First Culture

Mad About Africa: Kate Ekanem Is Engineering A Girl Child Revolution

In recollecting growing up in Nigeria, Kate Ekanem remembers an extremely rough upbringing, she remembers being raised by her father and after her mother passed when she was two, a foster parent who belittled her existence. In her own words capturing those years, Kate says, “I grew up in a community and a family that reminded me that the girl child was less acknowledged in all aspects.” Kate had to wrestle with this persistent proliferation of the concept that girls were undeserving. She remembers the gender gap in educational opportunity, job employment, and even in small family settings, she recollects that girls were continuously reminded directly and indirectly that their brothers were more important than them, that they were the pillars of the families. In 2017, All Africa reported that Nigeria has the highest rate of out of school girls stating that globally, one in five children not enrolled are Nigerian and a Vanguard report estimated the number of out of school girls in Nigeria to be about 5,5 million. When Kate approached her concluding year in senior secondary school, her father had to part with some of their household properties to be able to bear the financial strain of her final exams. A decision she recalls was met with it’s fair share of family criticism on account of her gender, she says, “Such investment on a girl was considered as an absolute waste.” Today Kate Ekanem is a girl’s advocate, an entrepreneur, and the founder of Kate Tales Foundation, a non-profit literary organization that promotes girl’s education, women empowerment and emerging writer’s development. She lives in the States, where she is majoring in Media and Communications at Muhlenberg College and refers to herself as a recovering writer and a global citizen.  She refers to her early experiences of the gender margin as highly instrumental in shaping her decision to start a foundation of that ilk whose mission she says is to train and develop future women leaders through leadership programs and with entrepreneurial skills, advocate for the girl child education and human right, and initiate emerging writer’s development forums.  Staying true to it’s mission since it’s inception in 2013, Kate Tales foundation has engineered a wealth of events that has mirrored it’s core values. From skill acquisition programs to donations of books and relief materials, to home visits and  just recently in August 2018, the foundation held the fourth installment of it’s annual event, Authors Talk which is geared at providing a safe space for conversation among writers and other creatives. This years event themed “Art of Sanity” centered around the creative and their mental health and pooled a network of the most important voices from around the country including Lagos International Poetry Festival Founder, Efe Paul Azino, lawyer, Enwongo Cleopas and award winning poet, Chijioke Amu Nnadi.
The adage which says “He who wears the shoe, knows where it hurts” is an accurate reflection of my inspiration and motivation to do this work.
In 2017, the foundation organized a scheme that trained women of Makoko community in Lagos – listed as one of the ten worst slums in the world- ranging from unemployed house wives to single mothers and young single ladies in the art of Ankara Bag making, Shoes, Jewelries and Capacity Development skills on Business Management, Financial Literacy and Marketing. Citing much of her motivation to catalyze change to have stemmed from being in a similar experience, Kate says, “The adage which says “He who wears the shoe, knows where it hurts” is an accurate reflection of my inspiration and motivation to do this work. I know what it feels like to rise in the morning and have nothing to eat. I know what it feels like to have an unending burning question, but dare not ask, because girls were not supposed to talk when the other gender was talking.” And in some ways the ability for the girl child to be vocal, for the vulnerable to speak against all odds is one of the core tenets of her foundation. The Ministry of Women Affairs revealed in their most recent estimate five years ago that 70% of Nigerian women were living below the poverty line, a stat Kate is looking to change through female self empowerment and employment. Being the first Nigerian competitively chosen out of 3000 girls across Africa to represent the African Union at the global G(irl) 20 summit, Turkey, a Vital Lady of the Vital Initiative Africa, a Delegate for Development Dialogue Nigeria, a US Carrington Youth Fellow, and a Queen Young Leaders awardee by her majesty Queen Elizabeth, Kate Ekanem though in her early 20’s has come a long way from being the girl whose father could not afford her final exams. She is a Champion for Change at the UN / Empower Women, a Ship the start-up Ambassador, Finland. Grubstreet Muse sponsored writer, Boston, a Global Media forum scholar, Germany, an Internet Society 25 Under25 Award winner, a Dealhack Community Volunteer Scholarship Award winner, and a Royal Commonwealth Society Associate Fellow. But more importantly for Kate, she is the founder of Kate Tales Foundation whose future aim she summarizes as working on the construction of a framework that directly addresses the different challenges of girls and women in different communities across Africa through researching means in which the foundation can create solutions to challenges without eradicating important cultural values. Her foundation which has established regional branches across the country is pivotal to her as it was in 2012 when she first birthed the idea and about the conception process which she says, “I have lived in darkness. I have felt hunger. I have been extremely depressed, and I know, I understand what it means to be a girl. The girls and women who endure resilience in the face of intense adversity are my inspiration. I remind myself that yes, this is my story too, and I have to find a solution.” Unique Immaculate contributed to this report.  END Mad About Africa is a First Culture series celebrating African individuals who are making changes in their locale that generally affect our continent. We consider them people who are Mad About Africa and who are dedicated to seeing it regain it’s true stance as the very First Culture. To nominate someone and have them featured, please visit the campaign page. Read more from the series here.
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Caleb Somtochukwu Okereke

Caleb Somtochukwu Okereke

Senior Editor working out of East Africa.

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Mad About Africa: Kate Ekanem Is Engineering A Girl Child Revolution

by Caleb Somtochukwu Okereke time to read: 4 min
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