am also a Part time lecturer at the Ghana Insurance College (GIC) and teaches at Management Development and Productivity Institute. (MDPI)

I am also a Marriage Counsellor.

How do you balance your family and business life?

I separate office work from my role as a wife and a mother. I try to work extra hard and bring people along with me. I have an understanding and hard working Chairman and Board of Directors. I also have able Lieutenants and motivated and hard working staff. Above all I do have a supporting family so we intentionally spend quality time together.

What’s the best way for the readers of Amazons Watch Magazine to connect with you (You can include links to your social networks and websites) Optional

Readers can reach me via email address fkarikari@hotmail.com

Facebook: Glorygate Capital Limited

Facebook: Liberty Insurance Brokers Limited

Websites: www.glorygatecapital.com

www.libertybrokersgh.com

As I conclude I wish to advise that the youth should break beyond the norm for the sky is the limit. Since I have been able to do it with hard work and determination, they will be able to accomplish whatever they set their hearts to do. And by so doing they would be adding value to themselves and the society.

The youth should educate themselves to whatever level possible. They should be team players, work very hard, put up good character and integrity but above all they need Jesus to be able to affect their society positively.

In this exclusive interview with the Amazons Watch magazine, the Spouse of the President of Armenia discussed the gender gaps and challenges of women in Armenia and some of the efforts of the government in tackling them. Excerpt:

Your Excellency, thank you for granting us this opportunity to interact with you. In describing your childhood, you have been quoted to have said that you don’t have a rich family background, but had enough money to feed and clothe yourselves. Kindly tell us more about your background and some of your experiences growing up in Soviet Armenia.

I was born into an intellectual family in the Republic of Armenia, USSR. My father was a writer and journalist. My mother was a teacher of Armenian language and literature.

I went to a school where the English language was taught parallel to Armenian and Russian. We were staging Bernard Shaw’s and Shaespear’s plays in original language. I considered myself lucky to have the parts of Eliza Doolittle “Pygmalionˮ, and Cordelia “King Learˮ and Juliet “Romeo and Julietˮ. The schools gave us excellent education.

The life in the communist regime was harsh and difficult, with restricted freedom. There were no rich or poor people. My parents were making enough money to buy food, clothes and books. My mother’s salary was spent on transport, food and clothing, my father’s – on books. Most of objects of necessity were considered to be a luxury, including good books. One had to register, queue and wait for months for a good dictionary or a novel. Many books were forbidden, like “Master and Margaritaˮ by Bulgakov, so we were secretly circulating them among us, teenagers. In spite of all restrictions and lack of goods, we – children of Soviet society were getting excellent education for free.

We learnt that you worked at the Research Institute of Ancient Manuscripts in Yerevan, after graduating from Yerevan State University. Please tell us about your professional activities in your country.

Matenadaran, one of the largest manuscript depositories of the world was a unique institution. While working there I had the opportunity to meet with many scholars and look at thousands of medieval manuscripts with gorgeous skillfully done illustrations and improve my professional skills on Medieval Armenian art and history. I was paid very little, but so-called material life was not a priority. 

Parallel to my work at the Institute, I started to write essays for the Armenian Radio on culture as well as about the work of prominent artists and musicians. I have made up a rich basis for myself, based on my work and our family library.

We understand that in 1991 you relocated to London with your family, and started writing articles on art, music and culture, as well as authoring stories for children. Kindly share with us your experience living with your family in London and how the Western Culture affected your writings and professional activities.

We, as a family of four, my husband Armen Sarkissian, my two sons Vartan and Hayk and I, settled down in London in 1991. We have been connected with the West since 1984, due to the work of my husband, who used to be a physicist.

Once my husband became the first Ambassador of the independent Republic of Armenia in the UK, I entered the Department of History of Art at Goldsmiths’ College, London University and graduated with an MA. Art became my priority and I did numerous courses at Sotheby’s Auction House, Christie’s Auction House and at Westminster College – to improve my drawing and painting skills. I continued to write on Art and artistic people for newspapers of Armenian Diaspora.

For many years I dedicated my time and energy to International and Armenian charities, raising funds through concerts of classical music, inviting famous musicians, choirs and orchestras for good causes.

Your books, including The Magic Buttons, which is the first to be published in English, teach children to love and respect moral values, and also to be resourceful and brave in defending same. What inspires your literary writing?

