There is never a lacklustermoment when women come together to support one another. Indeed, when we rise up and hold each other’s hands, our ingenuity becomes unleashed and everything changes progressively! This is how best I can describe and sum up my experience in the World Pulse community and in other circles of women’s assemblage that I engage with both online and in real time. Looking back at how far I have come, and how a once isolated journey of changemaking in the environmental sector has fast become propped up, I am indeed grateful to each and every one who has been a wellspring of inspiration and motivation.
Daily, I live with and breathe a deep sense of care for nature, so much that it constantly compels and propels me to address environmental challenges in ways that empower women. Before I go on to share more about my experience as an environmental and women’s rights advocate, I must emphasise that I am a believer in development that is driven by a progressive partnership between men and women everywhere. As I love to put it, women’s empowerment and gender equality is never a rivalry, contest or competition between men and women. Rather, it is a call to a mutually sustaining and beneficial partnership.
Only recently, I was opportune to attend the 2016 Nigerian Clean Cooking forum held in Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory of Nigeria. There was just no way that I could have given up an opportunity to participate in the epoch making event. Surprisingly, however, the venue of the event was packed full of men. I just couldn’t help but wonder where Nigerian women were, when an issue that directly concerns and affects their lives was being debated. It is such instances that keep me on my toes and fuels my passion for women’s active engagement in the environmental sector.
Among other environment related problems, the issue of clean cooking remains dear to my heart because no woman should have to die from carrying on an age long traditional responsibility of feeding her family. Globally, women have continued to pay a costly price to feed their families, as many rely on inefficient cooking fuels and stoves. Such cooking is often done in poorly ventilated dwellings and kitchens resulting in exposures to health damaging pollutants.
Current cooking practice in Nigeria is such that over 70% of households in urban areas, and over 90% of those in rural areas still rely on traditional cookstoves that use firewood as fuel. The consequences remains grave as a World Health Organization (WHO) report states that Nigeria tops the list of countries where women suffer various ailments resulting from the use of firewood. The numbers are growing while the women are ill informed about this development. Of course, the condition of overexploitation of forest resources also tells a cheerless tale.
In 2015, I embarked on an investigative mission influenced by the WHO report. I followed up by publishing my findings in my World Pulse journal and my World Pulse sisters took notice; as I received highly encouraging comments and private messages, established game changing connections and the issue gained wider exposure. TIME Magazine also found and published the piece!
It is worth mentioning that I also received periodic seed donations from a member of the World Pulse community who reached out to support my cause. With the funds, I was able to launch a clean cookstoves intervention on the platform of my organization [Women Initiative for Sustainable Environment (WISE)], which has since blossomed into a project that is now helping my organization work towards building a movement of women clean cookstoves advocates and entrepreneurs in Nigeria.
Only recently too, my organization was also able to raise $485 on GlobalGiving, a crowd funding website. The funds helped us deliver a four day empowerment workshop and also donate 50 clean cookstoves to a number of needy women at an Internally Displaced Persons camp (IDP) located in Nassarawa State, North Central Nigeria. The primary beneficiaries were made up of 28 widows and two other married women; all victims of the terrorists activities which engulfed and destabilized North Eastern Nigeria.
We cried, laughed, ate, danced and journeyed together; accepting the need to release the past, embrace the present truth, and take on the onus of transforming the future. Of course, when women thrive, communities thrive too! It was such a wowing experience as I witnessed the transformation each woman began creating for herself. It is called 'Personal Agency’!!!!
“Woman! Don't let anything steal your joy. These women have been broken, hurt and despaired...yet they still dance. We managed to learn the dance steps and after a few days, pain was turned into power”, recounts Carolyn Seaman, a World Pulse sister who also participated in the workshop; and alongside her husband generously produced a video that covered a portion of the experience.
Beyond delivering the content of the empowerment workshop, WISE was able to give each of the participants a gift of one clean cookstove. Twenty other women in the community also received a clean cookstove each. For each woman who got a clean cookstove, it's surely a new dawn—no more long risky walks in search of scarce firewood! No more stinging and watery eyes!! It's an end to smoke inhalation from their three-stoned/traditional-tripod fireplaces and fumes choked kitchens. I sure wish we had enough cookstoves to go round every woman in the community; as they very much desired to partake. We have got 120 more women to reach out to in the community and with God on our side, we will make it happen.
Advancing women’s position, needs, concerns, rights, roles and responsibilities is at the heart of my change making walk and talk. By the day, I am contributing towards moving women from the place of being change seekers to change makers and change leaders. Bringing my dream Women’s Eco Learning Centre to reality is a one stop way of bringing women in my community together within a safe space where they can find and drive solutions that will contribute to a sustainable future for all of humanity. As a World Pulse Impact Leader, I now have a team of accomplished women who are supporting me round the clock to change the status quo for me, my organization, and women in my community and beyond. With each passing day, we are inching closer to achieving that feat!