When women are part of peacebuilding processes and negotiations, the stability and quality of that peace increases. However, according to UN Women and the Council of Foreign Relations, “between 1990 and 2017, women constituted only 2 percent of mediators, 8 per cent of negotiators, and 5 per cent of witnesses and signatories in all major peace process.” WLP is addressing this disparity in women’s representation at the peace table through leadership and capacity-building workshops with refugee women, grassroots activists, and local civil society organizations. In February, WLP invited 25 participants from Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Nigeria, Palestine, and Syria to attend a regional training workshop focused on women, peace, and security (WPS). We asked participants to share their knowledge and experiences to better understand the issues facing women’s access to peace negotiations and secure communities. Read about the issues facing women in Nigeria and interviews with Nigerian WPS activists below.
Women, Peace, and Security: The Context in Nigeria
Nigeria is in its sixth year of a refugee crisis that impacts the entire country and other countries in the region. UNHRC estimates that there are about 2 million IDPs in Nigeria, over 50% of whom are children, and over 200,000 Nigerian refugees outside Nigeria. Much of the displacement is a result of the Boko Haram insurgency, which has also affected nearby Cameroon, Chad, and Niger, creating an ongoing flux of impoverished, displaced people crossing and re-crossing borders. Last November, UNHCR reported that the number of Cameroonians fleeing violence and seeking refuge in Nigeria was over 30,000, 80% of whom are women and children. However, just this month there have been reports of violence in the north of Nigeria forcing over 35,000 Nigerians to flee to Cameroon, where they have no food or shelter, and little water. In response to the violence from Boko Haram and the waves of refugees, Cameroon has begun a policy of forced repatriation of Nigerians, most of whom are women, into the violence-affected Borneo State in northeast Nigeria.
WLP Nigeria/CEADER’ advocate for Women, Peace, and Security
WLP Nigeria/CEADER hosts national and regional trainings of trainers that bring together women leaders from across the country and the region. It’s programs for Internally Displaced Women provide participatory leadership training and support for advocacy initiatives. Direct and indirect project beneficiaries include grassroots organizations in working in northeast Nigeria, refugees and internally displaced peoples from Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Chad, the DRC, Niger, Nigeria, and South Sudan. The security risks for women refugees and IDPs in sub-Saharan Africa are manifold. Among them are sexual harassment, assault, rape, trafficking, survival sex, malnutrition, water shortages, lack of basic hygiene, the absence of medical and reproductive health care, child marriage, kidnapping, and sexual slavery. CEADER is working with women refugees and IDPs to provide communication tools, advocacy strategies, education tactics, confidence, and a network of like-minded and supportive women, so that they can build strong alliances, share clear and persuasive messages, and influence the reform of policies and practices that are harming women and destabilizing their communities. CEADER builds on each of its training workshops by reconvening many of the same participants to update each other on their work and lessons learned, and to provide ongoing support and opportunities for collaboration. The workshop participants likewise do the same with the communities of women they serve, further disseminating WLP’s participatory leadership methodology and lessons about human rights, pluralism, and democracy.
In Their Own Words: Nigerian WPS Activists
WLP International Staff sat with activists Cynthia M. and Funmi O. to hear from them why women are critical to ensuring peace and security in their community.
Question 1: What are the peace and security issues facing women in your country?
Cynthia M.- “The peace and security issues facing women in my country Nigeria is the insurgence going on in the Northeast of the country. We have the Boko Haram and Fulani cattle-herder and farmer clashes.”
Funmi O.- “There are many issues facing women in Nigeria today in regards to peace and security, but more importantly is the fact , women are not involved in the peace and security process and unfortunately they bear more of the consequences in the absence of peace in a society. Their rights and integrity has been violated, they are raped, they are sexually assaulted, in many different ways.
Question 2: What are activists like yourself doing to work on these issues?
Cynthia M.- “We are organizing trainings like this one to sensitize women and involve them in the peace-building processes. Those women are then going to the grassroots to train other women, who will then train other women to be a part of the peace building process.”
