I am a victim of effect of insecurity women experience in a non-peaceful world. The horrendous experience expressly open doors of multiple vulnerabilities of women. I was born in the eastern part of Nigeria during a civil war. Citizens in my community including my mother were cut off from medical facilities, drugs, access to milk, fish, salt, meat and other essential foods. I was born in the house. So many women, children and elderly persons died of complications and of 'kwashiorkor' but my case were different. I suffered severe sicknesses, was unconscious but survived and later became disabled by kyphosis.
I find myself on a journey of insecurity in a world where from my childhood I have been a target of ritual killers because of the nature of my disability. Till late my mother’s mind has never been at rest following severe warning against letting me out of the house. My journey of life is distorted by difficulties emanating from discrimination, marginalization and stigma.
Notwithstanding, I am focused towards a professional life of services aimed at achieving a secure world for children, for women, for persons with disabilities and for humanity. My background directed my career choice. For a period of two decades I have worked earnestly surmounting the plethora of barriers occasioned by exclusion, poverty, religion, politics, ethnicity, corruption and land crisis-- the key issues generating insecurity and unrest for us.
My experience of work in the areas of Food Security and Peacebuilding advocacy reveals women as the brunt bearers of hunger, malnutrition and diseases as well as bother about family upkeep. I came face-to-face with young girls who are traded for farm land or for cows for economic sustenance of their families. My mother and her daughters including me are the ones farming on the land, producing food that keeps the family going but ironically we are not culturally entitled to own land. We are very often victims of land related clashes because we are the ones mainly farming on the lands including the ones at unsafe locations. We risk being sexually assaulted and killed and yes, some women and girls are victims. In very many homes, women like my mother bear the brunt of drought, climate change as well as horrendous experiences evident in contexts of state instability, disease outbreak and conflicts. In the event of food insecurity occasioned by constant destruction of farms, displacement of farmers by insurgency and economic recession we are distressed.
My work experience opens to me doors of realities and importance of security and peace for women. The job of National Coordinator of Ecumenical Food Security and Peacebuilding program paved way for other engagements that sharpen my understanding and active participation on tasks specifically devoted to addressing peace and security for women.
In an international pilgrimage of Justice and Peace I sustained a life affirming solidarity with other affected women in ‘Walking Her Story’ process. From Lagos to Kaduna to Jos and Riyom in the north central part, to Mubi, Numan, Yola and Fufore in the north east, are issues questioning peace and security of women in Nigeria. These are stories of women’s personal experiences of sexual assaults; denial of leadership positions; lack of accountability on funds received for humanitarian interventions; denial of voice / right to speak; women subordination and gender insensitivity in provision of services; denial of education to women and girls; violations and discrimination. Others were trauma and radicalization; angry and bottled up women giving birth indiscriminately to get boy-children who will someday revenge for the brutality they experienced in the hands of men.
At interactive sessions with different segments of women including Women Affected by Violent Extremism (WAVE), the tone of the narrative did not change. Issues around access to land and resources; health care and protection for women in the volatile communities; rights of women in and out of churches; influence of religion in promoting discrimination, violence and insecurity; breaking the silence around gender based violence; and women’s marginalization in traditional leadership, are threats to women’s peace and security. I cannot easily forget the experiences of women from two communities in the north east Nigeria where the people were in a long drawn conflict. Following this conflict women and children have been victimized, attacked, raped and killed. Another is heart breaking experiences of women and girls who were expelled from their communities because they were raped by men.
Just like my mother, cases abound where women who lost their husbands to attacks and insurgencies were deprived of the husbands’ property including living houses. Women who were caught up by violent extremism were unprotected and yet were overwhelmed by harmful traditional practices and stereotypical attitudes. Worse still, are exclusions from participating in community life.
At the 3 different internally displaced persons’ (IDP’s) camps I observed that the breadwinners were women. It was startling to note that an estimated 1.5 million out of more than 4 million displaced Nigerians are living in the IDP camps. 75% of the number is women. Majority of internally displaced women were not officially registered. The internally displaced women are exposed to rape, killings, slavery and health hazards. In Riyom, a volatile town which is 47 kilometers from Jos 500 IDPs found refuge in uncompleted shops and the women and children survived by self-efforts. The living conditions of women in the camps are pathetic. These women’s long hopes to return to their homes are very bleak. Both the UN Women office in Abuja and the UN High Commission for Refugees in Nigeria stressed shortage of fund that would enable the offices carry out their initiatives for the displaced women.
WE DESERVES PEACE
I situate peace and security in the same concepts as justice, freedom, equality, power and class. Peace and security for me and other women means a state of justice or goodness, a balance in decisions and actions. Policy changes including us and equal opportunities for us are worth the while. Decisions and actions at the local churches, at the community and ecumenical levels inclusive of women are of utmost importance as they can be forces and influences hopefully assuring us of a future.
Enhanced capacity of women’s groups in every community and in every movement gives us voice and other empowerment capable of ensuring our needed rest of mind. Empowered women like me speak out on issues that hinder my accessibility to food, education and other needs. I vocally use my voice advocating for improvement of lives for others in my communities. At the course of the pilgrimage I extensively spoke before the Heads of Churches, the Traditional leaders, the government officials and other stakeholders advocating for improved lifes for displaced women, children as well as for women living with disabilities in Nigeria in the areas of job, scholarship and other educational supports as well as skills workshops to build economic capacity of the women
Concerns of security and peace for women are top priority of my professional charity works. For a long time my advocacy and program work activities had been on food security, peacebuilding, trauma healing, inclusive participation / empowerment of women with disabilities and democratization for development. On daily basis I make efforts, contributing resiliency, resisting layers of issues of corruption, poverty and insecurity. I resist forces of religion, stereotypes, politics and ethnicity. I refuse to be daunted by horrendous experiences in the context of economic, social and political instability, the worst of all, by conflict situations which make me stronger instead of marring me.
In my indulgence in ‘Walking Her Story’ process of the Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace in Nigeria I committed to share the stories of resilience and transformation of lives with others. It is my bold step to improve safety and security for women in my country. I shared my personal experiences with more than 700 internally displaced women standing in solidarity with them. Sharing our stories personally indicates practical women’s leadership and roles. We celebrated the gifts of women and transformed injustices we experienced. Shedding tears together we are survivors. Sharing freely among ourselves we restored our inner peace and gave ourselves comfort that heals our traumas.
I also give empowerment that help women be seen and heard. I initiated a Peace building and trauma healing project which has provided 80 women a safe space to share confidential information, get counseling, heal trauma and get other assistance needed to forge ahead with life. In my advocacy journeys I call on religious leaders, governmental officials, ecumenical movements, development agencies and civil society organizations to actions and talks deliberately ensuring women’s peace and security.
I see security and peace as not concern of the UN Super Powers alone and should not be treated as issues around weapons and war or issues of territories and states. These are social issues where mainly the grass root women like me, my family and community bear the brunt of insecurity in most devastating manners. For me it is a gateway to achieving agenda 2030 and should leave no one behind. We women are absolutely indispensable players in human interactions processes. The journey might be tough but I am of a strong hope that someday the world will be more committed in families and relationships, in societies and public places, in leadership and trusts, in religion and worships to deepen actions to justice and sustainable peace for women.