Our world is complicated. It is becoming more and more difficult to preserve moral values in such a complex environment for very young minds. It is extremely important priority for my generation to present to the young generation of our children and in my case – grandchildren, values like kindness, love, family, friendship and through books and word of mouth. It is important to teach them not to be lazy and to have goals and to have dreams in their lives. That is why I spend a lot of time visiting schools for talks and workshops with children. Good moral and disciplinary values are shaped in human beings at the very early age, during childhood, that’s why it is utmost importance to pay more attention on the education of children at nurseries and schools.

The world of children is different. It is not easy to write for them. One has to look at things through their prism and keep them still interested with books in the huge flow of electronic information around them.

I find inspiration for my books in the world of children who I love.

Research has shown that gender imbalances and inequality remain salient in Armenia in terms of women’s access to economic opportunities, underrepresentation in leadership roles, and health and survival. According to the World Economic Forum (WEF) Global Gender Gap Index 2017, Armenia is ranked 97th among 144 countries. What are your thoughts on gender inequality and efforts to close gender gaps?

We attach a great importance to this issue. I would like to stress that participation of women in our economy has dynamically increased during recent years. This also creates necessary guarantees and sustainable grounds for reducing poverty, consumption and income gap between the men and women in our society.

We constantly invest in women’s economic empowerment as it sets a direct path towards gender equality and inclusive economic growth. Women make enormous contributions to economies, whether in business, on farms, as entrepreneurs or employees, or by doing unpaid care work at home.

Improvement in women’s economic activity has also led to the strengthening of their political activity and today we already have many successful examples.

At present the Government has initiated the development of new strategy for 2019 -2023on providing equal rights and equal opportunities for women and men. This long-term action plan would explicitly address all areas that involve women as participant and/or final user. And on everyday basis, policies will  target the elimination of existing gaps and the prevention of new ones.

Domestic violence has been a prevalent problem for Armenian society. Statistics from women’s rights NGOs reveal that there were 602 cases of domestic violence officially registered by the Armenian police in 2017, as at October; and from 2010 – 2017, at least 50 women were killed by their partners or ex-partners. Remarkably, the National Assembly of Armenia in 2017 adopted legislation aimed at combating domestic violence by introducing criminal and administrative liability against those found guilty of the crime. What are your thoughts on domestic violence and abuse in the country, and do you think this legislation and its full implementation will be effective in reducing the worrisome trend in the country?

It is also a very important issue, as until the adoption of the “Law on Prevention of Violence within the Family, Protection of Victims of Violence within the Family and Restoration of Peace in the Family” in December 2017, there have been no specific regulations in place on domestic violence, and the Criminal Code regulated acts of violence against women in general. In January 2018, Armenia signed the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combatting Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (Istanbul Convention).

Now we witness raise of public awareness, which together with the implementation of respective laws play significant role in violence prevention, which is also another major factor in violence elimination.

I strongly believe that undertaken actions would result in significant improvement of situation.

Dr. Hannatu Adamu Fika, Executive Secretary/CEO, Federal Government Staff Housing Loans Board is a source of inspiration to women and young girls in Nigeria, especially, the North Eastern part where she comes from. In this exclusive interview with the Amazons Watch magazine, Dr. Fika shared some of her efforts in impacting the lives of public servants and women in Nigeria. Excerpt:

Media reports, findings and research are inundated with various issues that confront the holistic development and empowerment of the girl-child in rural and urban areas of the country. Kindly share with us some of your experiences growing up as a girl in Borno State.

Thank you very much. Fifty seven years ago, I was a girl-child. I had an advantage in that the part of Borno that I come from is Southern Borno. If we take 100% for instance, 55% of the people in Southern Borno State are Christians. So, we had the advantage of missionaries opening up schools in Southern Borno. As such, most of us attended missionary schools.

My father studied law at the Ahmadu Bello University. Most of us went to school because we knew the value of Western education. But when you talk about the North (of Nigeria), quite a sizable number of Northern women went to school up to degree level. But what we were not able to do then was to get employments after we graduated from school.

The communities see the good to get Western education, because the Quran encourages learning as well. Muslim women were encouraged to get Western education. But after getting western Education, the society also asked us to stay at home to bring up our children and take care of our husbands.

