The women of Nigeria have led the movement for national peace for decades. As moderators of dialogues for change, guardians of human rights, businesswomen, mothers, sisters, and daughters, they have powered forward against all odds. And in 2021, Nigerian women will unleash their power to change the future like never before.
Though Nigeria is fraught with extremist insurgency and violence, women are a pillar of power in Nigeria and across the world. Nigeria continues to be the continent’s largest economy and its largest democracy; however, women in Nigeria are denied skills to attain economic autonomy, decision-making power, and quality health and welfare. But women envision a different future for their daughters: One in which they know their strength, the power of a collective of women to change their nation for the better.
Currently, Women for Women International–Nigeria operates in three of the 36 Nigerian states: Plateau, Bauchi, and Kaduna. By fostering and creating partnerships, supplementing existing communication mediums with technology, and expanding advocacy skills across the country, Women for Women International–Nigeria aspires to reach millions of Nigerian women in the coming years.
In 2020, our Nigeria country office team collected anecdotal data and suggestions from participants and staff to identify successes as well as gaps in its program and how to address them according to what women said they needed most. To maintain a robust feedback loop, suggestion boxes were installed in all communities for “participants to drop their suggestions, complaints, and any other information that they wish to share.” This first-hand feedback will enable our Nigeria staff to further optimize trainings and collaborate with participants to reach shared success in 2021.
Women in Leadership
Women for Women International–Nigeria has spent years charting a course for their program toward expansion and investing in the power of its participants. In 2021 alone, our Nigeria team plans on reaching 2400 women. Through partnerships with local organizations and cultivating a stronger online presence, our staff in Nigeria will directly equip at least 15,000 women and men with leadership and advocacy skills, specifically surrounding violence against women and women’s economic empowerment. Our Stronger Women, Stronger Nations program, participants, and graduates are a testament to the force that a network of women can become when they learn and act as one. In the next three years, Women for Women International–Nigeria estimates that 15,000 women directly impacted can use their training and advocacy skills to reach 85,000 women beyond the classroom. And 85,000 women can create a ripple effect the size of a nation.
One of the primary goals Women for Women International–Nigeria has set for 2021 is to spread the word beyond the corners of Nigeria. The reliance upon technology spurred by COVID-19 has transformed Women for Women International–Nigeria’s outlook on the future of their outreach. The advent of the virus opened a window for our Nigeria participants and staff to innovate around their use of the Internet, to test virtual learning methods, and consider incorporating them permanently into training. In order to reach 15,000 women in the next few years, they plan on developing virtual training tutorials, a YouTube channel, and an even stronger social media base to reach women beyond the program. Additionally, our Nigeria team plans on building out a roadmap for improved contextual advocacy training so that each course is molded to its audience and every woman in every community can harness her innate power.
Access to Loans
Income is a universally vital resource. Women in Nigeria often work tirelessly and many don’t have a stable cash-flow. Our Nigerian staff see this need firsthand and they strive to work with women to create sustainable income generating mechanisms. As our Nigeria participant network expands, openings to innovate, especially in our financial programming, have brought opportunities for greater income and savings. Last month, 300 new participants—100 in Rim and 200 in Fan—joined our financial trainings and new Village Savings and Loan Association (VSLA) leaders in these states were elected to begin activity.
This year, members of our 96 operating VSLAs will begin to establish federations, collections of VSLAs, to create opportunities for higher value loans and open up space for VSLA members to collaborate.
When women have complete control of their income and savings, they hold singular power over their lives and welfares. They can see long-held dreams come true and give their children the chance to build dreams themselves.
Women in our Nigeria program have partnered with the United Nations Federal Credit Union (UNFCU) to establish savings and loan groups, eleven of which cashed out in December. In Rim, Angware, Pankshin, Mushere, and Fan, many women successfully cashed out of their VSLAs to build businesses and fund education for their children. The VSLAs plan to go into their second year-long interest cycle in the coming months and members “attested to the fact that their business have improved, and some had diversified into new ones. The availability of funds was a great motivator for them to strive hard in repaying loans and interests appropriately.”
Last year, peer learning was introduced to stimulate mutual support. Those participants who were apprehensive or shy were encouraged by participants who were more experienced or enthusiastic about training. At year-end, graduates reported that they are continuing to work in pairs to support one another in their groups. These graduates reported that this collaboration has instilled confidence in some members of VSLAs who initially did not invest in the group who have now each bought at least one share during each purchase meeting. After such positive response to this buddy system, this approach will be adopted by upcoming cohorts of participants and VSLAs to ensure increased learning, commitment, and benefits to the group members.
This year, the health and wellness module of the social empowerment training will be reviewed and remodeled based on current realities in the communities where Women for Women International–Nigeria operates. Because this topic is often informed by a woman’s faith and beliefs, it is particularly sensitive. To ensure the proper solutions are being provided, women in each community will be consulted and engaged in the process of finding new methods to deliver this information.
A participant at Bununu said: ‘’I have learnt about women’s solidarity, the importance of women having a support network irrespective of religious or cultural differences.”
Women living with disabilities struggle disproportionately in communities affected by conflict. This year, our Nigeria team is prioritizing this incredibly marginalized population by listening to them first.
Ten focus group discussions on disability learning were conducted at the end of 2020 with program participants, MEP participants, caregivers, and other NGOs working on disability in Plateau and Bauchi. Apart from Women for Women International–Nigeria, there are only a few other organizations providing services for women with disabilities in these states; even still, resources do not reach all women living with disabilities.
This year, staff will take a close look at the current program infrastructure and use feedback from women living with disabilities to inform improvements to it. By collecting personal stories from women with disabilities, our staff can map their needs, their barriers, and how to overcome them, together. With the support of a grant from the UK Department for International Development and local Disabled Persons’ Organizations (DPO), Women for Women International–Nigeria is reaching a demographic of women who face unimaginable adversity.
As we enter this new year together, the opportunity to reflect on the past and look ahead seems particularly precious. After another year of struggle against violence compounded by a novel coronavirus, Nigerian women have shown unparalleled fortitude. And they continue to rush ahead. In the first months of 2021, our Nigeria team will celebrate International Women’s Day, convene the VSLA Congress, host join advocacy and community dialogues, as well as continue to collect data from participants and use it to inform their strategy.
Women for Women International–Nigeria’s aspirations for 2021 and beyond are a symbol of the power of the women of Nigeria and what happens when they tap into it. The future of Nigeria is peaceful and prosperous, and it is female.