My freshman year at University of Nigeria, Nsukka, or UNN, a guy almost raped me

Busola Dakolo

My freshman year at University of Nigeria, Nsukka, or UNN, a guy almost raped me. He threatened to bring out a gun, he slapped me, he said I could scream as loudly as I wanted, no one would come to help me. Apparently, unbeknownst to me, he had a reputation for being a rapist so “whoever went to his room was asking for it.” Years before then, I was still in high school, our family physician whom I called uncle, touched me up on his examination table. Years before then, I was in elementary school then, my mother’s cousin cornered me in the kitchen and squeezed my non-existent boobs. The UNN guy, let’s call him EE, is now some sort of ‘evangelist’ in Lagos; the physician is still practicing, somewhere in Europe; my mother’s cousin is dead. It’s been many years, but I’ve never forgotten. I also never told my mother until many, many years after the fact. People saying they don’t believe Busola Dakolo because she’s only now telling her story should take several seats behind. There are reasons why sexual assault victims in our society keep quiet. 

For one, ours is one where the culture of victim blaming/shaming is entrenched. To be raped is to become ‘damaged goods.’ EE raped with impunity because he knew the consequences, socially (and culturally), were worse for his victims than it would be for him. Victims found themselves in the uncomfortable position of protecting him so they could protect themselves. No one really expected justice from the authorities (school or police) in any case. Had he succeeded in raping me, I’d have told my brother (only so that my brother could organize to have him beaten up).Even if I had had the courage to walk around campus with the scarlet letter on my forehead, the shame we force rape victims to carry, I would have thought of reporting him to authorities as an exercise in futility. 

In the past days, I’ve read heartbreaking stories on my twitter timeline: a father beating his daughter for “allowing herself to be raped”; a mother beating her daughter for reporting that she was touched inappropriately by an older relative etc. etc. etc. I remember, a few years ago, reading of a man who forced his daughter’s rapist to marry her to “wipe away the shame.” 

Years ago, I took a break from Osuofia after I watched ‘Osuofia Speaks French’ where the character marries his rape victim (by whom he has a son), and her parents and friends, happy for her, tell her she’s no longer a “fallen woman” and “Now, your son is no longer a bastard.” That has long been the dynamics of rape in our society: the power to give and to rehabilitate rests with the criminal. 

However, things seem to be changing. It’s been heartening to hear stories of parents who’ve acted like they should; to see that there seems to be a movement determined to force offenders to answer for their crimes; that there is a new generation of Naija parents raising children to understand that there is no excuse for rape, and therefore the shame of the crime belongs ONLY to the criminal. Soon, we will break down the wall of undeserved shame that walls victims in and emboldens offenders. The future is bright #MeToo

(Photo Credit: Nigerian Tribune)

Nigerian workers and the work of Penelope

This season of national anomie is not the best of times for Nigerian workers. Emasculated, apoplexy, pauperized barely describe their present predicament. The palpable enormity of despondency suffusing Nigeria was evinced by the fact that the recent announcement of a new national minimum wage was met with stark indifference, undisguised apathy and the ominous feeling that it can neither palliate nor improve their economic situation.

The gloom and hopelessness enveloping the average Nigerian worker has its roots in the financial and psychological haemorrhage Nigerians have suffered over the years, exacerbated by decades of poor socio- economic policies, inept leadership, political quagmires and pillaging of Nigeria’s national treasury. With the total cabalization and cartelization of the various means, levers and instruments of power, majorities of excluded Nigerians have had no chance, respite, reprieve or breathing space in the economic pogrom heaped on them. In the early nineties, the common refrain was that poverty ruled over Nigeria’s landscape like a colossus. In 2019 Nigeria has not only become the poverty capital of the world, poverty and its attendant mentality have been ingrained in our minds like myths immemorial.

Nigerians toil relentlessly daily to overcome an array of obstacles that have been erected against their progress. Nigerians strive to acquire additional skills and degrees to improve their situation in an economic system that only makes them slave harder, longer and more for a tokenistic existence. While many  Nigerians pull themselves up by their bootstraps, hanging precariously on the socio-economic cliffhanger, political office occupants swim in luxury. That is why the assurance member of the House of Representatives who recently became speaker in the current dispensation nonchalantly rubbed it in the face of Nigerians by buying his wife a 100Million naira car.

