“As women and girls, we want to be able to break through any barrier and ceiling to become the best versions of ourselves not because we are women but because we are human beings having the same aspirations as men. Some may call this feminism of women wanting to be men – which is an absurd way of thinking; but I call this gender equality.”- Mary Izobo
In this edition, we feature the effervesent Ms Mary Izobo who is an International Human Rights Lawyer, Gender Advocate and Governance Expert with experience in the field of human rights, governance, democratization and the rule of law for development. Driven by her passion to achieve democratic equal rights for all within her lifetime, she pioneered the legal unit and was the Legal Advisor of the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM), an organ of the African Union (AU), and has worked for the United Nations (UN), the African Union Commission (AUC), the Pan-African Parliament (PAP), the Institute for Strategic Litigation in Africa (ISLA) and the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa (EISA). Her expertise in governance has led her to consult for various multi-national corporations and governments particularly, the Federal Republic of Nigeria where she supported the establishment and inauguration of Nigeria’s National Governing Council in 2019 and Nigeria’s Country Review Self-Assessment Report in collaboration with Technical Research Institutes in 2020. She possesses vast knowledge in practical and diplomatic legal experience in statute drafting and electoral observation having observed the Burkina Faso elections in 2015 and Sudan’s Peace Referendum in 2016.
Ms Izobo is the Founder of the Amazon Leadership Initiative (TheALI). TheALI, a non-profit organization, was established to empower women and girls, provide support networks, mentorship, career guidance, education and capacity development to alleviate gender inequality in line with aspiration 6 of the African Union (AU) Agenda 2063 and Goal 5 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) 2030. TheALI envisions a world where everyone has equal rights and opportunities and has partnered with the Graça Machel Trust, South Africa, the Malala Fund, Nigeria, Sheroes Global, United Kingdom, Phahama UP Alumni, South Africa as well as the Afro in Diaspora Center, Ireland. Through TheALI, she has organized various gender advocacy programmes and webinars which have engaged prominent people like H.E Olusegun Obasanjo, former President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, H.E Graça Machel, Founder of Graça Machel Trust and International Advocate for Women and Children’s Rights, H.E Minata Samate Cessouma, African Union Commissioner for Political Affairs, Dr Oby Ezekwesili, former Vice-President of the World Bank’s Africa Division and former Minister of Education, Chief Dele Momodu, Founder and Chairman of the Ovation Media Group, Mrs Yemi Adenuga, Ireland’s first elected black-female public representative and President of Sheroes Global, Ms Crystal Ikanih-Musa, Nigeria Country Director, Malala Fund, and Ms Aya Chebbi, African Union Youth Envoy. In the same vein, Ms Izobo is a mentor to female students in grades 10, 11 and at the undergraduate level in Nigeria, South Africa and the United Kingdom.
Ms Izobo has volunteered and carried out community development work by constructing a bus-stop and a skills acquisition centre in 2008, which she named after former Vice-President of Nigeria, Namadi Sambo in Gurza-Mariri, Kaduna state in the Northern Part of Nigeria. This skills acquisition centre is equipped with hairdryers, sewing machines, industrial knitting machines, computers and culinary equipment. Ms Izobo set up the Namadi Sambo Skills Acquisition Centre to provide employment, promote self-empowerment and reliance, as well as alleviate poverty among women and girls in the Gurza-Mariri community through vocational skills. These skills include Hairdressing services, Sewing and Fashion services, Computer Literacy and Catering Services, which is still fully functional to date. Also, Ms Izobo was able to bring peace among the different ethnic groups in the Gurza-Mariri communities which were hitherto elusive in the area through seminars and workshops she organised and was given an award of commendation by the community, as a result. Furthermore, Ms Izobo and other law students in 2012 founded the Victim Support Organization of Nigeria (VSON) in Bwari, Abuja, aimed at helping victims of crime, rape and domestic violence, where she volunteered as the Programme Manager partnering with the International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA), Nigeria and General Association of Female Attorneys (GAFA) Nigeria.
Ms Izobo is a seasoned public speaker and has been invited to speak at various fronts including state events, the national house of parliaments, African Union institutions, universities, multilateral organizations, international and local seminars, workshops as well as conferences. She is also a Barrister and Solicitor of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, member of the Nigerian Bar Association, the University of Aberdeen Law Society and the PROLAW Alumni Association. She has written various academic publications and opinion editorials across continents such as in the Loyola University Chicago Law School Journal, Daily Maverick, Citizen Newspaper, AfricLaw, Defakto.bg, and Daily Trust. She has received various academic awards and won various accolades. Some of these notable awards include Best graduating student, Most Outstanding Finalist, Overall Best Graduating Student, AFUDA Prize in Modern European Languages, Kaduna State Honors Award for public service in Nigeria, Best National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) member in Gurza-Mariri Local Government Area, and a feature in the March 2017 edition of the Successful Woman Magazine alongside Rami Chuene, South Africa’s Veteran Actress. In 2020, she has bestowed an SPE Award of Recognition for her honourable achievements as one of the 60 Pathfinders being celebrated as thriving women in the spirit of Nigeria’s 60th Independence.
