Our LagosMums Mum of the Month is Esther Ijewere; a Mum, Nigerian author, advocate, women and girl child’s rights activist and a columnist for The Guardian. We enjoyed talking with her.
In our LagosMums mum of the month series, we love to meet different mothers to talk about motherhood, how they balance their various roles and more. We always learn when we read someone else’s story and they share their experiences with us. Enjoy!
Please tell us about yourself?
My name is Esther Ijewere. I am a mother, Social entrepreneur, Social activist, Author and I am also the convener of several social development platforms. Most importantly, I am a child of God! I am proud to say that any day, anytime. I am purpose driven and a voice to the voiceless.
I’m literally that person who is proud to do God’s work on earth. That is how I like to tell people about myself. I believe that encompasses everything that I am.
Can you share one unexpected thing about you?
I am very shy! A lot of people do not know that because of what I do. They expect that because I’m quite outspoken online, it will be the same offline. It isn’t. I am extremely shy. When the curtains are drawn, I go back into my shell. I am that person you will see on the street and scream “Oh, Hi Esther!” and my reply will not sound as excited. It could come off as being snobbish, but that’s not the case. It’s simply because I am shy.
When I am on the field, talking or advocating, that’s the work of God speaking through me. However, when it’s just me, I am pretty shy.
Can you share all the hats/roles that you wear?
Firstly, I am a mum and that’s one of the biggest jobs in the world! I love that hat so much, I will not trade it for anything. Being a mother is the most beautiful thing that could happen to any woman on earth.
Next, I am a sister, daughter and niece to lots of people. I am the convener of Women of Rubies (WoR), Walk Against Rape and now Men Who Inspire. I am also the founder of Rubies ink initiative for women and children.
So, if I had to break that down into hats, I will say I am a columnist with the Guardian Newspaper, I am an author. I wrote a book called Breaking the Silence. I’m a social activist. I love to call myself a gender-balanced advocate, I celebrate both men and women because I understand the importance of men in the world and why women are at the forefront of many initiatives. There is a large vacuum for the men and I am glad to be a seed to advocate for them and put them at the forefront as well.
Tell us about your beautiful family?
Well, my life revolves around my kids. I love my kids and of course my extended family. I am a mother and I cannot get tired of saying that because of how important it is to me right now. It’s fun being a mum to two wonderful girls and living life to the fullest. I am learning from them and also trying my best to get them to learn from me and that is what makes it beautiful.
What has surprised you the most about motherhood?
It is the fact that being a mum makes you more loveable. I did not know or understand this part of myself – that I could be this soft -until I started popping out babies! Now, I have this deep understanding of people just because of motherhood. By this, I mean I do not judge people, I want to help people more, I want to identify with people’s causes and I just want to be there for people.
I do not take motherhood for granted because there are a couple of people in the world that I am believing God to bless with the fruit of the womb. That has really taught me to be a good person. It has changed me in a lot of ways and I am very conscious and self-aware of the things that I do.
I cannot do certain things like fight online or be seen in the midst of drama or in the middle of a scandal because of my children. It’s surprising how there were things I wanted to do about 10 – 15 years ago, however, when I started giving birth, everything just switched. Motherhood has made me more lovable, kind and self-aware.
What has motherhood taught you about yourself?
Motherhood has taught me to be patient. It has taught me that I need to learn how to slam the brakes. I am a very driven person, so being a mum has taught me that I have more responsibilities to my family, then to people that need me outside of my family. My family needs me, my kids need me. I need to be there for them as well.
I am that person that could have 10,000 in my account and when someone asks me for it, I’ll give it all to them. However, being a mum has taught me that I have to put my family first. I have not stopped loving other people. It just means I have to think about my children and their future. I cannot secure the future for other people and ignore that of my kids.
So, motherhood has taught me to be a better planner, rest and do what I can, when I can and how I can!
Can you tell us some of the funniest things your children have said or done?
Oh my goodness! I can tell you a whole lot. However, the most inspiring one was when I got home with my kids, I had just brought them back from school, then I went inside to do something. When I came out, the house was upside down. I was mad because a few minutes ago, the house was crispy clean. I was prepared to yell and shout.
