Ambassador (Mrs) Unyime Ivy-King is the CEO of HTT Communications Limited, Executive Director of the Save Our Women and Girls Foundation (SOW&G), Eminent Ambassador of Peace with the United Nations by the International Organisation of World Peace Advocates, (IAWPA), Director, Gender Education/Advocacy, Convener of the Women Empowerment Skill Training (Project WEST), and other skills acquisition programmes envisioned to create social development and awareness on issues that concern women and girls through empowering, mentoring, counselling, educating and building capacity. The international multiple award-winner is a humanitarian worker, advocate, author/publisher, ambassador, wife, and mother, who uses her foundations to impact positive change on society.
In this interview with Daily Sun, she advocates for a return to positive family values and speaks against sexual gender-based violence.
You run multiple NGOs, including the Save Our Women and Girls Foundation. What are the aims of the foundations?
The Save Our Women and Girls Foundation (SOW&G) is a non-profit organisation which was incorporated in late 2016 and is focused on creating social developmental awareness on issues that concern women and girls. I am the CEO of HTT Communications Limited, which is part of a mother company-Protection Plus Services, and co-founder the Ubong King Foundation, also another non-profit organisation which is targeted at training young people for leadership and entrepreneurship. The story of what is now the Ubong King Foundation cannot be complete without the story of the King’s men platform. During one of our conversations many years ago, I came up with a mentoring programme idea I sold to my husband. The idea, which was to be tagged “An evening with Ubong King”, did not quite kick-off. I got someone to design a logo to capture that idea. My husband eventually bought the idea for the mentoring platform and this culminated into a major event that turned out explosive and impactful, and an eye-opener to the fact that there are still mentoring gaps that need to be filled in the society.
As a couple, we have done a lot to provide mentoring to lots of people in differing capacities. Our company, Protection Plus Services Limited, has provided employment opportunities for many families in Nigeria and beyond. I also started having home book readings when my first book was published in 2012. The idea was to reach out to families that were dysfunctional with my books which proffered remedies to tackle them.
With these backdrop of empowerment I have been involved, the motivation to found an NGO was quite simple, the quest to see young women achieve self-sufficiency and become useful and productive citizens of their society without compromising the moral values or thinking that they must have a man to be able to actualise their potentials in life. I have been involved in advocacy in the development fields, and one major factor that incites domestic violence in many homes is the lack of economic empowerment for the women. Because most of the women are totally dependent on their men. So, these women end up becoming victims of domestic violence.
There is a popular saying that when we empower the girl-child, we empower the nation and not just the girl alone. So, the inspiration and desire have always been there to see girls and women confident in themselves and in the God-given abilities. One of the greatest gifts I got from home was the self-confidence to believe that I can become whatever I aspired to be in life. This is the confidence I sought and still seek to imbibe in women and girls everywhere. This desire eventually culminated in the birth of the Save Our Women and Girls Foundation.
So far, how much milestone achievement have you recorded with your foundation in terms of empowering girls and women?
We focus on mentoring, training, educating and building the capacity of women and girls in Nigeria. In our three years of existence, we have done a lot in our capacity to affect the lives of hundreds of women and children through our different skills training initiatives in the communities in Lagos and beyond. For three years, we have successfully trained over 100 women for two weeks in Uyo, Akwa Ibom state, via the flagship project tagged WEST (Women Empowerment Skills Training). It was a successful pilot scheme because we laid the foundation in the businesses and become productive citizens in society.
We were in Cross River state in 2018 for the WEST project where we trained over 200 women. We planned to carry out the next project in Enugu this year when the coronavirus pandemic broke out. We have also organised many skills acquisition training in Lagos where the NGO is based in different communities in Ikota, Sangotedo, Badore and Ajegunle. Project WEST is one of the flagship projects of Save Our Women & Girls Foundation and it is one of many intervention programmes of the foundation. Project WEST is a two weeks intensive skills acquisition and entrepreneurial development training designed to empower girls and women and it was designed to run in all states of the federation over time.
Other programmes the foundation has introduced and carried out are Camp Creative, Mums on the Go, Trash to wealth, Community Intervention Project (CIP). I believe that a woman who is creatively engaged, whose productivity is stirred, is a mighty force to reckon with as she is practically unstoppable and will not be easy prey for predatory relationships or people. This is why the WEST project is designed to equip women and girls with basic skills needed to fire up their interest by creatively empowering them. At the WEST project, we invite skilled professionals and entrepreneurs to coach participants and lay a foundation which they will diligently build upon to achieve phenomenal success.
We have young girls and women who have been able to put the different skills they acquired through the foundation to productive use and have developed their own businesses. Some of the vocational skills include; Soap making and other household detergents, Ankara products, bead making, fashion designing, cooking and bakery, upcycling, make up artistry, and we keep adding to the list of vocations as the need arises.
What challenges did you encounter in the course of the empowerment schemes and how were they resolved?
One of the major challenges has been finances to keep our intervention projects running. If it were not for the fact that our intentions in the space have been altruistic, we would have probably given up. Our reach has been largely limited by financial constraints because we have to pay staff and facilitators and get training equipment too. A lot of intervention projects have been largely funded, asides some support from private individuals and few stakeholders who have blended in us and what we do. We make financial appeals on social media and call individuals to support indigent girls and women to be part of the training. We also write to organisations to either sponsor or partner with us. So far, I can say that the response has been quite poor.
