Tola Onigbanjo is one half of the dynamic founding duo 'Women4Africa'. She is a project manager, entertainment journalist, compere and author. She is a visionary leader, women's champion and dedicated wife and mother. She has an unusual ability to foster, develop and nurture key inter-personal relations. Tola is a qualified project manager, experienced mentor and a down to earth communicator.She is an author, multi-media personality and social media expert. Tola has been described as a living solution to numerous people's problems.She has Managed and delivered at numerous conferences around the UK. Her book "Steps" has propelled her to Multiple platforms and conferences to do with the subject of family with a woman's emotions at the centre. Women4Africa was birthed out of her lifelong passion to see women honoured and celebrated for their good works and contribution to society.
1. Women4Africa was founded two years to celebrate and recognise African women for their hard work and creativity. Could do you tell us a bit more about it?
I spent over 20 years as a hairdresser and during that time I met some of the most amazing ladies and heard some life changing stories, some good and some bad. I always knew that I would do something huge to honour women one day. There are so many women that the world needs to hear about. They may never make it on to certain top lists, or feature in various newspapers or magazines but I still strongly feel that if these women are celebrated and elevated, someone somewhere will be encouraged and inspired by their story and achievements. So with my passion for women and my husband's passion for Africa we decided to create a platform that would gather people from all over, not just UK, but from all over the world where they would come together and celebrate such women and so that is how 'Women4Africa' was birthed.
2. In October 2010, the AU launched the African Women's Decade, what are you thought regarding this decade?
This decade is strategic in nature, the true challenge lies in how this policy can be implemented and felt on the grassroots. I still believe that more needs to be done to publicise the 'African Women's Decade' as I feel a number of women are still unaware that such a thing exists. I am hoping for this policy to cascade and be felt more by the existing activities that think tanks and organisations are already doing.
3. The second edition of Women4Africa award is going to take place this month on the 18th, what are your expectations from the 2013 edition?
The 2nd Annual awards is designed to build on the original foundations and create visibility of African women. Our Awards is very much designed to highlight our women for the growth of the continent. The expectations that I and my team have for this year's Women4Africa 2013 Awards is that more people will come out to celebrate and be a part of honouring these women. From the onset we have always maintained that the awards is to celebrate and elevate all of our final nominees and winners and that is what we want the night to be about. After the night we continue to do so in whatever ways we can.
4. The women's movement on gender equality and empowerment has been on the upward trend in Africa in recent times, what is Women4Africa's doing to make every woman count?
We continuously reach out and engage as many women as possible, we are also working with so many other existing organisations to make this a collective reality for Africa. For example, recently Women4Africa were approached to participate in facilitating a small workshop for part of the 'Commonwealth Study Conference' to a group of commonwealth leaders from all over the world. Women4Africa provided influential business women to address the delegates and let's just say the feedback we received was amazing. These are just some of the ways that we continue to use to elevate women and make sure they count.
5. Sexual and reproductive health and rights issues are largely a taboo subject in many African settings, yet it holds the key to advancement of the gender agenda, do you think enough is being done to realise this right?
Until it is no longer a taboo, I would have to say that not enough is being done. I believe that there are organisations that are working tirelessly to get change, but still more needs to be done and also to help these organisations that are already working to bring about the change.
6. Women represent half of the population in Africa, yet they are nowhere to be seen when it comes to decision- making. What are the major factors hindering women political participation and decision-making in Africa? Do you have any thoughts or suggestions on possible ways to address women's this issue?
This is an Interesting question, and I think women are very influential in decision making, but perhaps from none visible roles. I use a more basic example like that of my Father. Growing up I saw how well respected he was by the members of the community and how his decisions were always taken on board. What I also realised was that majority of the decisions that he made were actually from the advice and influence of my Mother. So the leadership and guidance that my Father was providing to many, was in essence, brought about by my Mother. My question would be considering the nature of the society how best should women work effectively in political leadership? It's not a question I want to answer now LOL.
7. Access to justice, ignorance of the law and economic empowerment remains a mirage for many women in Africa. What can be done to remedy the situation?
There is no one remedy to this situation and I believe we still have a long way to go in some countries. What I would like to say is that if we start off with equality and empowerment of these women and that first of all starts with knowledge, then at least we are starting from somewhere.
8. What is the role of the African woman in the diaspora towards the autonomy of women in Africa?
How can African women and men in the diaspora help shape Africa's future? The key to development is unity, the ability to work closely will bring about growth, the diaspora have to bench mark best practice and redesign it to fit within the African context. However the starting point is for the African woman to realise they are one.
9. What do you consider as the gains made and the gaps that need to be addressed to improve the lives of women in Africa? How can women bring about change most effectively on the continent?
In Modern day terms the number one gap in Africans is Personal development, without being self aware, without being able to address your value system without knowing these statements are important, human growth in Africa will be stunted. So Women4Africa are advocates for Personal development, so that dependency can be left behind and Interdependency can be set as a goal for all African women.
10. What can men do to work towards gender equality?
This is a chicken and egg question, because the key Influencers of Men are women. I am sincerely convinced that gender improvement will emerge when people both men and women feel better about themselves and understand the value add of each gender, traditionally speaking men have forsaken great wealth, have murdered, have fought great battles for women, so there is more to societal gender imbalance than what is immediately obvious.
11. What drives and inspires you to work for women's rights and what is your vision for African women in the next 20 years?
My drive is to empower the African continent and I know it is impossible to achieve without empowering its women as they are so influential in decision making. My vision for African women in the next 20 years is that they grow into social, economic and political independence.
12. What advice do you have for the African women and girls be it on the continent and in the diaspora?
My advice for women and girls on the continent and in the diaspora is 'Be Equipped, Be Empowered and Be Elevated!!! With knowledge comes power, the power to step out boldy and do some of the things that were only once a dream but can now become a reality. Many great women we hear of today, were women that were equipped with the right knowledge, empowered themselves with it and boldly stepped out and that's why we hear of them today.