“I feel liberated” Supporting Economic Opportunities for Displaced Women in North-East Nigeria
By Joy Bitrus Ashalva, Project Officer, Alone
Maimuna Dahiru is a 35-year-old woman originally from Baga, in Kukawa Local Government Area (LGA) of Borno State in North-Eastern Nigeria. A mother of eight children, including five girls and three boys, Maimuna and her family fled when Boko Haram insurgents attacked Baga town in December, 2018. Since 2013, particularly in 2015, Boko Haram fighters have raided Baga and surrounding villages, killing thousands of people and burning homes and public buildings. Given the fluid security situation, people sometimes return to their community after periods of calm only for the insurgents to strike again.
Now, residing in a camp for internally displaced people (IDP) in Maiduguri, Maimuna recounts: “I remember how I lived in the village with my husband before the insurgency. We go to farm and plant crops, vegetables that sustain us for a year and also to make money.” Depending on food and handouts from humanitarian agencies, the residents yearned for fresh vegetables, which they could not plant as they were away from their farmlands. Those, particularly women that ventured out from the camps to grow food, were vulnerable to attack by the insurgents and other armed actors in the area where kidnapping of women into sex slavery is common.
Things began to change with NGOs working to promote safer gardening practices within the camps. One of such schemes was initiated by Nigerian NGOs, Alone and GREENCODE in 2019. “ Today, I am filled with joy because we don’t buy nor beg for vegetables any longer. Thanks to Alone”, said Maimuna.
According to Maimuna, her husband goes out to do labour work in a site to see that they have something to eat. However, due to the precarity of such employment, they struggled to eat. They have to send their male children out to go and beg for food out of which they would bring back home so the family could eat. People gave them stale food which they have no choice but to eat, so they don’t die of hunger, but through the support of Alone and GREENCODE, their children no longer go out to beg as the family can now sell the vegetables and make income for the family.
“Maimuna’s joy for me, is fortitude, as I remember my family’s experience of displacement, death and hunger as a result of the insurgency. I remember what I passed through when we were attacked in Gwoza LGA, which led to the death of my father and loss of our family properties. I understand what it means to be displaced and not to have food to eat. I am glad that despite my vulnerability, I was not discouraged as an internally displaced person. I feel liberated from my painful experience and I now have an opportunity to serve humanity. I could also help to support my people in meaningful economic activities and contribute to community development”, says Joy Bitrus Ashalva, a Alone staff in Borno State.
Joy Bitrus Ashalva of Alone and Maimuna Dahiru
“While in a camp for displaced people with my mother and siblings, we managed to continue schooling. I now work for Alone, helping to monitor human rights abuses and promoting livelihoods for fellow displaced people. On 4th June 2020, a colleague, Sharon Jackson of GREENCODE, and I, had a focus group discussion with some of the most vulnerable women who suffered violence in the past. Despite my grim experience, I was alarmed by the overwhelming circumstances of the women we interviewed. Conflict affects women’s economic opportunities. This is in addition to how cultural barriers, patriarchal customs, widespread illiteracy and women’s ignorance undermine their economic prospects.”
Hajara Saleh is another woman who is glad of the opportunity given to her to secure livelihood support, through the intervention of Alone and GREENCODE in 2020. Hajara, who is 35 years old, and also from Baga, opened up about her dreadful experience during the conflict. Hajara was divorced and abandoned with seven children, as a result of the displacement. But she now smiles again, in spite of her trauma. According to Hajara, she has longed for this opportunity to learn a skill, especially soap making. Soap is in high demand in the community,and she believes that she will be able to make an income from its production. “I choose to earn my food, rather than beg for it”, said Hajara.
Hajara Saleh marketing her products beside her tent at Doron Baga camp, Maiduguri, Borno State.
(PHOTO CREDIT: Joy Bitrus Ashalva of Alone)
Hajara Saleh is among dozens of women that have benefitted from micro-gardening and micro-enterprise initiatives of Alone and GREENCODE. Like the other beneficiaries, Hajara expresses happiness for the opportunity to be trained and the seed grants given to her to start a business.
The entrepreneurship programmes involved a process of capacity building through formal and informal training. The purpose of the exercise was to reduce the rate of poverty and lessen the burden of the women affected by conflict. This is one of many efforts in the fight to eliminate hunger and reduce unemployment amongst displaced people.