But for some funny reason, most likely the motherhood hormones, I was like “Girl just slam the brakes, take it easy, they are just children, they do not understand that the house has to be clean all the time because they have to play“. At that point, I got down and I hugged both of them. That was my own way of finding closure at that moment.
A tear dropped and I think they understood how it felt for me. That night, I served dinner, we talked about how their day went, what went on in school, we went to sleep and I didn’t mention it again. However, as I was reviewing my to-do list for the week to see what I was able to achieve, my girls walked into the room, hand in hand with a stick on paper. And they said, “mummy, we’ve got something for you” and they handed it to me.
The words on that paper touched me so much that I had to stick it in my room and it reads “Dear mummy, I am sorry for the mess that we make. We are so sorry for making a mess. You know we are so little. We are so sorry if we made you sad. Love, mummy“. That made me laugh. It is the most diplomatic thing I have read as a human being not just as a mother. That touched me.
They also have this thing about praying for me. I find that to be a blessing. They are like “mummy, we want to pray for you” and they do their ta ta ta prayer and I am like “Amen! Father, you alone understand what they are trying to say, I tap into it“. It’s usually funny, but at the same time, it’s inspiring.
On how Women of Rubies was birthed
Women of rubies started out of my passion for humanity and my affinity for change. I had been that media girl for a long time which means that I have been blessed with a lot of media attention because of my work. I’m close to a lot of forefathers of print media because I identify with people who are involved in the print media.
I had been doing this whole thing for Rubies ink, this advocacy project for Walk Against Rape and a couple of other things. So I asked myself, “why don’t I wield this media power that I have and do something positive with it”? Because, sometimes, you have all these things around you and you do not know that you can contribute more. You just want to identify with other people but God could be telling you that you have all those tools that you could use for other people.
I kept that idea with me for two years because of my fear of looking stupid. I was scared, I thought about other glossy newspapers and magazines and I was like “won’t they say Esther is trying to compete or overachieve?” But then God kept placing it in my heart and there were signs everywhere. I was dreaming about women of rubies and seeing women celebrating in my dream. It was becoming so real and I had to do something about it.
Finally taking a bold step
Then my brother in the media industry, Kenny Ajose, that I had spoken to about this idea kept on asking me and was encouraging me to make a move which I finally did. Note that, I have no background in journalism, I had not gone to any Journalism school. My boldness came from the fact that I had aligned with media people all my life and the reassurance that God wanted me to do this. So, I took that bold step and I went to Sun Newspaper.
I called the MD of Sun Newspaper and he invited me over without knowing what I wanted to talk about. I introduced myself, told him what I wanted to do and I requested for a column where I could celebrate women. He asked if I had done that before and I said no but I was passionate about celebrating women from different sectors.
Right there, he called the editor of the Saturday newspaper, introduced me to him and the rest is what you see today. Every time I share this story, It sounds weird to people. And I realise that sometimes, people will not believe some things that connect the grace of God with you.
Trust me, I had no idea about what it meant to be a journalist. When I wanted to start, I got tutelage from a lot of media people. I will send a couple of my articles to some people to help me vet it. One of the inspirations I also had is that I bought every edition of true love magazine from 2006/2007 when I was in school till about 2010. I still have them at my mum’s place.
In the course of reading this all those years, I did not realise that I had digested something that had impacted me. So, the pattern of my writing for Women of Rubies stemmed from that. Coupled with all my alignments with the media over the years, being in newsrooms, hearing media guys talk about their publications etc, all of these things came together to help me champion a course that has won multiple awards, I give God all the glory.
That’s why I always tell people that every time you have a gut feeling to do something, Just do it! You never know what is going to make you relevant or lift up your glory higher. From the minute I made my journey to Sun Newspaper, to making my first move to Makoko community where I featured my first woman, up until now, it has been God because he led me to this project. That is the story of women of rubies.
About Walk Against Rape
Walk against rape was largely based on the vacuum in Nigeria at the time I started. Those days, when PM News was the rave, you will see screaming headlines about rape but there was no conclusive end. Nobody was following up with these stories and the awareness was small. I give due credit to stakeholders that were in this field before me.
