Students Create Site for Female Empowerment
Raissa Forlemu and Idara Ekpoh say their own struggles in life provide a good reason to encourage others through their new site, woomanhood.com.
It started as any other day — having a conversation with friends, talking about things that they wish could be. Talking about some of the struggles that come with just being who they are. That's when the idea came to University of Arizona student Raissa Forlemu.
She immediately texted her friend Idara Ekpoh and asked if she wanted to join in creating a website solely for the purpose of helping other females on their journey to womanhood. That's when the collaboration started, and thus came woomanhood.com.
Based on conversations that they had with each other and with other women, they felt it was time to create a space where women could talk about some of their struggles and show who they are.
"I feel like we're constantly trying to prove ourselves, prove ourselves, and prove our worth. It's very necessary for us to support each other because it's so difficult for a lot of us out here," said Ekpoh, an undergraduate in physiology at the UA.
The site, which launched in November, was created as a platform for women to talk about their journey and to be in community with other women. Forlemu and Ekpoh talk about what it's like to be women of color, as well.
However, they want the site to be much more. They want it to be a place where anyone can feel accepted and not alone.
"I grew up in a primarily white neighborhood," said Forlemu, a public health graduate student at the UA. "My family was the only black family around, and because I looked different, I was bullied a lot. And because of that, my self-confidence wasn't always the highest, and that caused me to shut down."
Ekpoh's experience was similar. Both grew up in Arizona after coming from Nigeria and Cameroon. When Ekpoh saw that her skin color was different from that of children around her, she asked her mother what she could do to make her skin lighter or to change her hair to fit in.
Through the website, both knew they could find their voice.
"I'm a really shy person," Forlemu said, "but now we have this platform so that now, not only us but our friends and other people, if they wanted to, they have a platform that they could share their thoughts."
The site began with blog posts every week but soon expanded to featuring women of inspiration with a "Woman Crush Wednesday" (#WCW) page.
First lady Michelle Obama is that kind of person for Ekpoh.
"I just love how much she inspires young women to do what they need to do for themselves," she said. "She inspires me to use my education and find my own success and, while doing that, be a positive influence for others."
The women also have begun posting videos to serve an audience that doesn’t have time to read, with topics ranging from love and relationships to race and gender. They have been trying to expand their reach and inclusiveness on the site.
"We have a lot of support from our friends and we've been featuring our friends, but there's more than that," Ekpoh said. "We want a lot more outside perspectives … male (perspectives), too."
Their goal with the site is to be inclusive of all, regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation or background. They want visitors to take away one thing from the site.
"Make sure you embrace your individuality while celebrating others," they said. "Continue to grow as who you are, but at the same time make sure those who are around you are also growing and embracing who they are."
Ekpoh wants to hold events to advertise the page and encourage participation.
"It's been such a great experience in these past few months that I can't imagine not doing it," she said. "I'm just hoping that as we continue to do it, we continue to get feedback from other people and other women will want to be part of it … almost like its own movement."
They plan to keep the site going, regardless of where they end up after they leave the UA.
"It's baby steps," Ekpoh said. "We're going to keep growing."
As part of Black History Month, UANews is highlighting the work of African-Americans at the University who are blazing new trails of influence. Next week: David Sterling Brown, a UA assistant professor in the Department of English.
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University of Arizona in the News