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Friday, December 8, 2023

Men misinterpret my assertive demeanor as arrogance -Nigerian lawyer licensed to practise in Ghana

ESTHER Orishuwa Eyetan is a dynamic professional and an erudite lawyer with tireless efforts to not only live her dream but also encourages women to give themselves a chance at life. She shares her remarkable story with us

Please, may we know you?
Thank you for having me. It’s a pleasure to be here. My name is Esther Orishuwa Eyetan, and I was born in Lagos State in the 1970s. I am a native of Delta State.

Could you please share with us a bit about your background? How was growing up?
I experienced a typical childhood. I was raised by parents who upheld strict values. My dad was a naval officer, and my mother was a nurse. They were very hardworking, and they ensured to provide all we needed.

I am the second daughter, and when I lost my elder sister in 1986, the mantle of responsibility fell on my shoulders. So, I learned how to look after myself and my siblings at a very young age. Sometimes, people tell me that I exhibit a maturity that is beyond my age, and I guess the responsibilities I took on might be a contributing factor to the perception.

What were your earliest influences?
It definitely has to be figures like Gani Fawehinmi and Femi Falana. Their unwavering commitment to justice and human rights left a lasting impression on me as I grew up. Their courageous advocacy spoke volumes at a time when it was very risky to speak out.

Moreover, another force that shaped my path was a strong aversion to domestic violence. In those years, my 18-year-old self had a singular focus on shielding married women from the clutches of abusive partners. This resolute conviction fueled my decision to pursue legal education.

What schools did you attend?
My educational journey began at the Nigerian Navy Primary School in Apapa, Lagos. In Primary 5, I took the common entrance examination and was admitted to Command Secondary School in Kaduna. Due to the rigorous school activities and the considerable distance from my parents who were living in Lagos at the time, I was withdrawn and brought back to Lagos. So, I completed my secondary education at the Maryland Comprehensive Secondary School, Ikeja.

my 18-year-old self had a singular mission to shield married women from the clutches of abusive partners

Thereafter, I got admitted to the Lagos State University to study Law and was called to the Nigerian Bar in 2003. In 2005, I relocated to Ghana, where I further honed my legal skills and achieved another milestone by being called to the Ghanaian Bar.

Did you dream of becoming a lawyer when you were growing up?
Yes, I have always wanted to be a lawyer, and I am glad that I remained true to my calling.

Your career is really loaded. Please, can you take us through your journey so far?
Well, my journey has been marked by transitions, growth, and an unyielding commitment to legal education and practice across two nations. I am a corporate lawyer. Corporate Law refers to the area of legal practice that focuses on the formation, operation, governance, and dissolution of corporations and other business entities. To put it in layman’s terms, I am an in-house lawyer for companies.

Undoubtedly, a significant highlight of my professional journey was the time I spent working at Tecno in Ghana. Over the span of eight years, I held a distinct position as the sole female member of the management team. This role presented me with numerous opportunities and challenges, including participating in business meetings that often extended late into the night.

Have you ever experienced any form of sexual harassment or gender bias in your career journey?
Throughout my tenure as the Head of Legal, HR, and Administration Manager at Tecno in Ghana, I am grateful to share that I didn’t personally experience any instance of sexual harassment. However, it’s unfortunate that gender bias remains a prevalent issue, not just within the organisation but also in the wider professional environment.

On a daily basis, even to this day, I encounter gender bias. Instances such as men belittling or undermining women, suggesting that material possessions are acquired solely through male influence, have become a disheartening norm.

it’s unfortunate that gender bias remains a prevalent issue in the wider professional environment

My assertive demeanor and communication style are inherent aspects of my personality. Yet, these traits sometimes lead to misconception, with men interpreting them as arrogance or an inability to communicate effectively. Regrettably, gender stereotypes still linger, portraying women as less capable or authoritative, especially in the eyes of certain men.

My experience underscores the ongoing need for a more equitable and inclusive workplace environment where a person’s abilities and contributions are valued independent of their gender. While progress has been made, these challenges serve as reminders that the journey towards gender equality and respect in the workplace is far from over.

What has been the high point of your career?
When I was entrusted with the triple responsibilities of HR, Legal, and Administration, I found myself stepping into uncharted territory. While I had a firm grasp of labour law and legal principles, the realm of HR was largely unfamiliar to me. Despite this, I embraced the challenge of establishing an HR department from the scratch for a company that had never previously had one. And I can proudly say that I excelled.

gender stereotypes still linger, portraying women as less capable or authoritative, especially in the eyes of certain men

My story stands as a testament to the fact that with determination and dedication, one can overcome hurdles, adapt, and truly succeed. In 2018, I was named one of Ghana’s top 50 HR leaders.

Are you a feminist?
Feminists strive to create an equitable society where everyone can fully participate and thrive, regardless of their gender. I proudly identify as a feminist, consistently challenging gender stereotypes, advocating for women’s rights, and steadfastly championing gender equality.

How have you managed to strike a balance between your personal and professional lives?
I firmly believe that success is not solely defined by professional achievements but also by personal fulfilment. Right now, my children have grown and left home, and had I not mastered the art of balance, solitude might have loomed. I learned earlier on to raise them and, at the same time, have a life separate from them. I work hard, have fun, and play hard. So, my life is balanced.

What’s your opinion on single parenting?
This is a topic that holds great significance to me. It’s truly perplexing how some men can easily carry on with their lives while neglecting their responsibilities as fathers. The notion that children will eventually seek them out doesn’t excuse their prolonged absence or lack of support. I feel the emotional and financial well-being of a child should be a paramount concern for any parent.

I am a part of a community of single mothers, and the stories I encounter are often heart-breaking. To be frank, most single mothers are going through a lot. Nigerian women stand out as some of the most resilient and industrious individuals I’ve witnessed. They demonstrate an unmatched work ethic and a remarkable ability to surmount even the most formidable obstacles. I am so proud of them.

What is your ultimate goal in life?
I look forward to retiring in the next five years, and after retirement, I hope to establish my own practice.

Who would you love to meet most in the whole world?
Meeting Michelle Obama is a dream I hold close to my heart. She stands as a true role model and inspiration to me, and her impact on society is nothing short of awe-inspiring.

It’s truly perplexing how some men can easily carry on with their lives while neglecting their responsibilities as fathers

As we wrap up this segment, could you leave a word of advice for women, especially single mothers?
A valuable advice I can offer to single mothers is to utilise the resources at their disposal, such as the court system and other social welfare networks that hold fathers accountable.

Avoid carrying the burden alone, as doing so could lead to personal hardships, premature ageing, and potential future scenarios where either your children seek out their fathers or the fathers themselves come for reconciliation.

So, remember, your strength isn’t about bearing the responsibilities alone; it’s about creating a path where everyone plays their part.

Thank you, Iya Magazine, for this opportunity.

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