• Sunday, June 16, 2024
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Hiding in plain sight… Heroes

Hiding in plain sight… Heroes

Women who “gave up their dreams” and aspirations to raise children were stigmatized, while outliers who dared to tread the road of the odd were shamed for desiring more.

As a curious little girl, I enjoyed learning, daydreaming frequently, and spending time conversing with imaginary companions, and whenever my school term report was out, I was always praised for my intellect, but with one caveat: Onyeka talks too much. I had no idea these tiny seeds would blossom into a full-fledged onslaught on my identity and image as a woman. I mean, as a church girl, I wasn’t “gentle and meek” enough like the “Proverbs 31 woman” we were taught about; I laughed loudly, could hold my own in a company of boys and match their jokes, cussed while watching my football team lose, and I was not “feminine” enough. I was at odds with my ambitious, courageous, and vocal nature.

Thankfully, as I moved into the corporate world, I met women like Dr. Ngozi Okonjo Iweala and Dr. Ibukun Awosika, who demonstrated that my ambitions are real and that a woman can have a family and a successful job; they even went so far as to become the leaders of a new women’s movement. Many of us made the mistake of considering women like our mothers who “gave up” their aspirations as not being ambitious enough or not being enough to emulate in certain parts when we saw these women.

I remember looking at my mother with pity, knowing that she had sacrificed her dreams and aspirations for the sake of her family, and silently vowing that this would not be me, and I’m sure many of us have stories about our mothers who could have been the world’s largest fabric merchants, restaurant food chain owners, or even engineers, but had to cut their journey short.

I’ve gained a new appreciation for what my mother actually sacrificed after having two children and seeing how I’ve juggled the numerous hats I wear. She and my father raised four children, despite the fact that we all know that women bear the brunt of household tasks; among other things, she managed a microbusiness, volunteered at church, and was a member of her indigenous women’s organization. I realized that my mother did all of this without having a spa vacation, a staycation, or a private retreat, and I feel that many of us can relate to her story.

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I began to see my mother through new eyes, and I realized that many of the productivity, discipline, and deadline-sticking courses and coaching I had paid for, my mother possessed in abundance. She is the most trustworthy person I’ve ever met, and she adheres to a rigorous routine from which she rarely deviates and does not understand why people procrastinate.

I started to realize that great women and world changers aren’t just the ones who get to the highest political office, build unicorns, find a cure for diseases, or go to space; they are the women whose greatest dreams were to create an environment for us to dream and to achieve our goals. We’ve unintentionally developed a bias against these ladies. We see their sacrifice through the lens of a sacrifice that isn’t worthy of imitation. We’ve missed out on learning from these generals, who have produced the iconic women and men we celebrate today.

Bias continues to hold women and society back, and we must act immediately to help women be supported. It starts with having the right perception of what dreams, aspirations, resilience, and leaning in look like.

Whether you are single, married, shy, loud, ambitious, stay-at-home mum, building a unicorn, tech babe, dancer, graphic designer, you name it; you have the opportunity to shine your light in the most authentic way. You’re part of the bigger picture when it comes to eradicating bias. It starts with believing you are enough and stopping limiting yourself with incorrect stereotyping.

As we honor women throughout the month of March, let us remember the women who gave us the chance to dream, who quietly sacrificed so that we might enter doors they couldn’t envision. They’ve given us the chance to be role models for young females and to take up the baton.

I dare you to dream, to do, to become and to break the bias.
Onyeka Akpaida works as a Relationship Manager (Africa) at Women’s World Banking and is the founder of the Rendra Foundation. This for-purpose organization advocates this for-purpose organization advocate for the economic empowerment of low-income women through inclusive financial services.

She is a Commonwealth Scholar, Mandela Washington YALI RLC Alumnus, a Cherie Blair Mentor, and an award-winning inclusive leader and gender advocate recognized at the Gender awards for her contribution towards empowering women in communities.

She provides thought leadership on gender financial inclusion and prosperity to policymakers and stakeholders through published articles and conference speakers.