Work is central to people’s wellbeing. In addition to providing income, it’s also an important psychological boost that enhances people self-worth, promotes social contacts and increases national productivity. The impact of qualitative work on the accomplishment of worker aspirations and galvanizing socio-economic and political advancement is unquantifiable. UNDP noted that work contributes to public good, and that human beings working together increase material well-being and accumulate a wide body of knowledge that is the basis for cultures and civilizations. 

But how many Nigerian workers actually get self-actualized or get the financial and work satisfaction they deserve or require?

The universal principle is that if you work hard you will eventually reap the fruits of your labour. If you are a diligent and honest worker in Nigeria, you end up with nothing at the end of the day. Faced with pitiful salaries and a skyrocketing cost of living, the average Nigerian worker needs loans or cooperative assistance to pay rent and school fees, to buy second hand cars and household items, to perform basic ceremonies like weddings, naming, burials, and children’s parties. The private sector actively collaborates in the scheme to perpetually penurize and enslave Nigerian workers as most of them engage in unfair and unsavoury labour practices. Further, the woes of Nigerian workers continue unabated after employment, as the Nigerian retiree is said to be one of the poorest in the world and Nigeria has been described as one of the worst places in the world to be a pensioner.

The present government reels off positive statistics and gloats over its various achievements, such as programs to bolster youth employment, diverse social protection schemes, unprecedented capital projects expenditure and patronage of local contractors. Meanwhile, many Nigerians still face severe social and economic hardships. So, who are the beneficiaries and what is the actual impact of these much touted programmes? During Buhari’s first term, Nigerians became poorer during the first term of President Buhari, and unemployment is spiralling out of control.

For Nigerian workers, when it rains, it pours. In the past six months, Nigeria has been described as one of the most miserable, poorest, slave-like open defecation hole for workers’ rights in the world. The current minimum wage is far less in value than the 1981 minimum wage, meaning that the quality and standard of living of Nigerian workers hit rock bottom in 2019. These grim statistics only serve to underpin the misery of Nigerian workers. If you are not part of the ruling elites and their acolytes, working becomes equivalent to performing the work of Penelope.  Convinced that their case is beyond redemption, many Nigerian workers have generally resigned themselves to fate and have lost the quest to live independent, fulfilled and enjoyable lives 

The average Nigerian worker has been left to permanently penny pinch on the fringes of an impecunious life. This is where the work of Penelope comes in, work which is eventually fruitless, unrewarding and leaves the worker poorer at the end of the day. Overtaxed, slavish and poorly remunerative work makes the worker labour continuously in vain with no end in sight and no hope at all, a vicious cycle of no savings, tangible achievement, or headway, just living for the next day. No matter what you do, you will never get by and you will never get ahead, with the odds stacked against you by an insidious, reprehensible system that crushes your wellbeing, welfare and progress. This is the kind of work that is preponderant in Nigeria and the kind of work that the majority of us are engaged in.

It isn’t surprising that Nigeria lags behind on Global Human Development indices and reports. The link between work and human development as advanced by the United National Development Programme needs to be continuously highlighted for the sake of posterity. Work enhances human development by providing incomes and livelihoods, by reducing poverty and by ensuring equitable growth. Human development— by enhancing health, knowledge, skills and awareness— increases human capital and broadens opportunities and choices. It’s time for the current regime to make crucial policy choices tocreate work opportunities, ensure workers’ well-being and develop targeted actions against inequalitiesthat can have positive impacts on society as well as the wellbeing of Nigerian workers and their families.

Nigeria’s social partners must join forces to make Nigeria a better place for Nigerians to work and enjoy the fruits of their labour; to make work a fulfilling activity regardless of cadre or profession; to block loopholes in laws and rules that make it easy forpublic and private firms to exploit and denigrate workers, to uphold the freedoms to associate and to bargain collectively that can make it possible for Nigeria to realize humane and just conditions and terms of employment that canameliorate our collective sufferings and put an end to the work of Penelope that majority of honest, hardworking, long suffering Nigerians presently suffer. 

