For over two decades, the Boko Haram insurgency has significantly affected the lives of thousands of women and girls in Nigeria. Through targeted violence, abductions, slavery, rape, and murders, women have faced insurmountable gender-specific suffering and have been driven out of their homes. Men have also been killed, leaving women to head households and bear the brunt of caring for the family.
This experience is not different from Dada, who used to live with her family in Potiskum city in Yobe state. Her husband, Gabra Isa, 60, and a retired policeman lost a colleague Boko Haram killed. During the Burial, Gabra received a letter that he would be next in line. He was terrified and confused. Not knowing what to do, he immediately fled the city. Later that night, Dada and her daughter heard gunshots, and they hurriedly carried what they could and ran to a town called Bauchi, about 200 kilometers from Potiskum, the place they had known as home for many years.
Dada has settled with her family in the Mararaban Liman Katagum community in Bauchi city. Burdened with loss and trauma, Dada defied the odds and enrolled her two daughters, Khadija and Habiba, in local schools in Bauchi. She also started a business selling rice from her home to support her family. The proceeds from the business are usually insufficient because there is a larger family of her co-wife, Khadija, with her five children who live in the homestead. Their meals are not balanced, and the children survive on leftovers for breakfast before leaving for school.
About nine months ago, Dada enrolled in the Stronger Women, Stronger Nations program offered by Women for Women International in Bauchi. She is among the 25 women in her group and has been appointed class secretary. Every morning, Dada prepares her daughters for school, and once they are headed out, Dada picks up her bag and leaves for the training center. She has to walk under the scorching sun for about 30 minutes to the training center. Dada is always the first to arrive in her class, where she cleans and prepares the class before everyone else comes.
The Stronger Women, Stronger Nations program is specially tailored to cater to the needs of poor and marginalized women in conflict-affected areas.
They are invited to enroll in the 12-month program, which gradually taps into their power as women. The program focuses on equipping women with basic information on their health and well-being, entrepreneurship, benefits of saving and investing, and decision-making at home, and enlightening them about their rights.
For Dada, the health and nutrition training has boosted her family's health. Before, they used to eat leftover food for breakfast. But with these skills, Dada knows how to add nutritional value to their food and find better ways to prepare breakfast. The children are now much healthier than before. Also, learning about women’s work has significantly influenced Dada’s perceptions of work and the division of labor at home.
“I like the division of labor training. Before, I used to do all the housework alone. I felt my children were too young to work. But with the training from WfWI, I started assigning them house chores.
"One sweeps the house while the other washes the dishes. The delegation gives me extra time to visit the market to buy business stock,” explains Dada.
The program further offers an opportunity for women to build their business and numeracy skills, and they take up vocational skills, including baking, tailoring, hairdressing, brick making, beauty care, poultry keeping, knitting, trading, and many more. Since Dada was already into business before joining the program, she decided to take up trading as a vocational skill. Dada had a vision of changing the sail of her rice business. The training has tremendously improved and increased revenues for her business. She used to sell rice only but has since diversified into seed cake and roasted groundnuts just to get that extra coin. She can comfortably support herself and contribute to the household income. Initially, Dada would make about 300 - 400 Naira, but now she makes a profit of up to 2000 Naira from rice sales alone. From seed cake and roasted groundnuts, Dada makes a profit of 500 Naira.
“In three years, I hope to expand my business to the point of setting up a shop to sell provisions in front of my house,” says Dada.
Dada is usually excited when going to the training center. Not only will she gain knowledge, but she will also have a chance to meet up with other women. The program convenes women into groups of 25 women with similar experiences and the same aspirations of changing their lives. The women form tight bonds and feel safe sharing their stories for the next 12 months. Even after they graduate, the togetherness is kept alive. They are taught the importance of social networks and working in a group. They also receive a monthly stipend and are trained in saving and the benefits of saving their money in a group.
Many women in Nigeria are oblivious to their rights, gender equality, and decision-making in their homes. Women are not included in decision-making; most think men are the only ones entitled to have rights. In Dada’s class, they are trained in social empowerment, where they realize their rights and refute some social norms and myths in their community. Dada shares this information with her husband, family, and neighbors creating a ripple effect.
“I have learned to relate with my family and community so that we can all benefit from one another, and I have learned to support people,” said Gabra, Dada’s husband.
Within a few months, we witnessed immense change in the life of Dada and that of her family. She is still in the program and will graduate soon from our SWSN program. Every woman has the power to transform the world, and with support and determination, Dada is changing her life and that of her family. And that is the power of Women for Women International.
To experience Dada’s journey, watch her story in this VR film.