Funmi O.- “I work with CEADER, and we are closely working with women in Northeastern Nigeria, where the conflict is more predominant, to make sure that women are involved in the peace-building process and also to empower them with basic human rights knowledge, so that they can advocate, take ownership of the cause, and advocate for their rights.”
Question 3: We know that internal displacement has been an issue facing Nigeria for a long time now. What have the implications been on women and girls specifically? Can you tell me a little bit more about the situation?
Cynthia M.- “Women and girls are not finding it easy especially in the camps. Their interest is not taken into consideration, for instance they do not have sanitary towels and basic things that they need that pertain to women.”
Question 4: What are some long-term issues and short-term issues that IDP’s face specifically?
Cynthia M.- Some of them go through depression…some of them have seen their loved ones die and they cannot overcome the trauma, and they need psycho-social support that they are not getting. Some of them don’t even see themselves as human and some of them are seeking revenge, they are building up ideas of taking revenge in the future.
Question 5: You work for CEADER. How is CEADER working with young women and girls to mitigate the consequences of conflict, violence and the trauma of internal displacement.
Cynthia M.- CEADER has been organizing training of trainer workshops for women, particularly in Northeastern Nigeria where these conflicts are and these trainings have been replicated by those women in different communities. So we have had feedback from them on the replication trainings that they have organized and how they have been able to provide some relief materials to the women and girls in the camps.
Question 6: So far you have attended a previous regional training of trainers and this is your second. So what is your takeaway from these trainings? Have they been beneficial for you?
Cynthia M.- From both workshops I have realized that Nigeria is not the only country going through these types of conflicts. We have a lot of similarities between Iraq, Jordan, and Syria. So what I am taking away from this TOT (training of trainers) especially is to focus on the human security aspect, not just the state security like providing amnesty or things that would aid the conflict, but to look for those human rights aspects that have been neglected during conflict.
Question 7: Thank you so much, is there anything else you’d like to add about the situation for women and girls in Nigeria?
Cynthia M.- The girls need to be shown love and they need to be given the psycho-social support, so that the girls feel like they’re human and can be part of the society again.
The Future of WPS in Nigeria
There is an urgent need to involve women in security and peacebuilding process around the world. The situation in Nigeria’s has become critical as the women, peace and security project continues to reveal startling atrocities committed against women and girls in northeast Nigeria by Boko Haram terrorist group. Experiences shared by the WPS program participants show that women and girls in that region face targeted attacks. Yet despite the specific violations of women in this conflict, they are not including in peacebuilding processes. Many women and girls have been raped, abducted, forcefully married, while others have suffered other kinds of trauma resulting in their need of specific counselling services and interventions. CEADER plans to build on the knowledge and experiences revealed throughout the WPS. CEADER hopes to expand services to women in IDP communities and refugee women from other countries to meet their specific needs while collaborating with key stakeholders on peace and security in Nigeria and within the sub-Saharan region.
This article is part of an ongoing series on WLP’s women, peace, and security project funded by Global Affairs Canada that enhances women’s ability to become advocates for peace and security in for women and girls in their families, communities, and countries. Look out for more interviews from women from, Jordan, Nigeria, Palestine, and Syria.
WLP’s newest documentary, It’s Up to Us, features perspectives from leaders about the interconnected threats to human security, including conflict, climate change, economic inequality, discriminatory family laws, and gender inequality.
Below are some of the memorable quotes from the film that inspire and remind us that the world we seek is up to us to build.
Around the world, the spread of COVID-19 is changing how civil society organizations (CSOs) are able to conduct their work and the global women’s movement in particular is facing extraordinary challenges. Organizations that amplify women’s voices and choices on issues ranging from personal status laws to reproductive health are now confronting unparalleled hurdles but are also finding innovative approaches to continue their work. Women’s Learning Partnership’s has mobilized to ensure that the needs of women are not overlooked in emergency responses to the pandemic. Our partners are adapting their programs and campaigns to address the evolving challenges by moving their events online, using messaging apps and social media to disseminate information, sensitizing journalists about the pandemic’s particular threats to women in the home and outside, raising funds for populations most at-risk, and even broadcasting messages by megaphone in communities where there is limited technology infrastructure and access to the web.