Visiting Scholar Hauwa Ibrahim, J.D., S.J.D., M.L., gave the keynote address during the March 5, 2020, celebration of International Women's Day at Wellesley College. The program was hosted by the Albright Institute, Slater International Center, and the Wellesley Centers for Women. In her address, Ibrahim discussed empowerment, inclusion, and community. She shared ways that she draws inspiration from empowered women and girls around the world; discussed the importance of analyzing our consumption of media; and reflected on how she tries to approach problems with respect and understanding of local culture.
The following excerpts from her speech have been edited for brevity and clarity.
On Celebrating International Women’s Day
We celebrate today because there are women and men that have made it possible. They are strong. They have given us their shoulders. And today we are standing, trying to build on what they have given us. So let's not forget about those ones that came before us.
And I want us to think about whoever has been in our lives, mothers, grandmothers, aunties, sisters that one way or the other, made us who we are today. We celebrate them today, on the 2020 International Women's Day. We have made a lot of gains based on what they have done…we have made gains as women, but we should not take those gains for granted…They can also slip away from us. So remember, as we celebrate today that we hold dear to what we have gained.
On How We Consume Information
…I will push us a little bit to think more and to have a conversation around some of the mainstream social media framing of our thoughts and our perception. …The major players right now in the information regime are bigger platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Google. They are a major source of information. They try to tell us, because of their origin, to think about right or wrong. Are we left-wing or right-wing? Us versus them. Misinformation and disinformation. Fake news and deep fake. Fact versus fiction. Trust versus lies. Argument versus propaganda.
…The good book says, "my people perish because of lack of knowledge." If there is one thing you want to walk away with today, I want to encourage you. If you think you know, that is when you want to know more. Encourage yourself with more knowledge, and that will empower you more. That will make you more inclusive. And that will make you play a greater part in the community.
…Some of us are guilty of forwarding information without cross-checking our sources. In this period of trying to empower ourselves, we can't afford to do that, however sensational we feel about the information. Don't forward this. You have not cross-checked the source. Not only once. Double-check it. Triple check it. Otherwise, we are participating in spreading disinformation and misinformation. And that would not empower, as it will do the opposite of empowerment. The second thing I wanted to throw in there is the validation of our beliefs. …please slow down, take a deep breath, and be careful about the echo chambers…Once in a while, shake it up. If, for example, there are some media houses, you cannot stand, go to them. Click them. Listen to them. …Challenge your assumptions. Go beyond your usual source of information.
There are two sets of intelligence. One is the learned one. We are here as students. At the end of the year, we get our degrees, we get a certificate to validate our stay here. The other one is a fountain that flows from within. Each of you has it. It's a fountain. And if you remember something today, it's that fountain can keep flowing if we allow it to flow.
On Driving Change in a Community, Respectfully
I will tell you how I do it, but that doesn't make it the right way. I have a set of strategies... The first one is I try to understand, what are the dynamics? Fortunately, or unfortunately, I live in three worlds. I am married to an Italian so I live in a European world. I live in the United States so I live in a different world. And I'm from Nigeria, where it is a different world. So any place I go, I want to see and hear as much as possible.
Listen. My mother says the stomach is not for food alone. The stomach is not for food alone. So there is a need for us to listen and to learn from listening. Understand the dynamic of wherever you find yourself. And know that when there are daughters and the sons of the soil, leave it to them. Remember for each given culture, the people that live there know better than you that are coming in. So at times, I'm always conscious of the fact that there are sons and daughters of the soil, and I have to respect that.
…The second one I used to say is to never join issues. When you have something to do, try to get it done in the most respectful way wherever you are, but don't join issues. …Don't do things because the press will cover it. …Pay attention to the details of every given situation you have. Make sure you pay attention to the little, tiny details of each situation…use your intuition, use your insight, and see how you can navigate it.
And for the lawyers, I will say to people that want to do law, or go in the field, or any other field, I suggest that know your stuff. In my writing, I say, if you can, don't only know it, read it. Know it. Eat it. Digest it. Breathe it. Live it. When you know your stuff, you add authority anywhere you are. And nobody takes it from you. So know your stuff, whatever you're doing, wherever you're going, as students, know your stuff
…Always have a plan. Have a backup, have a fallback, and have an exit plan. So you not only have a plan, you have a backup, not only a backup, you have a fallback, not only a fallback but strategize an exit. So in any situation, you can wiggle out and around. And the last thing I would suggest is to think global and act local.
You have the opportunity to be amongst students from all different parts of the world. Don't be timid, be friends. Don't accept this us versus them theory. We all want the same thing. We want to go to bed and close our eyes and sleep. Remember that you are because I am, I am because you are. The Ubuntu theory. If we remember that it helps us navigate a lot of things. That we are for each other.
…So in terms of planning, always be two steps ahead of the situation you find yourself. Be respectful of each situation, not arrogantly, but be determined and firm. When you're firm, and people know that you are firm, it helps you. I mean, for me, it has been very helpful.
On Failure and Greatness
We will fail. I have one failure, over one failure, over one failure, but whenever I fail, I say to myself, "stand up, shake it up, and keep going." So for all the young ladies here, stand up, shake it up, and keep going. …I say to myself also, I will not take an idea and crawl. Actually, I will not take an idea and walk. I will never take an idea and run. If I can't fly with that idea, it's not worth the idea. So for those of you in this room, do not crawl, do not walk, do not run. Fly. Do you have what it takes to fly?
And I have been fortunate to have mentors that have taught me how to fly. …We need inspiration, people around us that will inspire us to keep flying. Stick to them like glue. And then the last thing I want to say is that greatness is a fantastic word but whatever you sow, you reap. Make it a duty to sow good. When you sow good, you reap good. Continuously align yourself to sow good. There may be a lot of resistance to you sowing the good, but keep doing it.
We all meet hurdles. But what you sow, you reap… You sow good, you reap it. And it's got no boundaries. So keep going.
March 5, 2020