Distinguished Women of Past and Present


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Eka Esu-Williams

From: Nigeria
Fields: Activism and Social Service, Education, Health and Medicine
Eka Esu-Williams founded the Society of Women Against AIDS in Africa (SWAA). She was born in 1950 in northern Nigeria, the third of eight children. Having been taught by her parents that education was equally important for girls and boys, Esu-Williams received her undergraduate degree from the University of Nigeria, followed by a graduate degree in immunology from Great Britain. She returned to Nigeria in 1985 and became a lecturer at the University of Calabar. Two years later she was passed over for promotion. It was felt that the promotion was unnecessary since, as a married woman with children and a good education, she already had more than a woman could hope for.

Not willing to accept the limitations imposed on her by her employers, Esu-Williams decided to work around those limits and to put her expert knowledge of immunology to good use. At this time, eighty percent of all women with AIDS were living in Africa. Lack of education contributed to the spread of this disease of the immune system. Traditionally, African girls and women were taught to be submissive to their husbands and accepting of the practice of polygamy and wife inheritance. Esu-Williams, therefore, founded the Society of Women Against AIDS in 1988 for the purpose of educating girls and women about this disease and instructing them in safe sex practices. In the SWAA workshops women also learn about self esteem and how to be in better control of their own lives.

Contributed by Danuta Bois, 1997.

Herstory. Women Who Changed the World, edited by Ruth Ashby and Deborah Gore Ohrn, Viking, 1995. Adapted from an essay by Elisabeth Keating


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