(Image Credit: Time)

The time is now: Time to ramp up the struggle for Nigerian women workers’ rights


Today marks another epoch in advancing and championing the cause of women’s rights, equality, safety and justice worldwide. This year’s theme, Rural and Urban Activists Transforming Women’s Lives, references past struggles, the progress that has been made, the tenacity of those who have made the achievements possible and the challenges of the future. Women have recorded giant strides and made great advancements in several spheres over the past decade, but significant gender inequality and widespread discrimination still persist in the world of work.

Employment is central to empowering and emancipating women.  Qualitative jobs, positive work environments and good employment conditions are essential for women to self actualize, maximize  potentials, enhance status and contribute to development at all levels. A clear evaluation of the dynamics of the average Nigerian work setting reveals that women workers still have a long way to go in terms of enjoying basic rights and dignity and participating fully as stakeholders. Working women in Nigeria disproportionately and frequently encounter stunted promotion progression, lopsided hiring practices overt discriminatory policies, sexual harassment/violence, working conditions disparities, limited training opportunities, poor employment security and are concentrated mostly in three D jobs.  As a result, Nigeria is losing out on utilizing women’s skills, ideas and expertise.

Women workers face a war on their rights on all fronts. Nigerian Labour laws are outdated and do not contain enough provisions to protect women workers’ rights and address their issues. Weak remedies in these laws enable employers to impugn and assail women workers’ rights. Nigerian trade unions fail to protect women workers’ rights, advance women issues and promote qualitative participation in trade unionism. Nigerian women routinely cater for their children, sick family members, and elderly parents, a mass of unpaid work which they combine with paid work. Meanwhile, the employment policies of majorities of public and private sector establishments in Nigeria fail to take these into consideration.

Nigerian women workers have issues organizing and mobilizing themselves and using the power in their numerical strength to change their situation. They have failed to maintain a united front against their oppressors at work. For example, Nigerian women workers cannot even produce the national president of trade unions in sectors that they dominate, such as the Medical and Health Workers Union of Nigeria, National Association of Nigeria Nurses and Midwives, National Union of Food, Beverage and Tobacco Employees, National Union of Hotels and Personal Services Workers, National Union of Textiles Garment and Tailoring Workers and Nigeria Union of Teachers. The necessity for the mass spectrum of women workers in Nigeria to unite and lead the campaign to fight for their rights is long overdue.

In some Nigerian workplaces, pregnancy can translate to demotion, punitive transfers and even termination of employment. The Labour Act Cap 198 LFN 1990 54 (1) stipulates a maternity leave of 12 weeks, but many Nigerian enterprises deny women workers this basic right. In some cases, companies have served women termination letter four weeks after giving birth or during their confinement or after delivery. Others deny women of the benefit of enjoying both annual and maternity leave in the same year. In some cases, marriage, childbirth, weight gain and aging have also been sufficient grounds for overt discrimination and maltreatment.

Women workers habitually endure overt and covert sexual comments, innuendos, provocations and unwarranted sexual advances in Nigerian workplaces. Even married women are not left out, as the “sacred institution of marriage” is no longer a hindrance to sexual harassment. Women are viewed as part of the perks of the job for the pleasure of some ogas at the top. It is an open secret that several public institutions and private sector firms demand some form of gratification in kind from women workers to earn promotion, get favourable postings and obtain positive reviews.

The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2017 affirmed that globally gender parity is shifting into reverse this year for the first time in a decade. Nigeria also witnessed increasing gaps in participation, remuneration and advancement between women and men in the Education participation and opportunity sub index with a decline from 118th position on the 2016 Index to 122nd position in 2017. The 2017 International Trade Union Confederation’s Workers Rights Index rated Nigeria among the world’s worst countries for workers. In the same perspective, Walkfree Foundation’s Global Slavery Index  2016 classified Nigeria among the ten countries with the largest estimated absolute numbers of people in modern slavery in the world. The linkage between the three reports and the situation of women at work in Nigeria and the fact that women bear the brunt of the results of the reports cannot be controverted.

The negative multiplier effects of the assault on the dignity, rights and person of women are evident in terms of heightened employee turnover, development of inferiority complex syndrome or depression, strong resentment and loss of self worth, creation of hostile work environment, non utilization of potentials due to by passing qualified women for promotion, positions, employment, general lethargy through loss of motivation and morale necessary to work. Denying women basic rights hurts their long-term earning capacity, on-the-job performance and professional integrity. As noted in the Global Gender Gap Report 2017, as the world moves from capitalism to an era of talentism, competitiveness on a national and organizational level will be decided more than ever before by the innovative capacity of a country or company. In this new context, the integration of women into the talent pool becomes a must. But when women are being oppressed and unfairly treated, how possible is it to maximize their limitless potentials and utilize their assets?

