As far as dreams go, Judicaelle Irakoze hopes that every woman discovers her potential. The 23-year-old runs ‘Abigaelle Closet’, a fashion house that is also used as a platform to empower women, and she has also set up a number of other organisations advocating for women and the youth to explore their full potential. She had a chat with Women Today’s Donah Mbabazi.
Why advocate for women empowerment?
I am very passionate about women empowerment. It is first about my own womanhood, the daily struggles I face as an ambitious woman. I just want a world where a woman is at least safe, but today, women are not safe even in the hands of their fathers, significant others or fellow women. Patriarchy has really made it almost impossible for a woman to live on her own terms. Statistics show women face emotional abuse hidden behind culture, religion or society standards. But mostly we as women have developed coping mechanisms to survive in a patriarchal world and rarely question society. I choose women empowerment simply because I realised I have power which resides in unapologetically embracing the woman I want to be. I own that power when I claim my womanhood and I live my freedom when I use my power to challenge fellow women.
You have a set of projects; tell us about them.
I run a fashion company ‘Abigaelle Closet’; I am also the founder of ‘Choose Yourself’, an organisation that works to contribute to the economic and social empowerment of women and the youth in general. While the focus is love of self, we help raise a generation of leaders who believe that change starts with them regardless of their present conditions. We come together as a community to uplift each other and be resilient.
I have been doing community work for some time now through ‘Abigaelle Closet’. I do fashion shows to raise awareness on various issues that affect women in society.
Do you believe women can finally overcome societal imbalance?
I believe that women can soar if they are empowered economically and socially. This is also how we shape more effective, just and powerful leaders. Helping young women discover their abilities is especially important for those who have grown up in societies that have routinely underestimated them. I believe women need to know that they can trust themselves and they can choose themselves. This is why I began the ‘Choose Yourself’ initiative. The name simply tells women it is okay to care about ‘you’ first.
What stereotypes are still holding them back?
Women are raised to think and care about everyone else but themselves. We are conditioned to exist by how we are perceived. I simply started ‘Choose Yourself’ to make it a home for women who are breaking glass ceilings and embracing their power in a man’s world and also, use the organisation to advocate for women’s rights.
What does ‘Choose Yourself’ have to offer?
It offers women the space to critique, share experiences, exchange ideas and form solidarity through conversations aimed at incentivising social change. The programme aims at helping women put names to their experiences, unpack and reconstruct their socialisation and in turn, break myths.
What was your target creating this programme?
I hoped that it would create space for women to form a sisterhood and see the importance of supporting each other. We understand that as individuals, women are powerful but through sisterhood, there are forces to be reckoned with.
I believe dialogue is a first step to making social change- we do this through a platform called ‘Girl Talk’. Through this, women voice their ideas and discover their potential.
Why is women empowerment still a struggle regardless of the effort?
Patriarchy has created systems that keep women as slaves, blame it on the system that has been side-lining women for so long. The history of the world is the history of misogyny, and this needs to change. Women need to unlearn every patriarchal lie.
What needs to be done to overcome these challenges?
Women need to take the lead. It all starts by questioning systems, institutions, culture, religions and every other thing that takes away your freedom as a woman, and then defining your own terms of womanhood. Be the woman you want to be regardless of society standards, claim who you are at any cost. Freedom always has a price and living out of the box is also expensive.