As a personal belief, Ms Izobo believes that education lies at the heart of gender equality and as an ardent advocate for self and academic improvement, Ms Izobo is currently studying for a Doctor of Laws (LLD) with a focus on international governance. Before that, she obtained a Master of Laws (LLM) in Rule of Law for Development from Loyola University Chicago, the United States of America and another Master of Laws (LLM) in Human Rights and Democratization in Africa from the University of Pretoria, South Africa. She holds a Bachelor of Arts (BA Hons) in the French Language from the University of Ibadan, Nigeria; a Bachelor of Laws (LLB) from the University of Aberdeen, Scotland, United Kingdom; and a Barrister at Law (BL) from the Nigerian Law School, Abuja, Nigeria.
1. What makes practice exciting for Ms Izobo?
Succinctly put, for Mary, life is beautiful when one has a passion to serve and knows how to go about it especially if one is knowledgeably equipped. In 2012, she was called to the Nigerian Bar and qualified to practice law as a Solicitor and Barrister of the Supreme Court of Nigeria. She practices law internationally and regionally by working in the field of governance, human rights, and the rule of law for development. Through this practice, she is using the law as an instrument of change towards governance, rule of law for development and human rights particularly the rights of women and girls.
For Mary, she knows that human rights violations are rife globally and the flagrant violations of human rights of citizens especially women and girls in Africa are harrowing. She believes human rights violations particularly of women and girls include discriminatory norms, patriarchy, toxic masculinity, female genital mutilation, child marriage, lack of access to education for women and girls, negative workplace barriers for women, femicide, gender-based violence, and negative stereotype for women in politics and leadership. The more she encounters these issues, the more her line of work changed from courtroom practice to advocacy through the promotion and protection of the rights of women and girls. She has constantly advocated for the rights of women and girls through various ways such as:
- Mentorship and Guardianship: She currently mentors girls from Nigeria, South Africa and the United Kingdom and gives annual career talks to students in grades 10 and 11 through the Educhange Research and Foundation. She also provides safe accommodation and caters for young girls who are in university but do not find home conducive during school holidays because of sexual assault and violence at home.
- Advocacy: She organises webinars and advocacy programmes by bringing together global leaders and the public at large to discuss the challenges women and girls face in society. So far, the programmes have covered 5 of the 12 critical areas of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action ranging from women in decision-making and leadership, women in education, human rights of women, the girl child and violence against women. Besides, she has worked on issues around xenophobia, racism, refugee rights, gender-based violence, femicide, rights of older women, child trafficking, negative effects of conflicts and unconstitutionality. You can find some of the links to the advocacy work she has done here and on her LinkedIn, here.
In the field of governance and the rule of law for development, she has worked with various African Union institutions, Non-Governmental institutions and governance/electoral institutions on several projects. These projects include Silencing the Guns 2020 in collaboration with the Silencing the Gun Unit of the African Union Commission and Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), the 5th Legal Colloquium of Legal Counsel to Parliaments, the 12th Pan African Parliament Conference on Women’s Rights, and Ending Electoral Violence in Africa in collaboration with the African Governance Architecture and the African Peace and Security Architecture. Other projects include APRM as a tool for conflict prevention in Africa with the United Nation’s Office of the Secretary-General, Elections and Violence in Africa – The Management of the Democratic Order in collaboration with the African Union Department of Political Affairs and the African Governance Institute, Dakar, Senegal and the Establishment, Harmonization and Strengthening of the APRM National Structures in 37 African Union Member States. These projects established a platform for Africans to engage and drive the processes in the development and economic integration of the continent.
Furthermore, she has had the privilege to work on electoral matters in Cote d’Ivoire, Sudan and Burkina Faso as well as work in a law firm as a Legal attorney practising law, the usual courtroom manner. Consequently, mentoring, advocating and promoting human rights, governance and the rule of law for development in Africa is stimulating and her way of practising law as not every lawyer is meant for the courtrooms and court halls. For this reason, the practice of law is beautiful, diverse, scintillating, challenging and therefore truly exciting.
2. What is Mary’s philosophy of impacting the nation through the practice of the law?
The promotion of human rights and democratisation in Africa are at the core of her philosophy on impacting the nation through the practice of law. She believes that once a country practices good governance, respect for the rule of law and respect for the human rights of its citizens, that country is on its path to growth and progress economically, politically and socially. She understands that African states must protect, respect and fulfil human rights obligations and also be democratic as enshrined in the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the African Union Constitutive Act, the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance and other international laws and policies. She believes that if states carry out their obligations regarding human rights and democratic governance, there will be a positive impact on the populace particularly women and children. These are some of the reasons why she is an indefatigable advocate for human rights and good governance.
