Building Women for Peace in Nigeria
Naomi E. N. Akpan-Ita
Ogun State, Nigeria
“The longstanding practice of relegating women to the background has prevented the recognition and appreciation of the role of women in peace processes and decision-making matters.”
Imagine a world where women are allowed full participation and recognition. A world where women are given the space to express their hopes and fears for creating and ensuring peaceful, cooperative, and just societies. In Nigeria, just as in other societies across the globe, particularly in Africa, women are put into an iron box of patriarchy that suppresses their full and equal participation in issues that impact their lives. Women’s right to life, self-respect, and human dignity continues to be abused in conjunction with escalating poverty, thus deepening women’s subjugation. The longstanding practice of relegating women to the background has prevented the recognition and appreciation of the role of women in peace processes and decision-making matters.
An appraisal of Nigeria’s political history validates the persistence of conflict, with statistics revealing that women and children make up close to 80% of the victims of these conflicts. Despite the fact that women have played traditional roles in resolving conflict within their families, social groups, and immediate environments, they are rarely consulted or included in formal peacebuilding processes initiated to address these myriad conflicts. Women’s contributions to peacebuilding have gone largely underutilized because many men assume that women lack appropriate skills for peace interventions and are not well informed about conflicts to fully engage with men at negotiating tables.
The absence of women from peace and security initiatives has not given a holistic approach to sustaining peace in Nigeria. In order to ameliorate the situation, Impact for Change and Development (IMPACT), in collaboration with CORDAID Netherlands, took the initiative to widen the space of participation in peacebuilding processes through building the capacity of community women in conflict management to promote their inclusion in decision-making processes. It was anticipated that this would serve to enhance the visibility and social status of women in the society. Over the years this project has gone through a number of different phases, all aimed at promoting the involvement of women and creating gendered approaches to peace and security issues in Nigeria.
The first phase was a three-year project, “Capacity Building in Conflict Management for Enhanced Participation of Community Women,” which served as an inroad for actualising IMPACT’s concept of building women’s capacity for peace. The project centred on the need to build the capacity of community women in conflict management while sensitizing stakeholders on the possible roles that women could play within communities to ensure the sustenance of peaceful co-existence.
The project that began in 2007 entailed training workshops for community women in conflict management in six conflict-prone communities spread across the 6 geo-political zones of Nigeria. The trainings were articulated on the framework of capacity building, information sharing, and learning by emulation, which was achieved through group work/role plays. Action Plans for intervention, particularly at the community level, were designed to guide the women in the implementation of peace initiatives. At the end of each workshop, a number of the trained women were presented for inclusion in an early warning team for the community/state, thereby providing a ‘foot-in-the-door’ approach for promoting women’s inclusion in peace processes within the states.
As a follow up to the capacity building for women workshops, Women Peace Fora were inaugurated within the six states. These fora served as a base of support for women in their peace intervention efforts, and also provided platforms for experience sharing and strategizing on the way forward for women in this regard. An annual event that brought the women’s fora together in a National Forum was an avenue to promote bonding and effective networking amongst the women for peace advocacy. The incorporation of vocational skills and empowerment components in the project was aimed to address poverty alleviation by further highlighting the voices of women in society, as women’s voiceless status has contributed to continuing conditions of poverty.
In continuation of the project, IMPACT has been able to accomplish the following:
Published the book PEACE PATH…Building Women for Impact, volumes 1 & 2, focused on mirroring women’s voices in peacebuilding.
- Strengthened capacity of 104 Civil Society Organizations across Nigeria to promote women’s inclusion in peacebuilding and decision-making processes. This was a milestone as aspects of peacebuilding were not usually components of trainings carried out by these organizations for women.
- Produced an abridged illustrated version of the United Nations Security Council Resolutions -UNSCR 1325 and 1820 on women, peace and security to better enlighten women on the need to participate in peacebuilding.
- Trained 60 civil society organizations in the Niger Delta to promote the integration of a gender perspective in peacebuilding programs and decision-making processes in region. This project has helped re-define strategies to foster the inclusion of women in peacebuilding initiatives. such as the amnesty programme set up by government to restore peace in the region.
- Trained 30 women’s groups in Jos, Plateau State, on community healing and dialogue skills, to enable them to mainstream nonviolent approaches to promoting peace. This succeeded in expanding the collective roles and contributions of women to participate in promoting peace in Jos.
Generally, IMPACT has in the last 6 years succeeded in building the capacity of many women and civil society organizations in about 20 communities across Nigeria, strengthening their skills to participate in issues of peace and security at community, state, and national levels. At present, some of the trained community women have become active peacebuilders and conflict monitors in their communities. The recognition of women as a peacebuilding resource by men at different levels of society has gone a long way in averting conflicts that may have otherwise erupted. Trained women are not only looked upon for possible peacebuilding roles in their communities but many are seen as models and emulated by the younger generation.
Although the inclusion of women in decision-making and peace processes is yet to be fully actualized, the fact that women have something to offer is no longer in dispute. This is evidenced by the improved recourse to women on peace and security matters in some of the project target communities. It is believed that the impact of interventions such as that provided by this project would eventually bring about the full inclusion of women in peace and security matters in Nigeria.
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