But again, quite a number of us took up appointment with the government because we felt we had to contribute our own quota towards the development of Nigeria. Even those who dropped out to get married, our state government and the National Council for Women Society, ensured that go back to schools, even the University; and when they came back, they were employed as teachers, nurses and administrators.

Since then, things have been changing. When we were young, bread was cheap, but as we were growing up, men alone could not mobilize resources to buy bread as things became more expensive; so, the husband and wife had to put resources together to buy bread. So in a literal way, we needed two hands so that we can move forward. During our days, we went to public schools, and public schools were very good, there were no private schools. But today we find ourselves in a situation that most of our children had to go to private schools and that is a discouragement.

You started your career as a Civil Servant in the Borno State Civil Service; and rose through the ranks, serving in various capacities, to become Executive Secretary and Chief Executive Officer of the Federal Government Staff Housing Loans Board. Kindly take us through your career journey and share with us some of the key accomplishments you have recorded over the course of your career.

When I graduated in 1976, before we went in for our National Youth Services Corps (NYSC), you have the opportunity then, because there were no too many students who were in the University; so throughout the country, when you were in year 3, the civil service commission of the state will come to you to interview you for a job. We knew definitely that when we finish the University we will get a job. So that was how we started. It was very easy to get a job, unless we want to be at home raising our children.

So, after my NYSC, I was employed by the Borno State Government as an Assistant Secretary II, which is an administrative Officer. Before then, it was difficult to become administrators; we were only giving jobs of teachers even if you are not interested in teaching. That was what they imposed on us; by so doing, they believed that at noon, we will finish our jobs for the day, and go home to take care of our family. But there are some of us who do not take it kindly, because we were not trained to be teachers and for you to be a successful teacher, you have to be interested in being a teacher. And for me, I was not. The reason is because the community I come from, a lot of the girls did not understand English; and for example, where I was sent to teach then, it was not even after my university; you know, when you go through a higher school certificate, for almost one year, you have to go back and teach. So, I was sent to girls’ school to teach; and for me, it was very frustrating as I did not understand their local language. I could only speak English and Hausa, which they did not understand and so it became so frustrating. So, I had to go back to the Ministry of Education to beg them to give me something different.

So as we progressed, let me bring you back, quite a number of us, the females of Borno State, were not taking it too kindly to go to the classrooms to teach. So with the intervention of the President of this country (President Muhammadu Buhari), the Governor of Borno State, that opened ways for women to go into administration and compete with the men.  So, that was how we became divisional officers, assistance secretaries and some of us were sent to the divisions to do the work that men were doing. And for that we are grateful to him.

And at the state level, I grew up from the administrative cadre up to the position of a director, before I crossed over to the Federal Civil Service in 1990, where I worked with the office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation and then moved to the National Commission for Women. I thereafter worked with the then First Lady, Mrs. Maryam Babangida as director of Better Life Programme, till 1995.

Then, Mrs. Abacha came in as First Lady of Nigeria, and we had another programme, of which I was Director- Family Support Programme, until I was deployed to Local Government Affairs as Director. So, I moved from one Ministry to another. You know when you leave one ministry to another you acquire a different nomenclature. I was posted to this office (Federal Government Staff Housing Loans Board), as Director/ Secretary, before my appointment as the Executive Director/CEO, a position I have held up till this time, by the Grace of God.

I am enjoying the job because it is a job for the less privileged. It is so because they are poorly paid and yet expected to work hard, because if civil servants do not work, no country moves. This is why, as you must have seen as journalists, Mr. President (Muhammadu Buhari), yesterday, expressed his commitment to having a new minimum of wage and the proposed N30, 000 has been presented to the National Assembly. So, what is expected for the civil servant is to work for N30, 000 so that they do not relax. N30, 000 is a lot of money as there are so many civil servants. We are so lucky that there is no retrenchment as an alternative of that N30, 000.

You have received both local and international recognitions for your commitment to the housing needs of Nigeria’s public servants. Reports show that the number of public servants who have benefited from Board’s housing loans scheme, since you assumed leadership of the board in 2007, has risen from 12,556 to 30, 212. How do you achieve this stellar performance?

Actually, the Board is older than Nigeria herself. It was established in 1924 when we were in territories. At that time, it was known as the Africa Housing Loans Board. In 1976, the name changed to Federal Government Staff Housing Loans Board. The Government has a responsibility as part of its social responsibility to its people in establishing the Board so that a niche is carved out for Federal Government workers as part of motivation.

