For our Change Agents in Bauchi State, northeast Nigeria, a school is more than just a school: It’s a social victory.
Why a social victory? These women’s efforts toward breaking barriers to educational opportunities for women and girls have led to the establishment of a primary school in the Rudugungu community, the first of its kind in 50 years. All involved say they could never have imagined that such an achievement was possible without their training with Women for Women International (WfWI).
“Many organizations have come in the past to make promises to deceive us, but it did not yield any fruit - until now,”
says Mal Yau Adamu, the community head representative.
Khadija Umar, the 29-year-old deputy leader of our Change Agents in Tirwun, says the Change Agents chose primary education in the Rudugungu community because of their passion for girls' education.
“Rudugungu is not far from Tirwun,” she says. “It doesn't have any school, and most of their children have never attended any formal school.”
As of 2020, 935 schools in Northeast Nigeria have closed due to security reasons. Yet, a deeper obstacle has been at play. Nigerian women and their right to education has long been dismissed. Even though the country’s constitution declares equal rights for women in many areas of the country, long-held customs still uphold a boy’s education over a girl’s. In Nigeria, only 67 percent of women have completed primary school—this is compared to 80 percent of men.
“Please understand that in our communities, women are not considered to be anything or participate in any community decision-making. This has brought a lot of under-development to women.”
- Ummi, Change Agent
Khadija says women’s rights have consistently been violated by men in the Tirwun community, including husbands. For her, the fight for education is especially
personal. She recalls how her own husband objected to her continuing her education and refused to pay their children's school fees.
“Though we later divorced,” she says, “I learned to be strong through the WfWI program, and I keep pressing forward to better my children's future despite the challenges.”
Through our Stronger Women Stronger Nations program (SWSN) in Nigeria, women are taught the importance of education and how to earn and save money. Like Khadija, those who become involved in our Change Agents program are trained to develop the skills and awareness to initiate social change.
As Khadija, Ummi and more women became knowledgeable about their rights through our SWSN program, a new dream was birthed in their hearts.
“The change we desire to see is to educate girls and inspire them to achieve their dreams and develop their communities,”
says Fatima Abubakar, another Change Agent who pushed for the opening of the school.
The group approached the local government of Rudugungu’s informal education department to petition for the establishment of a school. It took advocacy, multiple follow-up visits and unwavering persistence and passion, but by October 2021, a primary school opened its doors.
“What we want is for women to be educated and involved in decision-making at home and in society. We also want to see more female lawyers, doctors, politicians and entrepreneurs. For all that, we will continue to advocate for girls' education." - Khadijah Umar
Today, the school is humble but functioning. Community residents donated a space, two mats, exercise books and a blackboard, while the local government supplied ten textbooks. 46 girls enrolled out of 92 pupils, accounting for half of the entire class. 30 girls were present for opening day out of 50 pupils.
“We wish to see the enrollment of more girls and, if possible, the retention, completion, and transition to higher institutions,”
says Halima Mohammed, a Change Agent.
The spotlight the school creates on the importance of education has caught the attention of both women and men; even Ummi’s new husband has volunteered with her.
“Some adults in the community also wish they could go back to school,” she says. “For example, one of the community members told me there was a day when he took his phone for charging and was told to write down his name. He couldn’t do it and people started laughing at him. Unfortunately, he felt humiliated and embarrassed.”
But not for long. As women mobilize for their right to education, they will use their power to help the entire community - girls and boys, men and women.
And it all began with a new dream and a few resilient women who were determined to bring change to their community.
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In our Change Agent Program, graduates undertake grassroots advocacy activities, mentored and supported by Women for Women International staff to help women identify problems in their communities and create action plans to challenge them.
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