Education has a major role to play in curbing gender inequality. This is because when educators start at a young age to instill and promote gender equality, it’s easier for the children and teens to grow with it and become adults who see gender equality as a norm. This creates a balanced world and also makes advocacy much easier because the crop of young adults being sent into the society has a good understanding of what gender equality is really about. In light of this, we will be interviewing Chidinma Ibemere, a young Gender Equality Advocate who is also a Biology teacher at Federal Government College Enugu. In this interview, we would be reading about her first-hand experiences with having gender equality conversations with her students. We would gain insight into what being a teacher and a Gender advocate for her is like, her challenges, her inspiration, the other forms of advocacy she does outside of the classroom, and her future plans.
Sit back, grab a glass of your favorite drink, and enjoy this delightfully insightful piece:
1. Can we meet you, please?
I am Chidinma Ibemere, the first of three children, a blogger, and a Gender Equality Advocate. I hail from Nkwerre in Imo State, Nigeria. Gratefully, I have an M.Sc. in Epidemiology and Medical Statistics from the University of Nigeria Nsukka and I teach Biology at Federal Government College Enugu. I served as a Youth Champion for the ONE Campaign between 2018 and 2020. Currently, I have the privilege of being the Project Officer at the Wadi Ben-Hirki Foundation.
2. What inspired you to become a teacher?
The truth is I never had in mind that I would ever be a teacher. After NYSC in 2016, I applied for so many jobs. I was fortunate to be interviewed in early 2017 and thankfully, I got the job. There was really no inspiration. It was the available choice at the time.
3. What do you like most about your job?
Inasmuch as I struggled with the idea of being a teacher at the early stage of carrying out my duties, I am grateful for this experience while it lasts. What I love most about teaching is that it is flexible and more importantly, I have the honor of being part of the development process of teenagers. The feeling that comes with knowing you may be teaching the next Governor or President inspires me to put in my best.
4. How do you think your students perceive gender equality?
While teaching, I try to incorporate social issues to strike a balance. I have had conversations in class with my students about what their thoughts are with respect to wives who are paid higher salaries than their husbands. It was an interesting session as most of the boys in the class insisted they would tell their wives to quit the job because husbands are supposedly the breadwinners. I honestly think gender equality for them is replicating what they see or experience at home.
Sometimes, the debates are overwhelming and I know it would take a lot of energy to unlearn the narrative but I believe in pressing on.
5. From my observation, educational institutions fuel gender inequality (sidelining females for leadership roles, promoting myths in the mind of girls that limit them), how have you been able to help promote gender equality as an educator among your students?
I have the opportunity of being a Form Teacher. This means I am in charge of 54 students in SS1F. Most of the posts created to ensure the smooth running of operations in the class are held by girls who have been proven to do the job. I believe strongly in competence over sentiments but I ensure female representation is upheld. I also try to counsel girls across classes I teach on the need to believe in themselves irrespective of what society or background projects.
The school authority permitted me to host an all-girls session within 2 months of assuming duty. I emphasized the importance of self-development because when girls reach their fullest potentials, they are unstoppable.
On International Day of the Girl, I organized a conference tagged the Future is Female. This was proudly sponsored by ONE Campaign, Center For Memories, and SISTEM. The conference was for female secondary school students in Enugu. Some of my students were part of this amazing event and the feedback from them was inspiring. It is safe to say that I evangelise Gender Equality while teaching Biology😊.
6. As a biology teacher, what role have you been playing in encouraging your female students in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics)?
I try as much as I can to ensure I integrate digitalization in giving my lessons. I give opportunity to students to teach using PowerPoint. This is to align them with the ongoing ICT trend in the world. I also support my colleagues in advancing the work done by the JETS club in the school. The club trains students who are passionate about becoming STEM leaders. It has been a great one.
7. How have you been able to also influence other educators in promoting gender equality?
I am smiling because a lot of memories just crossed my mind. I think my influence is slow but sure because I am one of the youngest staff and preaching gender equality to people who are somewhat conservative may be seen to be disrespectful. I am glad that senior colleagues identify me as a girl child champion but I wish they also would become champions too. I try to use my actions and lifestyle to match my beliefs. I hope someday, the majority would see the need to join hands for us to have a more equal world.
8. What are the challenges you have been facing with young adults in terms of gender stereotypes and kindly share success stories on how you have changed a limiting mindset?
In March this year, I was selected by the school management to lead the pageantry session for Commonwealth Day. Students, both boys, and girls were asked to participate. It was a whole learning experience for me. The team needed just 12 female students for the program but we had about 19. I decided to use a writing contest to screen some of them out. I told them to convince the team with strong reasons stating why they should be considered for the pageantry.
One of the essays touched me specially. The girl wrote that she wanted to prove that black-skinned girls like her could become Miss Commonwealth even though her classmates laughed at her when she indicated interest.
It was disturbing to know that young black girls like her felt their skin was a barrier to fulfilling purpose. I had to include self-esteem sessions as part of the training. Although this girl didn’t win, I was glad to see her self esteem rise greatly.
I also have the story of teaching the six classes of food. This was in a JSS 1 class. I decided to ask how many boys could cook. Only a few boys raised their hands and an 11-year-old boy boldly said it was the duty of girls to cook because the Bible says a woman was created to help the man. This shocked me. Another said whenever he wanted to help his sister in the kitchen, his dad would call him a woman wrapper. I had to give an assignment to the boys to cook and write about it. Some honestly did it and that was a happy moment for me.
Sadly, these gentle actions of amplifying inequality eventually become monsters difficult to subdue.
Family and society have contributed immensely to the gender stereotypes that are common today but changing the narrative is something I am committed to. It may not be easy but it is not impossible.
9. Tell us more about your work as Project officer with Wadi-Ben Hirki Foundation
It’s been an honor working as the Project Officer at this prestigious Organization. We celebrated our 5th Year Anniversary on the 13th of June, 2020.
Wadi Ben-Hirki Foundation is a registered non-profit organization with a clear mission of reigniting the hopes of the hurting, especially women and children. Through our various projects such as Street to School, Love in the Midst of War, Girls Not Wives, SHEROES, we provide platforms that empower beneficiaries as well as harness their skills to reach their fullest potentials with a recorded impact on over 5000 people. It was founded by Ms. Wadi Ben-Hirki, a young global leader.
As Project Officer, my responsibility revolves around ensuring that whatever initiative or project to be executed aligns with the values, objectives, mission, and vision of the organization. It has been a great experience for me and I am optimistic that more lives will be touched positively through the work that we do.
10. Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years ?
By God’s grace, in the next 5 years, I believe I would have more clarity about my journey in life while living it out, I should have completed my Ph.D. program and also be a force to be reckoned with in decision making tables of Quality Education and Gender Equality.
I am sure you had a swell time reading from Chidinma. You would agree with me that she is currently doing a great job in inspiring these young girls around her to reach their full potential. She is also teaching young girls and boys what gender equality is about and how it affects them. As she has rightly said, we need more people to also champion this cause. The mission to make our educational system places where gender equality is upheld is not a one-woman affair. All hands must be on deck to ensure that our boys and girls are taught their rights and given equal playing ground. To connect with Chidinma to lend your voice to her advocacy or find out more about Wadi Ben-Hirki foundation, please contact her on her social media handles : Chidinma Ibemere