Odunola Oladejo is a Master’s student in the Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies program at Oregon State University. Her research is focused on centralizing the theories of Yoruba women’s experiences with bride price and early marriage practices and the ways in which these traditions influence their reproductive health decision making.
The title of her thesis, "Reproductive Justice Approaches to Understanding Yoruba Women’s Experiences with Early Marriage in Nigeria," is grounded in transnational feminism, social justice, reproductive justice, and reproductive health to examine the significance of bride price, which is a traditional rite in customary law marriages in Yoruba land.
Early marriage practice is promised on monetary involvement awarded to the bride's family. “As a result this kind of perpetuates domestic violence and patriarchy, making the husbands have the notion that they can control their wives reproductive health choices in a way,” Oladejo says.
Using her work, Oladejo aims to fill knowledge gaps that exist in literature using a decolonizing lens to examine the tradition of bride price and how it affects Yoruba women’s bodily autonomy, the symbolism attached to each gift item and ultimately the reproductive health consequences it has on Yoruba women.
Oladejo completed her Bachelor of Laws degree from the University of Ibadan, Nigeria in 2015. She has presented her work at the Lewis & Clark Gender Studies Symposium and the National Conference on Race & Ethnicity in American Higher Education. After her master’s, she is interested in academia and advocacy work, focusing on social justice and equity and the ways in which they can be implemented in academia.
What was your journey like that led you into the program?
I was a student clinician at the women’s law clinic in my school. It is a non-governmental organization and what they do is ensuring women gain access to justice and they provide free legal counselling to women in local communities like rural areas. I had the opportunity to work with some clinic administrators and I was opportuned to also develop my clients counseling skills in terms of hearing what women had to say especially coming with their problems. When I was certified as a lawyer, I went back to being an intern at the women’s law clinic and I just thought, “it will be okay for me to take a step further by going into academia.” I really look forward to gaining more knowledge about social justice and equity and how it is possible for us to protect the interest of people in marginalized communities.
Who are your biggest feminist influences and why?
The clinic administrators who I learned from, who tutored me at the women’s law clinic, because they created a platform for me to have just this urge to know more about things going on in the world, to know more about how to be conscious of the problems around me, just try to figure out solutions. Another influence is my mom, because there were so many times that I had to attend conferences and seminars and she was really really supportive for me in terms of providing financial support.
What inspires you to teach?
Learning is an ongoing process. Learning never ends. We learn every day, so I believe as much as we receive knowledge every day it is like a duty for us to also try and teach or pass whatever we learn to all the people. What keeps me going really is about my interest to make an impact in society, no matter how little.
What excites you to be a part of the WGSS community and field and how has it influenced you as a person?
I appreciate the fact that we make use of feminist pedagogy in the WGSS community, with respect to being conscious of the “taking space, making space” platform. I really appreciate the fact that students have the opportunity to communicate their thoughts into words. I just observed that the teaching strategies in feminist pedagogies kind of create a platform for students to speak their minds. It also creates a platform for the discussion to be more interactive and more engaging, and so it has also given me this confidence be able to say whatever comes to my mind without trying to structure it formally. It is just about the feminist pedagogy which has really had a great influence for me in terms of shaping me as a person and making me decide how to speak my mind.
Do you think you can describe yourself as an activist and do you have that side to your personality? What does activism mean to you?
Activism to me means advocacy. It may not be a physical form of advocacy. It could be advocacy in any way. I can describe myself as an activist because so long as I am making impact in my own way no matter how little, to just influence people around me positively. For me I am an activist because I believe I am here to make change. I am here as an activist to change the world.
What is the best career advice you have ever received?
This advice was from a friend of mine. I have really been holding on to this advice. she told me that in life it is necessary for you to ask questions if you are in doubt. Not everybody would be willing to help out, but you would be surprised at how many people may be willing to help you if you can just ask. I am always amazed or surprised at how many people are willing and would gladly help out in situations.
What are some of your learnings as a teacher?
I have learned so many things. It is interesting to see that when I facilitate class discussion or teach, I also at the same time learn from students. That has really been impactful and that is why I appreciate the “make space, take space” method that we use in WGSS. Inasmuch as I try to teach students in class, I always provide a platform for me to pause and reflect on whatever I teach and allow students to contribute to the discussion. It really helps me a lot in shaping how to better teach students in the future.
What are some misconceptions you have come across about feminism?
For me the word feminism, I am from Nigeria, and the word feminism itself I think is a problem for people, whereby they kind of have so many misconceptions about women having to be advocating to have all the power in the world. I believe if we can try to just break down what feminism means in terms of trying to tell people that it is basically advocating for social justice and equity for people for subordinated communities. I think that would help, just to focus on maybe how feminism is not about advocating for women’s rights. Because that is where people get it wrong. If we can have a better word that can be used in place of feminism that would be better, because the word “feminism” itself has negative meanings attached to that, in my country specifically.
Story and photo by Sharadha Kalyanam, PhD student, Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies, Oregon State University.