About Erelu Bisi Fayemi

Erelu Bisi Fayemi

Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi was born in Liverpool, England on June 11, 1963. She has a BA (1984) and MA (1988) in History from the University of Ife, Nigeria (now Obafemi Awolowo University). She also received an MA in Gender and Society (1992) from Middlesex University, UK.  She has experience as a Feminist Thinker and Writer, Social Entrepreneur, Policy Advocate, Trainer, Social Change Philanthropy Practitioner, Communications Specialist and Social Sector expert.


She is currently the CEO of Above Whispers Media Group, which runs Abovewhispers.com, where she writes a popular weekly column called Loud Whispers. Bisi was until recently, a UN Women Nigeria Senior Advisor (2017-2018) where she helped design their five year women and political participation strategy for Nigeria. She is currently a Visiting Senior Research Fellow at the Africa Leadership Center, King’s College, London.


Mrs Fayemi worked in the Department of Health, London, as an Administrative Officer (1989-2001). She then became the Director of Akina Mama wa Afrika (AMwA), an international development organisation for African women based in London, UK from 1991-2001. During her time at AMwA, she set up initiatives to address African women in UK prisons, private fostering, mental health as well as HIV/AIDS, and she was involved in policy advocacy on these issues.

While she was the Director of AMwA, she established the African Women’s Leadership Institute (AWLI), a regional training and networking forum for young African women, with a regional office in Kampala, Uganda. The leadership institute she developed has become such a powerful legacy that today, the AWLI has trained over 6,000 women across Africa, and most of these women are now in senior decision-making positions as Ministers, Members of Parliaments, academics, civil society leaders and employees of international organisations. The new Vice-President of The Gambia, Dr Issatou Touray, is an alumnus of the AWLI.


In 2000, Mrs Fayemi co-founded the African Women’s Development Fund, (AWDF) – the first Africa-wide grant-making foundation, which supports the work of organizations promoting women’s rights in Africa. Since it began grant-making in 2001, AWDF, based in Accra, Ghana, has supported over 2,000 women’s organisations in 42 African countries with millions of dollars in grants. AWDF has played a key role in the promotion and protection of women’s rights in Africa, through its support of grassroots initiatives, policy engagements and movement building for social justice. Today, AWDF is one of the most respected Women’s Funds in the global philanthropic community.


Mrs Fayemi played a key role in shaping civil society engagement for black and ethnic minority people in the UK and Europe, giving a voice to the concerns of people of African descent in various policy spaces. She was elected as Vice-Chair of the National Association of Women’s Organisations, England and Wales (1992-1994), she served as a Management Committee member of the London Rape Crisis Center, and was the UK representative on the Steering Committee of Women in Development Europe.  She was part of a team of women who founded the Black, Migrant, Refugee and Asylum Seeking Women’s Network in Europe (BWEN) in 1992 and served on the Executive Committee for five years. She also served as a member of the Africa Committee of the Migrants Forum of the European Union from 1992-1995. Mrs Fayemi has been Co-Chair, International Network of Women’s Funds (2004-2006); Honorary President, Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID) (2003-2005). She served on the Africa Grants Committee of Comic Relief from 1996-2001 and went on to become a Trustee of Comic Relief (1998-2001). Mrs Fayemi was a board member of Resource Alliance, a UK-based resource mobilization charity from 2005-2010. During this period she served on their voluntary international training faculty in various countries around the world.


During her years in the United Kingdom, Mrs Fayemi was very active in Pan-African organizing as well as political activism. She was a member of the Pan-African Movement, as well as a founding member of the New Nigerian Forum (NNF), an activist think-tank critical of military dictatorship in Nigeria. Alongside her husband Dr Kayode Fayemi and others, she worked to draw attention to the many ways in which military rule was crippling Nigeria. She was Vice-Chair of the New Nigerian Forum as well as a member of the Editorial Board of Nigeria Now, a monthly newsletter published by NNF.


Mrs Fayemi is one of the most vocal women’s rights activists and thinkers on the African continent. During the years in which women’s rights issues began to receive attention in the global policy arena, she played a major role in ensuring that African women’s issues were addressed and their interests represented. She led a delegation of African women in Europe to the UN Human Rights Conference in Vienna, Austria in 1993 as part of the global campaign of ‘Women’s rights are human rights’. In 1995, she coordinated a delegation of twenty women from Africa and Europe to the UN World Conference on Women in Beijing China, where amongst many other activities, she addressed one of the plenary sessions. She also served on the Women’s Committee of the African Union for several years.


A recipient of numerous local and international awards, in 2005, she received an award from the Sigrid Rausing Trust (UK) for outstanding leadership in promoting women’s rights. The prize money for the award (£100,000) was used by AWDF to launch a special HIV/AIDS Fund for African women. Bisi leveraged this into millions of dollars which has supported hundreds of women-led HIV/AIDS initiatives across Africa.


She is a 2007 recipient of the ‘Changing the Face of Philanthropy’ award from the Women’s Funding Network, USA. She is a Synergos Institute Senior Fellow, as well as the 2000/2001 holder of the Dame Nita Barrow Distinguished Visitorship at Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE), University of Toronto. In April 2009, Mrs. Fayemi was named by New African Magazine as one of the 20 most influential African women on the continent. In March 2011, she was listed among the world’s leading 100 persons working for the interests of women and girls by Women Deliver. She is also the recipient of the 2011 David Rockefeller Bridging Leadership Award, one of the most prestigious awards in the field of philanthropy, given by the Synergos Institute, New York.