More so, she has written articles on these issues which you can find here and here. She is very passionate about Africa and she is determined to use the law as a tool for social justice in Africa. She aims to continuously contribute enormously to the promotion of human rights and the general development of the most acceptable system of government through the instrumentality of the law. Her driving force flows from the unrelenting interest that she knows so many problems related to human rights, governance and entrenching the respect for rule of law on the African continent needs to urgently address and redress them.
3. What is the next big thing she is working on?
As a result of her passion for the human rights of women and girls, she founded a not-for-profit organisation called the Amazon Leadership Initiative (TheALI). TheALI provides women and girls with support networks, mentorship, career guidance, capacity development and empower them in a bid to achieve gender equality in line with aspiration 6 of the African Union Agenda 2063, goal 5 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 2030 and the United Nations Women movement on Generation Equality.
Through TheALI, her team will be working on two major projects. The first project is on ending child marriage in Nigeria. This project aims to achieve reduced prevalence of gender-discriminatory norms that continue to encourage child marriage in Nigeria, through changed attitude at the community and grassroots levels and the increased awareness of the community on the harmful effects of child marriage. This project further aims to achieve harmonized state laws in line with international instruments that promote and protect the rights and welfare of the child as well as the necessary legislation domesticated and adopted into state law. It is expected that this project will run for several years.
The other project is a Bootcamp on Leadership for Young Girls. The purpose of this Bootcamp is to draw inspiration from female luminaries who have excelled in their field and to pass this knowledge to young girls to believe in themselves most importantly. This is to achieve gender equality and equity, autonomy and leadership for young girls. Please watch out for the application forms for the Bootcamp for young female leaders.
Her team intends to implement both programmes this year and are open to collaborations. TheALI can be contacted at email@example.com
4. What does Ms Izobo consider the millennials’ greatest strength?
Mary knows that digital technology and communications are what millennials understand, and it unites these millennials globally. She believes millennials are a generation that has grown up in the digital world and can connect digitally and through different mediums, social media included. She knows that millennials through the use of digital communications have made a positive impact on humanity through various social movements. For instance, she believes the #AmINext? #EndSARS #MeToo #BlackLivesMatter movements – which are all human rights-related were highly promoted via social media. She even went to the extent of discussing this in a podcast she had a few weeks ago with the Law Objective in their latest human rights series focusing on ‘gender equality’ and she reiterates what she said in the podcast, “I will focus on the #MeToo movement.”
For her, the #MeToo movement is a social movement that draws attention to sexual harassment, sexual abuse and sexual assault – basically any kind of sexual violence. She notes that it was started 15 years ago by Tarana Burke, an American activist and sexual harassment survivor who first used the hashtag on My Space, a social media platform. However, it then gained social media traction in 2017 following Harvey Weinstein sexual abuse allegations where Alyssa Milano, an American political activist and actress encouraged victims of sexual violence to speak up by saying Me Too, several women spoke up using the hashtag and this made the #MeToo hashtag to become very popular and spread to other countries and continents. Mary recants that the response was phenomenal. Within the first 24 hours of the #MeToo movement, approximately 4.7 million people had used the hashtag on Facebook. On Twitter, over 500,000 people tweeted on the social movement. Since then, several women have used the Me Too hashtag, posted it on their statuses, and social media platforms to highlight the challenges women face in the workplace and otherwise regarding sexual assault and violence. Mary appreciates that for the first time, women’s allegations were heard in all ramifications instead of being dismissed; as women are no longer ashamed or blamed when they are being molested or harassed as it happened in the past.
Equally, Mary also appreciates that digital technology and communications are the strengths of millennials; she understands that hashtags highlighting injustices have become more popular – see here for example. Indeed, she believes the digital world is doing a good job of exposing perpetrators of sexual harassment and assault and making these heinous crimes intolerable as opposed to before. Nonetheless, she mentions that trial by media can be very deadly and it is noteworthy that while digital technology has created a lot of awareness and change towards some human rights issues, it cannot solve all of the world’s problems and thus she notes that we must be aware of its disadvantages such as an online forum for abuse, trolling, chasing clout and revenge.
5. What is Mary currently reading, and what is her parting shot?
She is currently reading Slay in your lane: The Black Girl Bible by Yomi Adegoke and Elizabeth Uviebinene. She also bought three copies of the book for her mentees in South Africa and that is what they will be reading as part of their books for 2021.
Her parting shot is for everyone,
“Women and girls are usually stereotyped because of social conceptions about us which tends to put us down and box us into tiny pigeonholes of no consequence. As women and girls, we want to be able to break through any barrier and ceiling to become the best versions of ourselves not because we are women but because we are human beings having the same aspirations as men. Some may call this feminism of women wanting to be men – which is an absurd way of thinking; but I call this gender equality – generation equality, where we are all humans and deserve the same access to opportunities and resources.”
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