“My life’s journey at the early age of seven was characterized by hard work, sacrifices, determination, resilience, independence, and an enterprising spirit—this is a trait inculcated in me by my late mother.”
Saratu J., a native of Kaduna State in northern Nigeria, is 52 years old. She was widowed nearly two decades ago and is the mother of four sons and two daughters in their twenties. They live together in their home in Sabo Tasha, Kaduna.
She has faced adversity that most won’t know in their lifetime, but Saratu reflects on how she grew up admiring her mother’s strength and individuality in the face of some of the same struggles she faced before she joined Women for Women International.
“My mother was very hardworking and independent. She never relied on my father for anything but built him up through her own positive struggles.” While she was in primary school, Saratu worked alongside her mother selling sugarcane, cooked foods, grain, or fruit. “All this my mother and I did to provide for our family,” she reflected.
Saratu’s mother showed entrepreneurial spirit, acquiring seven plots of land scattered around their community. Though the land gave her family a renewable source of income, “they denied me time to concentrate on my studies and deprived me the opportunity of studying beyond secondary school. My father never believed in the education of a girl anyway and my mother was not so liberated either to support me better. I ended up getting married immediately after my secondary school education.”
Overcoming an Intergenerational Problem
In her husband’s house, Saratu worked tirelessly just as her mother had. “I was strong and courageous to shoulder the responsibilities of the family, even as young as I was,” she remarked. To fulfill the needs of her growing family, Saratu tried several kinds of business before settling on cooking. While Saratu built her small business, her husband, like her father, lost his job and relied completely on the income Saratu produced.
“[My husband] and his relatives depended heavily on me for everything and I toiled to provide for them all. It was like a vicious circle!”
Saratu stopped to reflect on her experience as a child. Her mother had survived frequent poor treatment from her father and never took action to stop the violence. “As a growing child, I witnessed the many violations,” she said, and that was how she learned not to speak up about domestic violence. “I conformed to that expectation in my husband’s house, too, never raising a finger or my voice. My husband would take out his frustrations on me after a drinking binge.” Saratu’s husband would spend the money she had worked for on his alcohol, then beat her on countless occasions. “This continued till my husband’s death.”
When she joined the Stronger Women, Stronger Nations program in Nigeria, Saratu learned unexpected things that she knew could change her life.
“Being part of the Women for Women International program has blessed me with the wonderful opportunity to develop new skills and gain knowledge. I have a better understanding now of the phrase ‘knowledge is power.’ I never knew that men and women have equal rights, and as a woman I have the right to live free of domestic violence or take actions and seek redress when my rights are violated. I came to the realization also that a woman had the right to engage in any field or occupation, even if it is considered a field for men. I received this information about my rights with mixed feelings. On one hand, I felt very relieved and excited about knowing that I had a right to inherit assets and on the other, I regretted having this knowledge late in life because after my mother’s death, my father shared all the landed properties I struggled with my mother to acquire to my four brothers who sold the pieces of land and squandered the money. This left me and my five sisters with nothing as dictated by my tradition.”
From Mother to Daughter
Saratu’s experience in our Nigeria program affirmed her strength and gave her tools and knowledge to pass on to her daughters so that they can, in turn, pass them on to future generations.
“My daughters are my pride, and I am fulfilling the promise I made to myself to ensure they both have a good education. I have taught my daughters to be strong, wise, courageous, and independent. I taught them never to depend on their husbands when they eventually get married but to aim for success through hard work and determination.”
After graduation in 2019, Saratu showed her daughters that they, too, had the power to become entrepreneurs and women leaders. Her older daughter is learning how to make body cream that she plans on selling from their home and eventually from in a shop of her own. Saratu’s younger daughter is looking to further her education after completing a diploma program in 2019. In the meantime, Saratu encouraged her to learn how to make shoes and sandals.
“At first, she was not comfortable with the idea because it is considered a ‘man’s job’ which would seem odd if she ventures into it; she preferred tailoring. I told her that I was taught in the Women for Women International program that no job or business is exclusively meant for either men or women but what really matters is her knowledge, interest, and skills in the desired trade. I ventured further to tell her that the clothing-making business was already saturated in the vicinity we reside in, but she can carve a niche for herself making shoes. Thankfully, she reasoned with me and she is presently perfecting her skills in the trade.”
The Next Generation of Women
In addition to marketable business skills, Saratu instilled in her daughters the same sense of power and confidence she gained through the social empowerment training part of the program.
“After learning about gender equality in the program, I educated all my children about the equal status and rights they share. My girls were very surprised! They would have been subjected to the same violations my mother and I went through if not for the privilege I had to attend the Women for Women International training. I told my children that none of them is or should feel more important than the other, whether male or female. I resolved with them that the family house will go to the boys and the only piece of land I bought in the name of my oldest son will be changed and given to the girls because they also have a right to inheritance.”
Saratu knew that she wanted a different life for her daughters than what she and her mother had experienced. She talked to them about their power as individuals in their homes and relationships.
“I taught my daughters never to condone an abusive relationship, whether in or outside marriage. They must love and care for themselves; have a voice and not to tow the path of silence in domestic violence. My daughters marvel and commend the changes and confidence they now see in me and I can see that they are fashioning their lives after the ‘new’ me.”
To mothers, like Saratu, the ones that teach us everything and show us what we can do and who we can be, thank you. Women for Women International would like to wish you a happy Mother’s Day!
Original story Written by Rosemary Okoli