It is time to ramp up actions geared towards removing all systemic barriers to women’s employment status, ensuring that all women workers have a level playing field at work, curbing all forms of gender discrimination, putting an end to the systemic undervaluing of work traditionally performed by women, ending all forms of sex stereotypes, misconceptions and bias about women and their capabilities at work and discarding the notion that workplace policies are modeled on traditional male norms. It is time to stop the humiliation, assault and inhumane treatment women workers in Nigerian workplaces endure daily.

This can be done when all of us individually and collectively join forces as stakeholders to ensure that women workers are accorded their rights, treated with dignity, taken care of fairly and given unfettered access to employment opportunities. Male workers can take a pledge that we will not demote, discriminate against, take adverse actions at, intimidate, denigrate and sexually harass and then accord all respect and rights to women workers. Trade unions should do more to put an end to the abuse of women’s rights in Nigerian workplaces. NLC and TUCN as the central labour organization need to set their shoulders more firmly against the boulder of oppression that burdens women workers despite their immense contributions to national development.

Employers associations led by NECA have a big role to play by telling their members to curb unfair labour practices and workplace policies that obviate and abridge the rights of women workers. The Federal Government should double its efforts to safeguard the rights of women workers.  They should partner with the National Assembly to enact effective labour laws that can protect the basic rights of women at work, take special cognizance of and offer special protection for pregnancy, motherhood, childbirth, care and related issues.

Ramping up the struggle for women workers rights entails initiating changes to how people, associations, and organizations and society interface with, perceive and regard women,. It encompasses amending and expunging obnoxious laws that encumber women workers’ rights and dignity and involves creating effective and durable women policies, programmes and institutions that can protect women’s rights. Ramping up the ante for women workers rights entails involving everybody to stand up for and speak against this situation. The Executive Director of UN Women noted that healthy societies have a wide mix of voices and influences that provide the checks and balances, the differing threads of experience and perspectives, and the debate that shapes good decision-making. The silence of these voices bodes ill for any society.  The time is more than ripe for these voices in Nigeria to speak up and lead the struggle to end the retrogressive abuse of women workers’ rights and promote decent work, fair conditions of work and a level playing field for women in employment in Nigeria. The time is now.

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(Image Credit: Pulse).

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African women farmers reject the same old business as usual

Members of the Rural Women’s Farmers Association of Ghana (RUWFAG) prepare a field for sowing.

The World Economic Forum is meeting this week in Cape Town, with much self-congratulation on “economic growth”, “poverty eradication”, and “women’s empowerment”, all brought by those who engineered a world economy based on growing inequality, galloping individual debt, expanding precarization of labor, and anything but the empowerment of women. Part of this circus maximus is the meeting, held largely behind closed doors, of the partners of the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition. Across Africa, women farmers see this “new alliance” as the same old same old, and they’re not buying it.

The New Alliance, cooked up by the G8 and the European Union in 2012, sports all the “right language”: transformation, growth, partnership, security, sustainability, sharing. But the New Alliance opens ever-larger amounts of land to corporate investors and multinational agro-corporations, because nothing says sustainable security like over-the-top investments, land grabs and the forced eviction of local populations. Women farmers’ organizations have decried the physical and cultural violence of this project. They have protested the Alliance’s refusal to consult, and they have shown the devastation this “new alliance” harvests from the destruction of women’s bodies and lives.

But what do women farmers know about food security or nutrition, and, in particular, what do African women farmers know? Once again, they must be saved from themselves.

The premise of the New Alliance is that “land titling” will fix everything. Here’s what’s actually happened. Malawi was induced to release about a million hectares, or 26 percent of the country’s arable land, to large-scale commercial farming. According to ActionAid, “Land titling can give small-scale food producers more security over their land, but in the current New Alliance-related processes, it appears to be a way to primarily help governments facilitate large-scale acquisitions of land. Secure land tenure does not necessarily require individual land ownership but can be achieved with clearly defined and sufficiently long-term use rights over land that is ultimately state property. The abolition of customary or communal tenure systems and their replacement with freehold title and the private land market has often led to extinguishing the land rights of the poor, notably women.”

