Featured Storyteller

NIGERIA: Women Must Be Seen and Heard

Celine
Posted January 31, 2019 from Nigeria

Celine Osukwu draws on her experiences overcoming difficulties to build solidarity with women across her country.

“Shedding tears together, we came together as survivors.

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. So many women, children, and elderly persons died of Kwashiorkor, a form of malnutrition, and other complications. I survived, but as a child I suffered a severe illness that made me unconscious, and I later became disabled by Kyphosis.

Because of the nature of my disability, I have been a target for ritual killers who sell human body parts. When I was growing up,  my mother was warned against letting me out of the house. Her mind has never been at rest since then. My journey in life has been distorted by difficulties emanating from discrimination, marginalization, and stigma.  

Notwithstanding, I am focused toward a professional life of service aimed at achieving a secure world for children, women, persons with disabilities—and for humanity. My background directed my career choice. For two decades, I have worked earnestly to surmount the plethora of barriers caused by exclusion, poverty, religion, politics, discrimination, corruption, and land crisis—the key issues generating insecurity and unrest for us.

My job as national coordinator of the Ecumenical Food Security and Peacebuilding program paved the way for my engagement on issues of peace and security for women. I recently participated in an international pilgrimage to “walk her story” from Lagos to Kaduna, to Jos and Riyom in north central Nigeria, to Mubi, Numan, Yola, and Fufore in the north east. Through this process, I sustained a life affirming solidarity with other women affected by insecurity. I heard stories of women who faced sexual assaults, who were denied leadership positions, and who lamented the lack of funding accountability for humanitarian interventions. I heard from women denied the right to speak, denied education, and women who faced subordination and insensitivity when they tried to access services.

When I participated in sessions with women affected by violent extremism in my country, I heard similar stories. Women spoke of threats to their peace and security, including issues around access to land and resources; lack of access to health care; the influence of religion in promoting discrimination, violence and insecurity; the silence around gender based violence; and women’s marginalization in traditional leadership. I cannot easily forget the experiences of women from two communities in north east Nigeria, where women and children have been victimized, attacked, raped, and killed during a long drawn out conflict. I heard heartbreaking experiences of women and girls who were expelled from their communities because they were raped by men.  

In my work in food security and peacebuilding advocacy, I have witnessed women bearing the brunt of hunger, malnutrition, and diseases. They are also burdened with the family upkeep. I have come face to face with young girls who were traded for farmland or for cows for the economic sustenance of their families.

I have met many women who, like my mother, have lost their husbands to attacks and insurgencies and were then deprived of their husbands’ property, including a house to live in. Women are often excluded from participating in community life.

In my family, my mother and her daughters, including me, are the ones farming the land and producing food that keeps the family going but ironically we are not culturally entitled to own land. We are often victims of land-related clashes because we are the ones farming the lands, sometimes in unsafe locations. We risk being sexually assaulted and killed. In many homes, women like my mother are the ones who suffer most from drought and other effects of climate change. During disease outbreaks, conflict, and economic recession, we are distressed.

When I visited three different internally displaced persons (IDP) 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. Seventy-five percent of them are women and most are not officially registered. These displaced women are exposed to rape, killings, slavery, and health hazards. The agencies working with displaced persons face funding shortages. The living conditions of women in IDP camps are pathetic and their prospects of returning to their homes are very bleak.

Women deserve peace and security, which to me means a state of justice and goodness and balance in decisions and actions. This requires policy changes that include us. It is also of utmost importance for women to be included in decisions and actions at local churches, at the community and ecumenical levels.

Strong women’s groups and movements empower women like me to use our voices. I am using my voice to advocate for others in our communities. Through the course of my pilgrimage through Nigeria, I spoke to heads of churches, traditional leaders, government officials, and other stakeholders to advocate for women and children, and especially those living with disabilities.

On a daily basis, I make efforts to contribute to resilience in my community, and resist corruption, poverty, and insecurity. I resist the forces of religion, stereotypes, politics, and ethnic division that threaten women’s security. I refuse to be daunted by horrendous experiences. The difficult situations in my life have made me stronger.

During the “Walking Her Story” process of my pilgrimage through Nigeria, I committed to share the stories I heard of resilience and transformation of lives with others. I shared my personal experiences with more than 700 internally displaced women, standing in solidarity with them. We celebrated the gifts we bring and we transformed the injustices we experienced. Shedding tears together, we came together as survivors. Sharing freely among ourselves, we gave ourselves comfort to help heal our traumas.

My dream is to help women be seen and heard. I initiated a peace building and trauma healing project that has provided 80 women a safe space to share confidential information, and get counseling and 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 take action to ensure women’s peace and security.

Security is not only a concern for the UN super powers. Security is more than issues around weapons and war and territories and states. Security is a social issue. Grassroots women like me and my family bear the burden of insecurity in the most devastating manner.

Women are absolutely indispensable players and our voices are a gateway to achieve the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Speaking out with my own story and the stories of other women is my bold step to improve safety and security for women in my country. The journey might be tough but I have a strong hope that someday the world will be more committed—in our families and relationships, in our public places, in our leadership, in our places of worship—to deepen our actions for justice and sustainable peace for women.   


