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What women really want: SPILL 2023 reimagines the feminine persona in a Changing world

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It was the Nigerian author, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, who stood on a stage in a faraway land and reminded us all that stories mattered.

“Many stories matter”, she went on to emphasize. “Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign. But stories can also be used to empower, and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people. But stories can also repair that broken dignity.”

The breaking of feminine dignity, the denial of the woman’s humanity, and the derogation of her essence, is a historical – indeed a proverbial – reality. It has been with us for so long that we have, for the most part, become numb to its subtle and not-so-subtle effects.

The cultural or institutional constructs that have over the ages of man conspired to hold back the woman from her true potential, to prevent her from expressing her unique human essence and from playing her God-given role in the family, the community and the nation, have been with us for ever.

But they are beginning to fray at the edges, thanks to the buffeting they are receiving at the hands of a number of insistent female voices and stories. Increasingly, women are telling their own stories of what it means to be a woman, and they’re doing so, not in the sanitized, politically correct language of yesteryears (as prescribed for her by patriarchal institutions whose aim, it seems, is to derail, or delay, or otherwise set a timetable for her full flowering as an equal human before God), but in the textured lingo (and sometimes salty vernacular) without which she cannot fully express her truth.

It is a truth that has bubbled below the surface of human evolution for millennia, waiting for humanity to awake from its slumber and give it a hearing, to give it a place to stand so it can move the world in the direction it ought to go in.

Since its debut in 2017, SPILL (Short for Speaking Intelligently, Ladies Lead) has offered womanhood just such a place to stand – and tell her story.

SPILL is a pan-African speaking platform created with a view towards giving women of African descent the opportunity and ability to share their authentic stories and ideas of value for developmental purposes.

The annual event – and the influential, knowledgeable and inspiring women who have graced its platforms since 2017 – are not merely making another protest at the aggravations of the male-dominated world they live in. SPILL does not aspire to set the stage for a gender confrontation or some game of one-upmanship between the sexes.

Quite the contrary – its Convener and main driving force, after all, is a MAN (or more to the point, a He advocate for She) in the person of Tomide Olukuade, a writer, media entrepreneur and life coach.

SPILL speaks primarily to women, urging them to be the best version of themselves, to find that spark within themselves that makes them special, and to rethink their approach to the issues of life. For too long, women have responded to these issues in a passive and reactive (rather than in an active and proactive) manner.

They look outwards – to an entity, a person or circumstance outside of themselves – for solutions to the challenges they face in their roles as daughters, wives, mothers, students and career women.

They hope, for example, for a reorientation in the hearts of the men in their lives or in positions of authority – fathers, brothers and uncles, husbands, male colleagues and bosses at work, as well as policymakers – for the change they want to see occur. But history and experience have shown that while such a change is always a welcome breath of fresh air, waiting for it is like waiting for the proverbial Godot – or for NEPA to ‘bring light’ when you don’t have an alternative source of power.

That change might eventually come – in its own sweet time – but there are too many variables you simply cannot control, which messes up with your emotional and mental health (sadly, the lot of many women today).

SPILL 2023, which was held on Sunday, October 21, 2023 at the magnificent Terra Kulture Gallery on Victoria Island, Lagos, Nigeria, featured a galaxy of seven powerful women who came to speak power to every woman’s truth. They were:
– Morenike Molehin, Founder & Creative Director of Oak & Teak;
– Ronke Posh Adeniyi, Director, Le Poshe, Ikoyi;
– Taiwo Dayo-Abatan, Regional Head, HR, Sub-Saharan African, VFS Global;
– Yetunde Bankole-Bernard, CEO, The YBB Company;
– Fadekemi Olumide-Aluko, Actor, Lawyer, Educator & Poet;
– Olatowun Candide-Johnson, Founder & CEO of GAIA Africa; and
– Dr. Kafayat Shafau, the Dancepreneur known to her fans across the globe as Kaffy.

Welcoming guests to the gathering, the Convener, Tomide Olukuade lauded the accomplishments and impact of women who have already ‘found their voice and taken their place in the comity of maximized humans.’

Lamenting, however, that these ones were still too few and far between, he warned that in the times we face, communities, societies and entities that discounted the value of the woman’s contributions, or dismissed her innate worth, risk sliding into irrelevance.

Olukuade stressed the many objectives of SPILL to include bringing to light the previously untold stories that empower not only the teller of, but also the listener to, these stories, as well as bringing about a more wholistic social balance and harmony.

The scope of SPILL’s aspirations and projections, he disclosed, are not only multi-dimensional but also pan-African (with events planned in the coming year, 2024, for Accra, Ghana; Kampala, Uganda, as well as Abuja, Nigeria, etc).

In their respective presentations, each speaker made an impassioned case for authenticity and self-affirmation (rather than waiting for external validation and allowing the granting or withholding of such validation to define one’s sense of self) and the need for mutual affirmation among women.

With provocative topics like ‘The Audacity to be Me’; I Reserve the Right to be Stupid’; and ‘All That I Need To Be, I Am, ‘ and so forth, each speaker charted for her audience a path to empowerment on the wings of self-knowledge, the search for, (and actualizing of) one’s essential purpose, the awakening of one’s creative gifts, and the daring to go where the imagination may lead.

It is when she treads that path, the speakers said, that the woman bestows upon her family, community, workplace, society, nation and humanity the full benefits of her grace, her intuitive ability to make positive connections among the nuances of life and relationships, and her nurturing and restorative powers.

As the Convener had said in his Welcome, society can no longer afford to downplay its own feminine essence and expect to survive, let alone SUCCEED.

As we all make our way into a future that is increasingly being defined by changing paradigms of work, lifestyle choices and relationships, as well as the advent of new and potentially disruptive technologies, the SPILL experience is a reminder that we’ll achieve the full measure of our infinite human potential as a society only if we give full play to, and stay in constant touch with, both our masculine and feminine sides.

Like any living organism seeking to operate in a dynamic ecosystem, our vibrancy, going forward, will lie in our ability to breathe with both of our metaphorical lungs.

With every annual edition – and the ancillary activities between editions – SPILL is erecting the building-blocks of that desired social ecosystem, one story at a time.