Notably women. Yet again, the “new” produces wider and deeper vulnerability, especially for women, all in the name of security and sustainability. This new is not so new.

Malawi women farmers are not the only targets. Women farmers in Nigeria, Senegal, and Burkina Faso report the same, as do women farmers in Tanzania. As Tanzanian farmer Anza Ramadhani explained, “We never had a chance to influence the decisions concerning our land and future. There has been no transparency whatsoever. We don’t know if we will be resettled, where it will be or if we will be compensated. We don’t know how much the compensation will be or if it will be at all.”

In Ghana, women farmers are threatened with being forced to give up their control, and knowledge of seeds, by a new law, called the “Monsanto Law”, which would restrict, and even prohibit, storing and trading seeds. This law is a condition of New Alliance aid. The new is not at all new. As farmer Esther Boakye Yiadom explains, “My mother gave me some seeds to plant, and I’m also giving those seeds to my children to plant. So that is ongoing, every time we transfer to our children. And that is how all the women are doing. We don’t buy, we produce it ourselves.” Patricia Dianon, chair of the Rural Women Farmers Association of Ghana and traditional queen, agrees, “After harvesting, the women are able to store the seeds … They are able to dry it, tie it, and preserve it … So when the year comes, they bring these seeds to sow again.” Victoria Adongo, Program Director for the Peasant Farmer Association of Ghana, concurs, “Seed is where you grow your food from. So if you save the seed, then you grow food the following year. It’s very economical because you don’t have to go and buy seed. That is what we farmers have always done … We, the small holder farmers, want to have good lives. We want to be healthy. We have our seed systems that we like and are proud of. So we do not want multinational companies to come in and take over our seed systems.”

In the pursuit of profit, the New Alliance condemns women to “new” lives of increasing, intensifying and expanding vulnerability, hardship, and disposability. Across Africa, women farmers are saying NO! to the international delegation of liars and thieves. They are saying, “We don’t buy, we produce it ourselves. We want good lives. We want to be healthy.”

 

(Photo Credit: Global Justice Now / Common Dreams) (Video Credit: Global Justice Now / YouTube)

For Nigeria and the World, an Anniversary and Much, Much More

A year ago 276 high school girl students were kidnapped from Chibok boarding secondary school located in the state of Borno in the north east of Nigeria. One year later, clearly the national response and global response has been ineffective and disappointing since 219 girls are still missing.

The response from the former President Goodluck Jonathan was slow. Emmanuel Ogebe, a human rights lawyer, showed that the authorities’ apathy was obvious. He interviewed the population and the girls who escaped three months after the kidnapping, and reported that no police or other forms of inquiry had taken place.

Meanwhile, the insecurity is real and affects everyday life in Borno, straining means of subsistence and the region’s social balance. There is massive displacement of the population with 1.5 million forced out of their homes among whom 70% are women and children.

Since the beginning of 2014, over 2000 women and girls were killed in Nigeria.

Although the #BringBackOurGirls campaign got international attention with celebrities involved, a code of silence still sticks to the regular violence against women and youngsters in this part of the world.

While the killings in Paris were shocking and created the movements we know, the killing of 2000 people in Baga, Nigeria did not receive that same attention. BringBackOurGirls along with many activists have not given up. Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani Nobel Peace Prize Winner who defends school education for girls, has declared, “In my opinion, Nigerian leaders and the international community have not done enough to help us.”

When women are taken hostages and utilized in a military way, whose patriarchal interest does it serve?

Should we question the lack of clear engagement of some leaders in the region of Lake Chad where important reserves of oil have been found? This oil reserve is shared by Niger, Nigeria and Chad.

