Break the Bias

Across Nigeria, millions of Nigerian women are caught in wars as victims and enablers. In addition, women face distinct challenges due to violent conflicts and socio-cultural biases, from the terror in the northeast to banditry in the northwest and northcentral zones to unknown gunmen menace in the southeast. Also, in places where women affected by conflict seek refuge is unsafe. It is laden with concerns on sexual violence, limited awareness of their sexual and reproductive health rights. The ugly scenes further compound women’s woes beyond gender biases and negative socio-cultural and socio-economic practices.

Women and girls are exposed to systemic marginalisation and abuse that adversely affect their chances of improved livelihood and socio-economic welfare. In Nigeria, the conditions of women are largely the same as in the rest of the world. Ethnoreligious factors and biases play important roles in their socio-economic outlook. There are also limitations in accessing education, maternal care, and access to livelihoods. For instance, sixty per cent of Nigeria’s 13.2 million out-of-school children are girls. Moreover, current violent conflicts are worsening the indices, with young women and girls kidnapped from learning environments by armed groups.

Despite the unpleasant trends, hopes of redemption are evident. In many of Nigeria’s violent conflicts’ flashpoints, women break biases, breach barriers, take leadership positions, and are part of local governance. A study by Nextier on conflict-impacted communities in northeast Nigeria highlights the new roles women are playing to help their households and communities cope with the insurgency. However, more needs to be done to help women break more biases and cope with their distinct challenges.

It is imperative to pay more attention to the conditions of women, especially in conflict zones and the ongoing proliferation of violence in Nigeria. Tailored solutions are essential to address the challenges facing women in Nigeria. For example, travails of women and girls in the Boko Haram conflict, both as victims and perpetrators, are uniquely different and must be addressed with women-tailored solutions. There is also a need to increase women-focused interventions in the violent zones. More women risk being sexually violated, kidnapped or coerced into joining armed groups due to their vulnerability.

Women’s success in war-affected northeast communities indicates the need for more women engagement in peacebuilding and stabilisation strategies. Increased representation and consideration of women in intervention programmes in conflict zones would be more sustainable as women remain critical actors in local efforts. Equally, as victims of conflict, they are disposed to contribute to intervention efforts to remedy their harsh realities. Government, development agencies and civil society organisations must create more platforms and opportunities to discuss women’s rights, especially in communities in and around volatile zones. This strategy calls for more commitment to affirmative actions for women. It should include calls to adopt the African Development Bank Group’s Affirmative Finance Action for Women in Africa. With intentional and tailored solutions and strategies by government and development partners, the realities of many Nigerian women, especially in troubled locations, will change for the better.