But I said to myself, “Why don’t we take this awareness to the street and the public? Why don’t we poke government? Why don’t we start a movement to let these rapists know that there are women in Nigeria who are decrying this barbaric act?” I dare say once more, by the grace of God, I was the first person that championed the walk against rape. And thanks be to God, I see a couple of people have started championing the cause as well.
For me, the whole idea was to create awareness, ensure these victims get justice and to make sure these stories are not just popular stories that sell headlines but stories that actually get justice for these people and see perpetrators going to jail. And this led me to write a book.
Walk Against Rape was borne out of me trying to create awareness about an issue a lot of people saw as a taboo as at 10 years ago. Nobody wanted to talk about it and the stigmatization was bad. But now, I thank God. Even though some people are coming out to abuse it on Twitter and report false rape cases, we thank God that the narrative has changed. People are beginning to open up and talk about it.
What’s your advice for women who are victims of Domestic Violence.
Well, the first thing is “Leave to Live!” It is only a person that is breathing and alive that can enjoy life. You cannot keep putting up with Domestic Violence because you want that man to change. A violent man has no other name, he will not change. Sex or food is not going to make him change. You have to make that change yourself and the change is to leave.
I am not asking you to divorce your husband. I am asking you to leave that situation first and then make a report. Don’t make the mistake of just leaving alone. Ensure you make a report either at the police station or the ministry of women affairs. Make sure somebody is accountable for you. This is because a violent man can become more violent and want to silence you forever. So, the best thing you can do for yourself is to document it.
I will advise women in violent situations to not manage an abusive partner. Don’t dig your own grave by managing an abusive partner. There is no joy in the graveyard! When you are 6 ft under the floor, your dreams and vision die with you. The best thing you can do for that man if you love him is for you to understand that you don’t want him to get killed. And you don’t want to kill someone by mistake as well. Because of that, you have to “Leave to Live!“
How can women in violent relationships get help?
They can get help from The Ministry of Women Affairs in Alausa, The Domestic and Sexual Violence Response Team (DSVRT) created by the government. For rape victims, the first thing I always advice is for them to go to a centre like Mirabel centre to get medical check up which is very important to verify their case before they proceed to seek justice. There is also Project alert on Violence against Women, Media concern, Stand to End Rape, The Black Diamond Foundation, Amazing Amazon and a host of other foundations that are willing to help. They also have information there.
I usually tell women in violent relationships that instead of liking and commenting online, they should use that time to source for information on how to get help and leave violent relationships.
Some people also ask “If I leave, where will I go?” Organisations like Project alert has shelters for them. There are shelters everywhere. If you are looking for a place you can go to find your footing for the next three months or to have a breather, they are there for you. So, there’s no excuse for you not to leave.
Does Work-Life Balance exist?
This has been a major topic on different pedestals. I try not to delve into it because what Work-life balance means to me is different from what it means to other people. However, this is what I always say because I do not like creating a debate around it – “Do whatever works for you! But whatever you do, make sure you don’t get overwhelmed to the point where you cannot take it anymore. Make sure that the balance you are seeking has an equilibrium where your sanity does not wither away“.
That is what I usually tell people. You could be a mum, wife, professional woman etc but vie for that balance where one role is not weighing you down more than the others.
[Read: How to achieve Mum-life balance]
How important is a support system for a mum?
It is extremely important for you to choose your support system. My own support system is made up of people that I am accountable to, people who keep me in check.
My support systems are my therapists and women who are older than me. I make friends mostly with older women and this is a deliberate act because I love to learn from people. I know I can always gist away with my peers but I know these women do not have that luxury of time. So, whatever moment I have with them, I am constantly learning something. And it is very important for me to always value that time.
Who is in your Tribe?
Every woman out there. For someone who has featured over 300 women in the last three years, all glory to God, I definitely have a lot of people in my tribe. But the truth is, my circle is very small. I have many friends and I usually tell people that it is hard to have me as an enemy. I literally make friends with everybody because I understand that my work cuts across boards.
So, every good woman out there, every woman who is driven and trying to contribute their quota to the economy is in my tribe. In my head, I have a lot of women in my tribe. For example, Uche Pedro is a woman that I love so much because she supported my work. Yetunde Williams is someone I love as well. There are so many people that I have in my head as part of my tribe because they are women that I check up.