Another challenge we had to tackle was the attitude and response of some of the participants to the opportunity. For some, maybe their parents or relatives sponsor them to the training and they come in initially with a laissez-faire attitude. So, what we did to resolve that challenge was to partner with a development expert who serves as a Rector of sorts during our training sessions. She ensured that the trainees stayed in class during the training sessions and made at least 90 per cent of attendance. With the way the training was structured, once a trainee comes in, they know they are in for serious business. That was how that challenge was resolved.
We also encountered the challenge of location. Finding a suitable location, finding the girls and women who really need the training, planning the training itself in a way that its impact is felt in that community long after we are gone. But we had to literally think on our feet to proffer lasting solutions to the challenges. We collaborated with community women leaders, and the traditional rulers in the communities we go to. We are in the space for long term impact, so the sustainability of our programmes is key.
You were awarded the Eminent Ambassador of Peace by the United Nations, including other numerous awards and recognitions. What are potentials you possess differently to earn these awards?
As a Christian woman, first of all, I believe God permits us to access certain opportunities and gain recognition, not because we are better than other persons, but because that opportunity is purpose-built to enable us to do more than we would ordinarily do if that opportunity hadn’t come. The drive to make a difference in the lives of women who are the nurturers and keepers of the heart started from my teen years and I’ve come to understand that you exhibit it better if you keep upgrading your knowledge base and allow growth to happen.
I was nominated for the award of UN Eminent Ambassador of Peace about six years ago by the International Association of Word Peace Advocate (IAWPA).
I was told that it was based on my advocacies that I was nominated. The association comprises accredited United Nations Peace Volunteers who promote peace and a peaceful co-existence using individual or collective platforms.
More importantly, I would say it’s my passion that drives me into philanthropy and empowerment based on my background. I have always had this passion to lift people from their worse situations to comfort. I realised that humanitarian service is my calling and I’m glad I answered it. I have used my social media portal as well as my offline platforms for a lot of advocacies in support of the girl-child and the boy-child too. I was actively involved in the Security Clinic Initiative of Protection Plus Services Limited to provide support training in the area of security and safety matters. The team and I have been to many schools and organisations to speak to both students and teachers. My advocacies have always been aimed at promoting family values and strengthening family goals to ensure the outcomes of peaceful and functional homes.
All these have earned me the following awards which I like to mention only a few; Best Couple Achievers Award, Kwame Nkrumah Pan-African Meritorious Award for Leadership, Wise Women Awards, Life Changers Awards, Sheroes Award, Mum in the Community Award, and Unsung Heroes Award.
What are your thoughts on the prevailing gender-inequality in society? And as an advocate, what are recommendations you would give to stop the alarming rate of gender inequality which has resulted in the incessant sexual violence?
The United Nation Sustainable Development Goals on gender equality calls for the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women and girls by 2030. A lot has been said and written about gender issues which are a whole field of study in many institutions. Nigeria, for instance, is a signatory to numerous international and regional conventions which seek to promote the development and well-being of women and girls. Many women bodies and organisations at different times have called for affirmative action to remedy the gender gaps. So, you would agree with me that a lot has been done by NGOs and other organisations to stop gender inequality.
Sadly enough, gender inequality is a huge challenge globally and leads to practices which are inimical to the female gender such as; child-marriage, lack of education for the girl-child, and domestic violence. Gender inequality begins from the homes. This is because the home is a child’s first place of socialisation. Its where he or she picks up the values that would be served them later in life, and its where inimical stereotypes are birthed and reinforced. In our country, many cultures celebrate the birth of a male child who is considered to be the one that would carry on the family name. there is a high preference for male children. As a result, a woman who bears only female children is treated as if she committed a taboo.
I believe that the first place where the quest for gender equality should be is from the home. It is the parents who teach children how their place in the world is. From the boardroom, politics, community, to the family. Any nation that gives room to its womenfolk to participate in its economy, is a nation on the way to its significant growth and economic achievement for the collective good of the nation. Women could contribute greatly to improving our potential as a nation if given a favourable opportunity and platform. Parents should raise their male and female children to understand that their gender doesn’t make them any less more important. Parents should appreciate their children, both male and female, and guide them to express their unique gifts and abilities.
Finally, more awareness and campaigns should be made by speaking out. If you see gender discrimination in the media, in the books you read, in the workplace, call it out. Everyone should together support advocacies that challenge gender discrimination.
What is your view of a contemporary woman?
The contemporary woman has come a long way from her olden day counterpart. She is not afraid to step out of pre-assigned moulds and stereotypes into living the kind of life she aspires for. A contemporary woman is bold, tough and intelligent. She understands what her strengths and weaknesses are, and knows how to order her life in a way that maximises her strength and minimises her weaknesses.
Sadly enough, the past generation made a huge mistake in undermining women’s power and mistaking her soft exterior to be a weakness. The contemporary woman has realised her potentials and has harnessed it to make the world better for herself and her family. Today, she is a captain of industries, leader and also wife and mother.
However, regardless of her choices, the contemporary woman is judged. She should constantly evaluate and renew her priorities and go for what really matters to her instead of literally killing herself to live up to the lofty expectation that dishonours the value and abilities she possesses.