When her husband Dr Kayode Fayemi was Governor of Ekiti State Nigeria (October 2010-October 2014) Mrs Fayemi was actively involved in a range of policy, advocacy and social inclusion programs to support his administration. In addition to her ceremonial duties, she held statutory positions. She was the Chairperson of the Ekiti State Agency for the Control of HIV/AIDS (Ekiti SACA), as well as Chairperson of the Technical Consultative Committee on Culture, Arts and Tourism. In collaboration with other stakeholders, she led the campaign to enact a Gender Based Violence Prohibition Bill which was signed in to law in November 2011. She Chaired the Management Committee which monitored the implementation of the law in Ekiti State. The GBV Prohibition Law had provision for the first ever Survivor’s Fund in Nigeria, and through this, at least 150 women have been supported to rebuild their lives after years of abuse. Her advocacy fast-tracked the establishment of the Family Court in Ekiti State, and her intervention led to the establishment of the first Ekiti  Social Inclusion Center for the rehabilitation of   women in distress.   Mrs Fayemi advocated for the domestication of the National Gender Policy, making Ekiti State the first State in Nigeria to do so in October 2011. She also facilitated the passage of the Ekiti State Equal Opportunities Bill which became law in December 2013, as well as the HIV AIDS Anti-Stigma Law of 2014.


A widely travelled global citizen whose work and advocacy has taken her to over 80 countries on all continents, Mrs Fayemi is a leading voice not only in the African women’s movement and civil society, but in the international development community as well.  Mrs Fayemi is in high demand across the world as a resource person, strategist, guest speaker, and trainer. In June 2011, the New African Magazine named Mrs  Fayemi as one of the 100 Most Influential People of Africa.  In addition to being a respected leader in the field of international philanthropy, she is a renowned philanthropist in her own right.


The Ekiti State First Lady is the founder of the Ekiti Development Foundation (EDF), a non-governmental organization that focuses on women and youth development which was launched in June 2011. Since its establishment, EDF has supported hundreds of women’s groups and civil society organisations across Ekiti State with economic empowerment, health and political participation projects. EDF’s projects include the annual Ekiti Gender Summit, Mother and Child Records Book, the first of its kind in the State, Breast Cancer Awareness Campaigns and the Ekiti Food Bank. Mrs Fayemi was the initiator of the Multiple Births Trust Fund in the State, the founder of the Forum of Spouses of Ekiti State Officials and founder/co-convener the Forum for Women in Leadership, Ekiti State. In memory of her late friend and former Deputy Governor of Ekiti State, Mrs Funmi Olayinka, Mrs Fayemi, through the Ekiti Development Foundation, worked with the Ekiti State Government on the establishment of the Funmi Olayinka Diagnostic and Wellness Center based at the Ekiti State Teaching Hospital, which was launched in October 2013.


In 2013, as part of her 50th birthday celebrations, Mrs Fayemi asked her vast networks and contacts not to buy her expensive gifts or take out newspaper adverts, but to contribute towards the construction of a building to house the Center for Gender and Social Policy Studies which she donated to her Alma Mater, the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife. The Center was launched on September 29th 2014. In November 2014, the Tai Solarin University of Education (TASUED) in Ogun State, Nigeria, awarded Mrs Fayemi a PhD in Sociology (Honoris Causa).


Mrs. Fayemi is a High Chief and holds the honorary traditional chieftaincy titles of Ochiorah (Women Leader) of Imezi Owa, Ezeagwu Local Government, Enugu State, Nigeria (April 2008),  Erelu (Queen Mother) of lsan Kingdom, in Oye Local Government Area of Ekiti State (March 2011) Ajiseye (Philanthropist) of Ado-Ekiti (December 2013) Iyalode (Leader of Women) of Ilafon-Ekiti (March 2019) and Oluomo (Precious Child) of Ilara-Mokin (November 2019).


She currently serves on the Executive Board of the African Women’s Development Fund. She is a member of both the Regional and National Steering Committees of the newly created African Women Leaders Network, and she serves on the Governing Council of Elizade University, Nigeria. Mrs Fayemi is one of the founders of the African Feminist Forum and drafted the famous African Feminist Charter. She served as a convener and Steering Committee Member of the African Feminist Forum from 2006-2016, and also helped set up the Nigeria Feminist Forum in collaboration with other activists.


In October 2018, Bisi Fayemi became the First Lady of Ekiti State, Nigeria for the second time when her husband was elected as Governor of Ekiti State for a second term (2018-2022). She is Chair, Ekiti State AIDS Control Agency and Chair, Gender Based Violence Law Management Committee. She continues to be a passionate advocate for the rights of women and girls, and she raised a lot of eyebrows in deeply conservative circles recently when she advocated that pregnant girls be allowed to stay in school in Ekiti State.  She tirelessly campaigns against Gender Based Violence, Female Genital Mutilation and other harmful traditional practices. Through her efforts, Ekiti State now has the most robust legal and policy frameworks in Nigeria for gender equality and women’s empowerment. Ekiti State is the first state in Nigeria to open a Sex Offenders register in 2013, revived in 2019. Following this ground-breaking achievement, the Federal Government of Nigeria launched a national a national Sex Offenders Register in November 2019. She continues to mentor, write, speak up and participate in a range of feminist initiatives in Nigeria and around the world.


She is the author of ‘Speaking for Myself’: Perspectives on Social, Political and Feminist Activism (2013), ‘Speaking above a Whisper’, (2013) an autobiography, ‘Loud Whispers’ (2017) and the forthcoming ‘Where is your Wrapper’? (Due October 2020). She also co-edited ‘Voice, Power and Soul’, with Jessica Horn (2008) a compilation of images and stories of African Feminists.