Francisca Uri of Leading Ladies Africa who is also my good friend is in my tribe. Every woman who has a female-oriented platform online is in my tribe. Toyin of Augustsecrets is also in my tribe. Literally, every woman who is doing something positive in Nigeria is in my tribe because I cannot put myself in a place where I drop names. That is not for me to do, I am a media person and I will not hurt anybody.
However, don’t forget that my circle is small. But I do not limit myself to my circle when I need help.
Use one word to describe one thing that should not be missing from every home?
Peace! When a woman or man has peace of mind in their home, that home is going to flourish. It will be blessed, love is going to be at the centre of that home and the centre will hold. There will be mutual respect and everybody will be healthy and sane.
And I usually say peace is bigger than love. That is the truth. You cannot love anybody when you are not at peace with yourself or that person. It is important to seek peace in your home. Peace surpasses everything because when a visitor steps into that home, they can feel the presence of God, the warmth of the Holy Spirit, the love of both parties and the joy of the kids.
How do you relax and spend time on yourself?
I detox, I do a lot of it! I take time off the internet because it is taking us away from our real-life friends. It is causing depression. My self-care tip is to learn how to detox. I’ve been able to do 24 hours offline at least once a month in the last few months because I need my sanity and it has worked for me. You can imagine, we all have LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, while some also have Google plus, Snapchat. Social Media is giving us a lot to handle and it is making us spend less time with ourselves.
So I detox and take time off for my sanity. I probably just see a movie or listen to music all day. I meditate a lot. In addition, prayer is also a self-care tip for me. I have conversations with God during my me time.
As a Yummy Mummy, how do you stay stylish?
I am not a fashionista. I am a very simple girl. The other day, a mentee was telling me that she was sad because I don’t post pictures of designer clothes, bags, shoes etc on social media and I had to let her know that I am a simple person. It is self-discipline. I have an audience and I understand my audience. They want to be inspired by words, my experience, life, things that could help them in their capacity building etc, not by material things.
For me, being stylish is being comfortable in whatever you wear. Sometimes, people love the simplicity and they know how to make expensive look simple and I believe I am one of those people. I could carry a Kate Spade bag and decide to turn it over so that the tag does not show. I just love a simple lifestyle
What is your beauty routine?
I take a lot of water and smoothies! It’s something I developed lately in the past year. Smoothies are always part of my daily meal. In this pattern – in the morning, I take strawberry, pineapple, ginger and banana mixed smoothie as breakfast. Then when I am going to bed, I take either carrot and celery or blueberry and spinach. I do this because I am a foodie and I have to let all the cholesterol in my body out. So, this keeps me healthy and it keeps my skin in check.
I also take probiotics (both drugs and yoghurt) because they help us a lot.
What do you love about LagosMums?
Yetty Williams is doing a fantastic job. I get the LagosMums newsletter to show that I keep tabs on your activities. I love the fact that you have gone beyond just being LagosMums and being for mums in general. Also, I love the fact that LagosMums has inspired a lot of mums to understand that they need to appreciate themselves. Being a mum is not easy and you are helping us on that journey.
I also use your hashtag and I am proud to say it because you have a large base of mums who believe in your cause. I love the fact that you are also trying to seek for people to have that balance in their homes with the tips you share and of course, the events and activities. Your engagement online and the parenting tips you share also inspire me
I am inspired by your work as a mum and sometimes when I need tips about certain things, I spend hours on your page. I am a mum in the real sense of it but I also need tips about parenting and LagosMums is my go-to place to know more about that.
○ N1million or more sleep?
More sleep! Sounds weird but I need more sleep in my life
○ Go on a shopping spree or all expenses trip to your top destination
Shopping spree can take a back seat. I have a bucket list of places I will like to visit. Let me speak it into existence on your platform – I want to visit Bora Bora and the Fiji islands. I have been dreaming about it. I want an all expense paid trip to these places. There will always be opportunities to shop, I will shop at these places too. Lol!
○ Homeschooling or traditional school
I love traditional school
○ A spa day or Eat out?
Eat out! I love food, I can do the spa treatment in the house. I know how to do the honey, lemon and baking soda mixture in the house. Basically, know how to take care of myself and make my skin look good. So, eat out it is!
Visit LagosMums Mum of the Month category to read our previous features as mums share their motherhood journey.