THIS JUNE, OUR HEAD OF CORPORATE PARTNERSHIPS, PREEYA VARSANI, AND OUR COMMUNICATIONS MANAGER, DEETZA ELF, TRAVELLED TO JOS AND BAUCHI IN THE NORTH OF NIGERIA TO SEE OUR PROGRAMMES AND TO MEET THE WOMEN WE SERVE
In the space of 12 days, we met dozens of women who shared how they have changed their lives for the better – thanks to your support.
These are women who have been discriminated against since birth, but who - every day - fight against the odds and those who try to stand in the way of a more just and peaceful future for themselves, their families and their communities.
Our team in Nigeria serves hundreds of women, generously funded by our global community and supporters like Charlotte Tilbury and the players of People's Postcode Lottery. We only met a small fraction on our visit but the power of each and every woman we met - each story, each voice - was enormous.
Here are just a few reflections from our time in Nigeria:
The perseverance and resilience of our Change Agents
Every day, women farmers in Riyom community, Jos, face the threat of rape on their way to work. This is just one of the issues women experience, along with domestic violence, child marriage and child trafficking.
Our Change Agents are women who have graduated from our year-long Stronger Women, Stronger Nations programme and who are committed to growing their leadership and advocacy skills, sharing their knowledge and driving change for other women in their communities.
We spoke to a group of Change Agents who graduated from our programme in 2016, 2017 and 2018. They work by identifying local issues and creating action plans to solve them.
Those from the 2016 cohort shared that one of the ways they have helped women who face rape on their way to the fields is by enlisting local security, providing a safer route to work. These Change Agents - including Elizabeth, Kangyang, Helen, Iarbana and others we met - learnt how to report rape cases and what the consequences should be for perpetrators. They are making it known that they are in touch with security operatives who will take action against rapists. They are breaking the silence, which allows such crimes and injustice to continue.
These women have been tackling this issue since 2016, while taking on the stories of survivors who confide in them. Their work hasn’t been easy – every day, they face backlash from politicians, traditional leaders and their own neighbours and community members. But our Change Agents keep fighting. For themselves, their sisters, daughters, nieces, friends. For all women, everywhere.
The transformational power of men's engagement
Women can’t transform their lives alone – men are an integral part of the solution
In the communities where we work, most of the power still sits with men and we need their support and allyship if we’re going to make a change.
Men in these communities have grown up seeing women rights being oppressed, surrounded by domestic violence and unaware of anything different. Our Men's Engagement Programme broadens their perspectives and aims to change the way they view women’s rights.
Women in our Stronger Women, Stronger Nations programme are represented by a male family member. We work with these men to help them understand the importance of women’s economic and social empowerment and to become cheerleaders for the success of women and girls in their communities and beyond.
Lawal told us: “My first month was a life-changer; the session on girl-child education and couples’ session on harmful traditional practice allowed me to have a different view of life.”
Spreading community-wide impact
At Women for Women International, we talk about the women who transform their lives and families as a result of our programmes. However, it’s not just their lives that are impacted – it’s also the lives of people in their wider community and future generations.
When we met with the Chiefs in Bauchi State, we heard about how widespread our impact really is. Each of the Chiefs we met testified to the changes they have seen since we set up operations three years ago. They spoke about Change Agents who have settled disputes between families and community members, saying that "they even go to the courts to see how they can mediate over some issues". They also told us about the lower rates of child marriage, child labour and domestic violence, which they credit Women for Women International with.
We know that women are rebuilding their lives and their families through our programmes – meeting these Chiefs demonstrated the power of their transformation.
A holistic approach
Bukola "Buki" Onyishi, Country Director of Women for Women International- Nigeria, has worked with us for more than 20 years, starting as a Field Officer and working her way up
We asked Buki what sets Women for Women International apart from other NGOs and she said that it's the holistic nature of our programme.
Often, development programmes will focus on a specific area, such as health, sanitation, education or access to water. Our Stronger Women, Stronger Nations programme caters to the whole woman – she learns about her health, hygiene and nutrition, her rights and decision-making, a vocational skill, and how to earn and save money, all whilst gaining a support network.
Combined, all of these elements prepare women for whatever challenges that their future may hold. For some women, it’s as simple as learning numeracy skills so they feel more empowered at the local market and are able to run their business. For others, it’s learning that they have HIV so that they can protect their children and advocate to their wider community to get tested and end the stigma.
When we met with Zulai, one woman currently enrolled in our programme, she told us that she had been forced into early marriage. Until our programme, she didn’t realise the impact of this. But after learning her rights and reclaiming her voice, she saved her daughter from a similar fate. One of our graduates and Change Agents, Elizabeth, learnt about the importance of girls education and, as well as enrolling her children in school, she re-enrolled herself to complete her high school diploma – with the hope of progressing to university.
"Good job!" - the importance of valuing women's contributions
Women in our Stronger Women, Stronger Nations programme receive social and economic empowerment training. We visited several training centres and one common thread throughout was how engaged women were in their learning. We noticed that the levels of participation were high and that women seemed so comfortable answering questions and sharing their thoughts.
After each contribution, the rest of the class would clap and say “good job!”
It may sound trivial, but the encouragement for each and every person to contribute to the conversation, regardless of whether they were right or wrong, is invaluable.
These are women whose voices are too often dismissed and whose decision-making power is ignored at home and in public life. For them, the recognition of their value and the importance of their voice boosts their confidence in themselves and their ability to make a change.
Many people assume that women who are living in extreme poverty and conflict-affected areas are too concerned with meeting their basic needs to worry about luxury items. But the women in our programme want more than just the bare essentials.
Dada is one of many women who appreciates the power of a good lipstick. She is nine months into our Stronger Women, Stronger Nations programme and has two daughters who are benefitting from the changes she is making for herself and her family. Feeling confident is an essential ingredient of her success.
Wearing makeup is a huge part of the culture in the communities we visited, so it is very fitting that Charlotte Tilbury has generously funded 300 women and 300 men in Bauch State. Even in the UK, we have seen that lipstick is recession-proof – with the cost of living rising, we know that women will still be investing in their confidence. The case is no different where we work in Nigeria.
The women we serve are passing on their knowledge to others in their community - to create a ripple effect of change, transforming even more lives. Now back home, we hope to do the same by sharing just some of the many stories of hope and resilience and power and bravery that we heard - to elevate these voices even further.
Thank you to our team at Women for Women International-Nigeria for hosting us, and to all of the incredible women and men we met who kindly shared their stories. Every day we speak and write about the impact of your support, so it was amazing to see our programme come to life and hear directly from our participants themselves about how your commitment is changing lives.
Meet the women in our programme
Through genocide, rape and the loss of two children, Euphrasie never lost hope. Read her story, from forced marriage to skilled beadworker and her family's breadwinner.
There are many young girls who come from my village who are rape victims. When they come I try to encourage them, telling them "You still have life, one still has value." I tell them that they should hope for the future.
Saratu, our programme participant from Nigeria shares her experience of escaping Boko Haram, learning about health, business and gender equality and building a better life for herself and her family.