I believe anybody who has a house of his/her own, 70% of his/her challenges are met as all they have to worry about is school fees and health; and fortunately, Government has a programme to address health concerns. And Government has also ensured that any worker that wants to be a farmer, can farm; and it will not be a barrier to the ethics of the service. So, you have that opportunity to grow what you want to eat. When you have a house, you grow what you want to eat, and your healthcare is being taken of, I believe you have nothing to worry about.

So, the Board was established by law to give mortgages. And you are expected to use the mortgages to be build your own house, which you can supervise, or for you to identify your own property developer, inform the Board to pay your loan to the property developer to build the house for you. If you already have a house, and this happened under the monetization programme of the Government, where old houses were sold to tenants, and they felt the need to renovate the house, so the loan also provide for that. The loan also provide for you to buy a piece of land to build your own house. The intention of government for the board has been marvelous.

The figures you have given me have increased over the last one month. The Minister of Finance has graciously injected some funds to us of which about 500 loans have been given. I will like you to know that everybody does not get the same amount of money as we look at your inflow as salary so that we do not break the financial regulations. So, we have tried. And we are trying our own quota to see how we can reduce the housing deficit in the country.

Do you work with the Private sector?

Of course, the developers come from the private as they are the ones we are working with to construct the houses under the purview of the National Housing Programme. You know that nobody wants to build a house today that will collapse tomorrow; so the private developers who are experts in this field are given the opportunity as long as the civil servant identifies with them.

The World Economic Forum ranked Nigeria 122 in the 2017 Global Gender Gap Report, revealing a widening gender gap across health, education, politics and the workplace. You served as Deputy Director, Director and Ag Director General of the National Commission for Women Affairs, from 1992 to 1995. Also, you have led initiatives and programmes aimed at women empowerment and development.  Kindly tell us more about your successes in improving the health and social wellbeing of women, as well as your efforts in supporting, mentoring and empowering women in the country?

Actually I started the job of empowering women even before I became a deputy director, because I have been a grassroots mobiliser. As the saying goes, if you empower a man, you are empowering one person, but if empower the woman, you are empowering a whole, group of people- the woman herself, the children and even the husband.

So, I believe in the concept of making women independent financially. So, you don’t have to be insulting your husband every day to give you money to buy “Maggi”, “salt” and so on. I have never believed in that. I want the woman to stand to her feet and contribute her own quota to the development of this country.

We grew up seeing our mothers going to the farm, and at the end of the season, sell the farm produce and use to proceeds to send us to school. Now we have gone to school; we are literates; and we have jobs; why should we not empower the women to stand on their woman? I sincerely, believe in that; this is why during my young days I joined the National Commission for women to mobilize women in my state.

You know it is quite difficult to mobilize women in the state where I come from because, it is predominantly, a Muslim state, and I am not saying in a Muslim state women are not contributing their own quota, but is not as easy as what happens elsewhere. So I and a team of other women, who believe in empowering women, were going from one local government to another asking the women to identify what they needed and then we worked with the then First Lady,  Mrs. Babangida (Mrs. Maryam Babangida) to provide little resources, to these women to establish their own skills.  We believe even when they are at home in purdah, they can do “kuli kuli” and then send somebody out to sell that “kuli kuli” for them and then they will get resources. They can do it for the women who come from the South who can sell them. So we believe in empowering the women so that they can take care of the home front, their children and even the man who is our own head.

So, when I became the director of women affairs, I worked very closely with Mrs. Maryann Babangida on the Better Life Programme, where we had programmes throughout the 36 States of the country. Every skill that can bring in money for the woman to help her family, we participated in it and supported them.

When Mrs. Abacha (Mrs. Maryam Abacha) came in, she introduced the Family Support Programme, where we saw the need for social welfare programmes. We were able to do a lot under her leadership. Look at the National Hospital of today, it was a scheme under the First Lady and I happened to be the director, Family Support Programme.

There was only one General Hospital in Abuja, which was located in Gwagwalada; we believed that women have health challenges which were peculiar to them and their children; so before one leaves Asokoro or Garki to Gwagwalada, one would have been dead on the way. So, the First Lady believed in establishing this hospital for women and children. The National Hospital was first christened as Hospital for Women and Children; and a year later, we felt it should also address the health challenges of men, so that is how the National Hospital was established.

