Esther Ajayi-Lowo

Meet Esther Ajayi-Lowo: A one-woman army in the fight for reproductive justice

MWGS doctoral student Esther Ajayi-Lowo stands in front of a world map

August 3, 2020 — Doctoral student Esther Ajayi-Lowo is giving a voice to the diverse perspectives of marginalized women through teaching, research and advocacy. Her dissertation, “Decolonizing Childbirth: Women, Traditional Birth Attendants and Reproductive Justice in Nigeria,” explores the significance of indigenous birthing knowledge and women’s socio-cultural and spiritual birthing standpoints for reproductive justice in her home country of Nigeria.

“My research is borne of the need to improve maternal health and reduce the maternal mortality ratio in Nigeria, which remains the fourth highest in the world at the moment. Most families in Nigeria have also lost at least one woman to needless maternal death,” said Ajayi-Lowo. “I lost my infant in 2007 and almost lost my life to pregnancy and childbirth-related complications many times. No woman needs to die trying to sustain the reproductive cycle of our planet and no infant needs to die or grow up with the pain of avoidable motherlessness.”

This year, she was awarded three highly competitive fellowships to support her research and advocacy. She received an International Fellowship from the American Association of University Women to support her tuition, housing and living costs; an International Dissertation Research Fellowship from the Social Science Research Council that will fund her dissertation field research in Nigeria; and an Erin J. Vuley Leadership Training Fellowship from the Feminist Women’s Health Center for a nine-month leadership development program.

In addition, she was selected for the 2020 Doctoral Student Award of Excellence by the TWU Graduate Student Council as well as a 2020-2021 Virginia Chandler Dykes scholarship.

This year’s awards are just the most recent in a long-standing streak of honors for Ajayi-Lowo. In 2017 and 2018, she received two Philanthropic Educational Organization International Peace Scholarships, and she has organized TWU’s Reproductive Justice Fair two years in a row. Two of her essays, "Sex Education" and "Natural Childbirth Movement," will be included in the forthcoming, two-volume reference Women's Health: Understanding Issues and Influences.

Her many achievements have been hard-fought and hard-won. As a full-time student and mother of three, Ajayi-Lowo is making ends meet this summer with a half graduate assistantship and part-time work on the TWU Housing and Dining cleaning crew, all while she continues to pursue her dissertation research.

“Esther is an extremely impressive student, who promises to become a leading voice in her field. She is self-directed, motivated by her commitment to reproductive justice, and quite simply a wonderful human being. I am honored to have had the opportunity to serve as her dissertation advisor, following the retirement of her previous professor and advisor, Mark Kessler,” said Claire Sahlin, Ph.D., interim dean of the TWU Graduate School and professor of multicultural women’s and gender studies.

After completing her Ph.D., Ajayi-Lowo plans to become a professor at an institution of higher education where she can actively engage in teaching, research and advocacy. “I have been involved in leadership roles, initiating and implementing advocacy campaigns for human rights and social justice since 2004, and I will continue to employ my research findings for advancing my local and global community in practical ways,” said Ajayi-Lowo.

About the International Fellowship from the American Association of University Women

The American Association of University Women is a non-profit organization that advances equity for women and girls through advocacy, education and research. International Fellowships are awarded for full-time study or research in the United States to women who are not U.S. citizens or permanent residents. Recipients are selected for academic achievement and demonstrated commitment to women and girls.

About the International Dissertation Research Fellowship from the Social Science Research Council

The Mellon International Dissertation Research Fellowship offers six to twelve months of support to graduate students in the humanities and humanistic social sciences who are enrolled in Ph.D. programs in the United States and conducting dissertation research on Native American or non-US topics. Sixty fellowships are awarded annually.

About the Erin J. Vuley Fellows Program with the Feminist Women’s Health Center

The Feminist Women's Health Center is the only non-profit, locally-based organization in Georgia that directly provides health services, while also protecting reproductive rights and promoting reproductive justice through organizing and advocacy. The Fellows Program is a nine-month leadership development program focused on reproductive justice with the Feminist Women's Health Center in Atlanta.

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Anna Ryan

Page last updated 9:47 AM, October 13, 2021