THE Chief Executive Officer of Women and Modesty International, Emelda Osuji, popularly called Madam Modesty, is still bent on eradicating indecent dressing. On Friday, February 11, 2011, her only brother, Daniel Augiamilo Egbeji and Gladys Uche, were joined in holy matrimony at Ohlala Events Centre, GRA, Ikeja, Lagos. Celebrities in the house included Sunny Neji, Zaaky Adzee, Funky Mallam, Jennifer Eliogu, Earthquake, Abiola Atanda, a.k.a Madam Kofo, and others.
The University of Lagos Philosophy graduate and mother of one chatted with ENCOMIUM Weekly on Monday, February 14, 2011, at Egbeda, Lagos. She spoke on the challenges of campaigning against indecent dressing, her relationship with entertainers and more.
How is your non-governmental organisation doing?
My NGO is doing fine by the grace of God. The name is Women and Modesty International. We’re out to promote decent dressing; to campaign against indecent dressing. Looking out there, you’ll see how our women dress indecently, exposing all that should be covered. After I had won several awards, I sat down and thought it wise to come out with an NGO that could counsel women on the need to dress decently. Fashion is not all about exposing what makes you a woman. Fashion is about who you are, being conscious of your womanhood, covering all that makes you a woman and still looking your best, still looking beautiful. But it’s a pity that our women have a wrong notion about fashion. To some women, fashion is all about exposing your body. They think they must expose what makes them a woman to look beautiful and that is what gave birth to the NGO. We counsel women on the need to wear decent looks because we know that Nigerian women are beautiful. I don’t think there is an ugly woman in Nigeria because no matter how ugly you think you are, there is somebody out there admiring you. It is all about how you carry yourself and how decent you look. It matters a lot for a woman to dress decently, it does not mean that all women who wear decent looks are saints, they have their weak points and their shortcomings. That I wear decent looks always does not mean that I am better than anybody. I am a human being, I have my shortcomings but what we are saying is that we should wear decent looks like responsible women and then work on our shortcomings.
What are the challenges you go through in trying to make women dress decently?
There are so many challenges. It has not been easy trying to correct a woman who believes that fashion is all about exposing all that makes her a woman. It’s difficult trying to make such a woman adhere to the counsel of decent dressing, but at the end of most campaigns, people tell me that the message I am preaching is right. Another major challenge is finance. The foundation has been shouldering everything all alone, but some government officials have promised to support us. We also have transportation problem. It has not been easy taking my campaign to places where the roads are bad. Most times, people have to keep waiting for us for a very long time. Power supply is also a challenge. Things cannot move smoothly without regular power supply. People find it difficult to listen to the message we are passing across to them through the electronic media because they lack power supply. So, we are begging the government to look into our case, to critically look at the negative effects of indecent dressing. The effects of indecent dressing are numerous. It could lead to rape, it increases the rate of divorce, it could lead to negative reactions from the opposite sex thereby causing marriage break-ups and other things follow.
Has there been any success so far?
Yes, we are gradually touching lives. A lot of people call me to say ‘thank you’ after listening to me on TV, radio or reading our articles in newspapers. We are not expecting that our message will change lives automatically, but we are hoping that as time goes on, as we get finance to carry out the campaign, people will know what it means for a woman to dress decently. It has been quite successful because a lot of women are now buying the idea of decency.
You are always decently dressed, would we be right to say your campaign inspired your dress sense?
Yes and no, because I had been dressing the way I do for years before establishing the foundation. Decent dressing has been my way of life, it is my habit, it is my style.
How old is your NGO?
It was established more than three years ago.
How many awards have you won so far?
I have won about 13 awards.
In the next five years, where do you wish to see the foundation?
I see my NGO penetrating the society, changing lives, sweeping all corners of the society.
How supportive is your husband?
I am very grateful to God for giving me a very supportive husband. If not for him, I wouldn’t have reached the level I am today. It wasn’t easy at the initial time because he felt so concerned about starting the campaign all alone and succeeding. He felt I was only wasting my time when I started, but today, we are touching lives positively. The fact that I am the only one campaigning against indecent dressing does not discourage me at all. I am very happy because my husband is in support of what I am doing.
How did you come about your nickname, Madam Modesty?
(Laughs) This was the name given to me by the Oba of Egbeda, when he gave me an award. A lot of people don’t even know my real name, everybody calls me Madam Modesty.
Your dress sense is very unique and uncommon, who designs what you wear?
Estito(Esther Ileogben) is my designer. She designs my native attires, the aso ebi. But I buy most of my gowns abroad.
You are neither an actress nor an artist, but most of your friends are entertainers. How did you come about having a close relationship with them?
Naturally, I will not fail to tell you that the NGO brought us together. When they hear that I campaign against indecent dressing, they want to know more about me, they feel waoh! this is the only woman who has stood up against indecent dressing and eventually we become very close friends.
You are a civil servant, you run an NGO and you are a mother, yet you are never found wanting at social events. How do you juggle motherhood with your career and social life?
It has not been easy, but I think if you are focused and determined, God will help you and bless whatever you do. My family comes first, I don’t joke with my family. Then I relax by attending events with friends. I am a woman who knows what she ought to do in the family and what she ought not to do as a married woman.
What does fashion and style mean to you?
To me, fashion and style means bringing out what you have inside in the way you dress. It is when a woman dresses decently in a way that commands respect.
What fashion item can you not do without?
My head-tie. I cannot do without covering my hair. A woman’s dressing is not complete without covering her hair. It shows that she is under a man.
What is your advice to those who want to establish your kind of NGO?
My kind of NGO is uncommon and it’s not easy. You can’t just do it, you must be called and if you are called, you must be focused and determined to do it. I see the NGO as what God has called me to do and I will not let it go, I will not hesitate to give my very best and thank God I am already penetrating the society.
- This story was first published in ENCOMIUM Weekly on Tuesday, February 22, 2011