And when you go to my experience in the Local Government, I believe you must have held that name, ALGON (Association of Local Governments of Nigeria). I was the Architect of that programme. We worked with the Chairmen of Local Governments to get certain independence. If the Local Government works well, we will not care about the person that sits as Governor is, or who the President; So we decided to form ALGON so that they come together to address the less privileged in the communities. Nigeria is made up 774 Local government and if these governments are up and doing, Nigeria will be up and doing. Challenges of armed robbery and kidnapping will be addressed.

I also worked in the office of the Accountant General as director in charge of administration before I was posted to the Federal Government Housing Loans Board. I believe that the award that the Centre for Economic and Leadership Development is going to confer on me is in recognition of my role in civil service.

When I was deployed here, I uncounted quite a number of challenges; Even the Head of Service who posted me here did so with the aim of solving the challenges, to motivate public servants to work better. So, I took up this challenge to see how we can mobilize resources to ensure that public servants own their own homes while they are still in service in preparation for their retirement.

And happily I have the support of my Governing Board, and the support of all the heads of service that I have worked with, including the support of all my staff here in the board. With the available resources to us, we should be able to advance the public servant to own their own homes so that they can live happily with their families.

One big thing we have been able to do, is to ensure that whoever got loans from the time that the Board was established till date, was documented them, we have them on our archive so that everybody know that government is contributing their own quota towards the motivation of the their staff. We have been able to computerize our loan registry so that everybody sees what is happening. The first loan given by the Board was in 1950, and that loan went to the Secretary of the then Prime Ministry of this country.  And from our own document, that house stands tall in Surulere in Lagos. Quite a number of houses through our loans scheme are there in Abuja and we have document to show you these house. As the CEO of this board, I feel fulfilled that i was able to touch the lives of public servants. It is actually difficult for a civil servant to own a house in Abuja with a minimum wage of N18, 000. With the minimum wage of N30, 000 as presented to the President by Amal Pepple’s committee, this will affect what our loans ceiling will now be, because the ceiling usually reflects the minimum wage.

What is the duration of Loan payment?

The length of loan payment reflects the number of years you have in the service. However, the maximum is 25 years. The present Government is making a lot of efforts in providing housing for Nigerians. The Minister of Works, Power and Housing has been talking about empowering Nigerians through owning their own homes. Last year, the Government established the Family Homes Funds so mop resources for public servants and Nigerians to access to own their homes. You are aware, the Federal Mortgage Bank have been in existence for a very long time contributing their quota for Nigerians to own their own home, The Federal Housing Authority is also there. So, everybody is contributing. 

We also expect the private sector to come in. Private sector alone cannot provide housing. So what Government does is to provide a level playing ground for mortgages to be given for houses at single digit to developer who have indicated interest to go into development of houses. And we are expecting an intervention from the Federal government of Nigeria, just as it has intervened in industries. Housing is very important as it touches the lives of every citizen in this country. It has to be a partnership between the public and private sector. According to Nigeria’s Land Law, all land belong to the goverbnmen6 and we are hoping that government at federal, State and local levels will make land ownership very flexible, especially for people going into mass housing; and when he interest rate for mortgages are single digits, the challenges have been brought to the barest minimum.

What’s the best way for the readers of Amazons Watch Magazine, who have been inspired by your work, to connect with you (You can include links to your social networks and websites) Optional?

I am personally interested in seeing every woman empowered. I do not want the men to hear this, but they have to be here. Everywoman that applies for a loan is a priority for me. We women have a lot of challenges. Some women grew up with their spouses, and at the end of the day, having pulled in resources, to build their homes, suddenly levels will change; the woman is divorced. And the children will pack out with their mother, and so these women become homeless. As a woman myself, it is my responsibility under the powers given to me by the president to be the CEO of this place, apart from motivating them to stay in marriage, to  also motivate them to own their homes, even if they are staying in homes, built by their husband. There is nothing that attracts value like a home. So, I have also tried to empower the girl child to ensure that they go to school and get a job upon graduation so that they can have financial independence. Even in Saudi Arabia where it has been conservative at a time, the women are now working, each time I go to Saudi Arabia as a Muslim and I see women working I am always happy. We are looking forward to, if the men will allow us, to be empowered so that the rich women among us will pull us together so that we can speakers of the House and senate presidents and the men will vote for us.