Chad’s president, Idriss Deby Itno, has played a very obscure role, sometimes supporting efforts to control Boko Haram and sometimes retreating from the coalition. He also trapped the Nigerian president into a deal to get back the girls, last September, and then nothing happened. Boko Haram’s chief has been seen in armored vehicles made in Israel and used by the Chadian army. The French government has supported Deby, and French companies have also had important interests in the region. Nigerian leaders claim Chad is exploiting Nigerian oil using new drilling methods, while Nigeria is destabilized by Boko Haram’s assaults. The Chadian opposition organization, Mouvement du trois fevrier M3F, sees Deby as a pyromaniac fireman, spreading fire to better control oil exploitation in this area, thus expanding his political and economic control in the region, having already extended his stranglehold on the Central African Republic. Corporations from abroad enjoy a piece of the pie. Boko Haram’s thuggery is aided and abetted by this collusion by governments and corporate interests. And the victims are the school girls, who are still unaccounted for, and the terrorized population.

The questions surrounding the girls’ kidnapping and disappearance are a reminder that women’s lives are subjugated to the interest of a market system that knows no limits in using manipulation and spreading violence.

The exploitation of Nigeria’s oil reserves has a long history. Three decades ago, activists and writers tried to defend the precious Ogoni lands from being exploited by Shell Oil Company. The Nigerian government colluded with Shell Oil, which in turn was strongly supported by both the U.K. and the U.S. Nigeria tamped down the protests by executing the activists, despite international protests. Ken Saro-Wiwa, whose death, he himself predicts in his writing, clearly articulated and challenged the neoliberal corporate and political interests at the expense of the Ogonis. Today his words ring truer than ever as we see the brutal murder of women that mask the transnational neoliberal corporate and political greed to increase the oil fortunes of the one percent.

In this context, Boko Haram’s members maybe viewed as modern mercenaries. Their main targets are women, and to complete their grip on the populations they also target schools, with 900 schools burned in northern Nigeria and some 176 teachers killed. They seek to normalize violence and vulnerability. But resistance continues to be organized and women’s rights organizations have engaged in making these crimes visible. Resistance movements are not giving in. On March 14, one year after the abduction of the girls, a Global School March was organized worldwide. Women are demanding the newly elected Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari who will start his mandate on May 29th to fulfill his promise and to step up the process to save these young women. The movement goes further and demands global protection of women and girls to teach and attend school and to enforce protection of rights. This is a global threat against women and against humanity, which is not poverty driven but driven by vested interests that impoverish and manipulate populations.

We cannot stop marching.

In Pramila Venkateswaran’s “When they Hang a Poet,” poet – activist Ken Saro-Wiwa protests neoliberal exploitation of the Ogonis, and is killed by the Nigerian government. But his words live on, and the protests continue. Try as they might, government and corporations will fail to snuff out the voices raised to preserve democracy free of violence 

When they Hang A Poet…
For Ken Saro-Wiwa

You spoke of a green earth—your dream
a filament of the earth’s desire.
You wrote of Africa pillaging
herself, a prostitute “choosing”
her destiny. I see your blood
in my quiet hands, in the hands
of my country, in the hands
of every human being caught
in the clamor of living,
in the hands of corporate souls
on whom desire sticks like sin;
in the hands of your land, your sentence
is as extraordinary as a poet’s nightmare.

They hanged Saro-wiwa: syllables shock the air
as leaves weep on the cold, cold dirt.
But your words spread like a rain-storm filling
decrepit croplands of the Ogoni.

(published in The Kerf, 1997)

(Photo Credit: bellanaija.com)

The World Bank is (still) bad for women, children, men, and all living creatures

The World Bank is still bad for women, children, men, and all living creatures. While not surprising news, it is the result of a mammoth research project carried on by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and their partners. Journalists pored through more than 6000 World Bank documents and interviewed past and current World Bank employees and government officials involved in World Bank funded projects. They found that, in the past decade, an investment of over 60 billion dollars directly fueled the loss of land and livelihood for 3.4 million slum dwellers, farmers, and villagers. That’s a pretty impressive rate of non-return, all in the name of modernization, villagization, electrification, and, of course, empowerment. Along with sowing displacement and devastation, the World Bank has also invested heavily in fossil-based fuels. All of this is in violation of its own rules.

