On International Men's Day, the Magama community offers an inspiring example of what can be achieved when male allies support women's rights and gender justice
Earlier this year, in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, one of the communities where we work in northern Nigeria celebrated a significant milestone: the withdrawal of Women for Women International from their village. Over the past three years in Magama Gumau district, 876 women have successfully graduated from our Signature Program, and hundreds more male leaders and community members have taken part in Men’s Engagement activities.
Exiting a community is an important, positive step in the life cycle of our work, and vital to achieving sustainable, long-term progress for women’s rights and gender equality. At Women for Women International, we never plan to remain in any community indefinitely. The goal of our holistic, intensive approach is always to reach a point where women’s power becomes self-sustaining and community-led. We do this by equipping marginalized women with tools to shape and drive change for themselves, on their own terms – and by recruiting men as critical allies and partners in transforming gender norms and creating healthier, more resilient communities.
The impact for women in Magama
Magama was the first community where we worked in Bauchi state, one of Nigeria’s poorest states, and home to a large population of internally-displaced people (IDPs) who have been uprooted from their homes by the Boko Haram insurgency, natural disasters, and inter-ethnic clashes. When Women for Women International entered the community in 2017, women in Magama reported facing multiple challenges and barriers, including harmful gender norms and high rates of violence. For example, at the time of program enrollment, 27% of women reported experiencing domestic violence and 80% said they believed husbands are justified in beating their wives.
As the final cohort of women prepared to graduate from our program in July 2020, Magama’s district head, Seriki Musa Sambo, paid a visit to the Women for Women International-Nigeria team. Mr. Sambo recounted some of the changes he had seen since Women for Women International began partnering with the community in Magama in 2017:
“Women in the community have become more aware of their rights and they can now defend them. The women are now able to participate more than before in decision-making within their family and in the community. They have contributed a lot to household needs... Through Women for Women International, we now have women’s cooperatives, which give out loans to members. They do businesses like rearing animals and livestock; these are some of the activities that the community has witnessed with the coming of Women for Women International.”
The role of men as allies
While women have led the way, the changes witnessed in Magama over the past three years could not have been achieved without the support and involvement of the whole community – including men, who hold positions of power and have the ability to influence social norms.
From the outset, the local stakeholders in Magama – primarily male community leaders, such as the district head and council of chiefs – were highly receptive and supportive of Women for Women International and our mission. The involvement of influential male allies in Magama ensured that the community understood the purpose and outcomes of the training program and were willing to embrace it, creating an environment where women could flourish outside as well as inside the classroom.
The district head and his council of chiefs even stood up to defend the teachings of Women for Women International when a local cleric challenged them.
The cooperation of male leaders in Magama led to new initiatives to build on the success of the program, which were devised and implemented by the community, based on their own needs and aspirations. Magama was the first community where we worked to pilot a daycare center to assist mothers in the program, after childcare responsibilities were identified as one of the key barriers preventing women from gaining skills and improving their economic status. The PRaY (Project Raino Yara) daycare center was officially opened in January 2019. The community donated a room for the center and took over its administration, engaging the services of a teacher to care for the children and run activities. This initiative allows women to concentrate on their training without distractions, while offering children opportunities to learn and socialize with peers.
Introducing the Men’s Engagement Program
Mr. Sambo and other male leaders in Magama have been instrumental in engaging other men in the community – particularly the husbands and relatives of women enrolled in the program. It was at the leaders’ request that Women for Women International began implementing our Men’s Engagement Program in Magama. They saw that women could not fully and effectively use the skills they develop during their training, without a supportive environment outside the classroom. Women needed their husbands and male relatives to respect their right to work outside the home, make financial decisions, and own property. They needed to be free to pursue education and participate in community activities, without backlash, and be safe from violence and abuse. This required men to have a shared understanding and commitment to change.
Passing over the torch to the men and women of Magama, Women for Women International-Nigeria Country Director, Bukola Onyishi, explained that “while we come to the community with our services, the resources required to make them meaningful are within the Magama Gumau community itself.
“The Women for Women International program is like sowing seeds in the community and, after we exit, it is the community’s role to nurture those seeds.
Nurturing the seeds of gender equality is a project that benefits everyone and requires everyone’s involvement. Women cannot carry the burden of shifting deeply-rooted patriarchal norms and power imbalances on their own. On International Men’s Day, the Magama community offers an inspiring example of what can be achieved when male allies support women’s rights and gender justice - a more healthy, prosperous and resilient future for everyone.