STORY AWARDS

This story was published as part of the Future of Security Is Women digital event and is sponsored by our partner Our Secure Future. World Pulse runs Story Awards year round—share your story with us, and you could be our next Featured Storyteller! Learn more.

Comments 33

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Lisbeth
Jan 31
Jan 31

Congratulations on your featured story award. :-)

Celine
Feb 05
Feb 05

Thank you Sis Salifu

Jill Langhus
Feb 01
Feb 01

Hello Dear Celine,

How are you doing, dear?! I haven't heard from you in awhile. Congrats on your story award:-) Well deserved for all the hard work you do for others. I hope you're taking some time for yourself, and have a great day!?

Celine
Feb 05
Feb 05

Doing fine, dearest Jill. And you?
it has been that kind of busy busy busy.

Thank you, thank you, thank you for your encouragements awesome sister! You are the best.

Hugs!
Celine

Jill Langhus
Feb 07
Feb 07

Great to hear! I'm doing well, thanks:-)

Yes, I figured you must be blazing more trails...:-)

You're very welcome, dear. Aw, blush. So, are you!!

Hope you're having a good day!?

XX

otahelp
Feb 01
Feb 01

Seriously Celine, it is so unfortunate that women and girls are subjected to these inhuman treatment. for me and from what i have gathered from my constant engagement with men and women alike, most men are afraid of women. they know the power and innate strength women posses but they will rather continue to press us down so that we remain seen and not heard. The good thing is that we have come to realise their pattern of thought so we must come together and create critical mass to over take them. it shall soon happen. Good story my dear sister. Do not give up. i love your spirit.

Celine
Feb 08
Feb 08

Thank you sister! Yes forming alliance is worth doing.

Bleesings!
Celine

ARREY- ECHI
Feb 01
Feb 01

Big Congratulations Sis.

What a powerful story which clearly depicts the life of a woman.

Thank you for all you are doing to better the lives of others in your community.
Love

Celine
Feb 05
Feb 05

Thanks a lot Arrey! Our everyday life as women.

Love to you,
Celine

Mercy Kusi
Feb 03
Feb 03

Phew!!! Such courage and determination. Keep being the voice of voiceless women in your country.Kudos!

Celine
Feb 08
Feb 08

Hello Mercy,
Thank you for reading. Grateful to World Pulse for a platform of raising our voices.
Regards,
Celine

Congratulations, Sister Celine! You are one of my sheroes. I honor you for not allowing your disability to stop you from initiating peace building and trauma healing for women. You are so brave.

I have a son with special needs and disabilities as well. Your story gives me hope. Thank you!

Celine
Apr 26
Apr 26

I am glad to hear that you derive hope from my story. Thank you for what you do in your country for women.

Regards,
Celine

Deborah Munyekenye
Feb 17
Feb 17

Congratulations Celine. Continue the good work

Celine
Apr 26
Apr 26

Thank you Deborah!

sujata gopal
Mar 08
Mar 08

Bravo Celine. Your story is very inspiring. You are doing a great job. You have my best wishes for all the good work that you are doing sister

Your sis
Sujata

Celine
Apr 26
Apr 26

Thank you for your wishes dear. I appreciate you.

Celine

Great Celine,
Trauma healing is very important when addressing conflicts and I am happy to know that you did a project on peacebuilding and trauma healing.

Celine
Apr 26
Apr 26

Yes, it is very important especially to the displaced and destabilized women.

Angel Lasona
Mar 11
Mar 11

You are one brave soul my dear. Warm hugs for you. From your new friend here all the way from Philippines.

Celine
Apr 26
Apr 26

Wow, my new friend Angel from Philippines! God bless you and warm hugs to you.

I am grateful.

Kirthi
Mar 12
Mar 12

You are a powerhouse, lovely Celine! Congratulations on the Story Award!

Celine
Apr 26
Apr 26

Thank you sweet heart. You are an awesome friend and sister.

Kindest regards.

Juliet Acom
Mar 12
Mar 12

Congratulations Celine,

Keep empowering more women to join the resilience movement. I look forward to reading more about your work.

Regards

Celine
Apr 26
Apr 26

Thank you Juliet.
Regards,
Celine

florence kekong
Mar 20
Mar 20

Celine, dear. This is great. God is with you all way. Keep it up, being the strength of the Voiceless

Celine
Apr 26
Apr 26

My dear sister Florence. Amen and to you, too sis.

Sofidaniels
Apr 13
Apr 13

Hello Celine quite a touching one!

Celine
Apr 26
Apr 26

My sister, speaking it the way it is.

Regards

CATHIE
Apr 17
Apr 17

Big Congratulations to dear Sister!! You are one of the strongest voices saving many women. Keep rising higher and higher!!!!

Much love to you.

Celine
Apr 26
Apr 26

Oh dear. Thanks!

Amen and much more love to you!

Raquel Daniel
Apr 25
Apr 25

Welldone Celine.

Celine
Apr 26
Apr 26

Thank you Raquel