Empowering women to rebuild their community

Regular readers of this blog will know that the weekly UK-Nigeria meeting has been dominated of late by the aftermath of the post-Election violence in Kafanchan. This week’s meeting was, predictably, no exception.

Previously we had been told that the field officers from the Microfinance programme had been afraid to visit their clients in the Muslim Areas due to safety fears.

This time, John Dada related the tale of Grace, one of the field workers who - despite the danger - felt compelled to visit one of her clients who had suffered bereavement in the Muslim ares of Kafanchan. “In Nigeria, certain things have to be done face-to-face,” he explained. “Condolence visits are a face-to-face affair and it carries so much meaning to the bereaved.”

To everyone’s relief Grace returned unscathed. But as John remarked: ”The incident highlighted the extent of the breakdown of trust between the communities and, for me, it also shows the hidden strength of our women. It is they who bear the brunt of the violence and yet, it is they who take the first steps to heal their communities. Grace doesn't accept that she was brave, and in fact some of the staff thought she was foolish. But I recognised the deeper value of what she has done, which really is what women have been doing for ages.”

Rumours of continued reprisal killings remain rife and John added: ”There are no truths in these rumours and you can see that both sides are equally affected by them. I have asked the R3 team (Rehabilitation, Reconstruction + Resources) to work out how we may begin to send out text messages of reassurance to counter these rumours and give truthful up to date information to people.”

John also related the story of a widow who hid her Muslim neighbour in her attic to save him from the marauding youths - in spite of threats to her life and those of her children. As he said: “I want to link up such women and begin to get their voices heard. It is the women who have to pick up the litter of lives and livelihoods created in these disturbances, and they do it at high risk.”

He added: “In virtually all the sectarian crises in Nigeria, women seem to maintain their links across the divides. In Kafanchan, there have been cross-cultural marriages among all the tribes and religions.” John also said: “FF is in a position of advantage because of our relationships with women clients - they can be the focus of our efforts.”

Since the crisis  John says Comfort and her field officers have made regular visits to the microfinance clients, “giving them hope and giving out relief materials: food, farm inputs.”

Comfort also informed us that Fantsuam staff met with some of their male Muslim loan clients at the police station.

However most of the microfinance clients are female farmers and 80% of the aid went to this group.  Also Friends of Nigeria have assisted with the purchase of 50 bags of fertiliser and Save the Children paid for 10 bags of fertiliser. So between the two organisations, FF are distributing 60 x 50KG bags to women farmers. The intention is that this will improve the crop yields and enable the women to feed their families, trade the surplus at market ,and help pay off their microloans.

John summed up the current relief and peace strategy, saying: “Build the women and that rebuilds the communities. For us a woman is a community, and working with one woman translates to working with all the wagons she is pulling along. By working with women across the divides, we can identify more people like Grace and make their voices heard.”

The Kafanchan Peace Market and helping the woman traders was also discussed at length and is currently being written and will be published shortly.