Women are at the core of this narrative, and at every stage. There’s Gladys Chepkemoi and Paulina Sanyaga, indigenous Sengwer who lost their homes and houses, livestock and livelihoods, and almost lost their lives to a World Bank-financed forest conservation program in western Kenya’s Cherangani Hills. In 2013, Bimbo Omowole Osobe, a resident of Badia East, a slum in Lagos, lost nearly everything to a World Bank funded urban renewal zone. Osobe was one of thousands who suffered “involuntary resettlement” when Badia East was razed in no time flat. Today, she’s an organizes with Justice and Empowerment Initiatives, a group of slum dwellers fighting mass evictions. Aduma Omot lost everything in the villagization program in Ethiopia, a World Bank funded campaign that has displaced and demeaned untold Anuak women in the state of Gambella. In the highlands of Peru, Elvira Flores watched as her entire herd of sheep suddenly died, thanks to the cyanide that pours out of the World Bank funded Yanachocha Gold mine, the same mine that Maxima Acuña de Chaupe and her family have battled.

The people at ICIJ promise further reports from India, Honduras, and Kosovo. While the vast majority of the 3.4 million people physically or economically displaced by World Bank-backed projects live in Africa or Asia, no continent goes untouched. Here’s the tally of the evicted, in a mere decade: Asia: 2,897,872 people; Africa: 417,363 people; South America: 26,262 people; Europe: 5,524 people; Oceania: 2,483 people; North America: 855 people; and Island States: 90 people. The national leaders of the pack are, in descending order: Vietnam, China, India, Ethiopia, and Bangladesh. It’s one giant global round of hunger games, brought to you by the World Bank.

None of this is new. In 2011, Gender Action and Friends of the Earth reported on the gendered broken promises of the World Bank financed Chad-Cameroon Oil Pipeline and West African Gas Pipelines: “The pipelines increased women’s poverty and dependence on men; caused ecological degradation that destroyed women’s livelihoods; discriminated against women in employment and compensation; excluded women in consultation processes; and led to increased prostitution … Women in developing countries have paid too high a price.” The bill is too damn high.

In 2006, Gender Action and the CEE Bankwatch Network found that women suffered directly from World Bank funded oil pipeline projects in Azerbaijan, Georgia and Sakhalin: “Increased poverty, hindered access to subsistence resources, increased occurrence of still births, prostitution, HIV/AIDS and other diseases in local communities.”

There’s the impact on women of ignoring, or refusing to consider, unpaid care work in Malawi, Mali, Niger, and Rwanda, and the catastrophic impacts on women of World Bank funded austerity programs in Greece. And the list goes on.

So, what is to be done? Past experience suggests that the World Bank is too big to jail. How about beginning by challenging and changing the development paradigms and projects on the ground? No development that begins from outside. Absolutely no development that isn’t run by local women and other vulnerable sectors. While the World Bank refuses to forgive debts, globally women are forced to forgive the World Bank’s extraordinary debt each and every second of each and every day. This must end. Stop all mass evictions. Start listening to the women, all over the world, who say, “We need our voices heard.”

 

(Photo credit: El Pais / SERAC)

In Nigeria’s election, Remi Sonaiya cracks a glass ceiling

Nigeria goes to the polls tomorrow, finally, and the top three contenders for President are Goodluck Jonathan, no surprise there; Muhammadu Buhari, also no surprise; and Comfort Remi Sonaiya … What? A woman is running third in the Presidential elections of the most populous country on the African continent? Yes, she is.

While it’s easy, and accurate, to frame the story as a long list of men and only one woman, it’s equally important to acknowledge that Remi Sonaiya is the first woman to qualify to run for President, and as such deserves more than praise, although a bit of praise wouldn’t hurt.

A published scholar and longstanding critic of both leading candidates, Remi Sonaiya is representing the Kowa Party, whose ideology is described as two-pronged: social welfare and modernism. That basically means that evidence-based approaches would be used to ensure a decent life for everyone and for all communities by transforming the Nigerian economy from one based on consumption to one based on production. Not surprisingly, given Remi Sonaiya’s history as a teaching and research scholar, she insists on expanding and improving education at the same time that she insists on “engaging with the Nigerian public on seeking to bring to an end age-old cultural and traditional practices which degrade the human person.” Sonaiya’s description of the Kowa Part ideology concludes with this telling sentence: “All of the above, needless to say, leaves absolutely no room for corruption or graft.” Needless to say, and yet it very much needs to be said.

Remi Sonaiya has been a tireless critic of State and bureaucratic corruption, at the same time that she has worked to ensure women’s rights, equality and power. As she noted in Lagos in January, “We have done enough of cheerleading. Women cannot keep on being cheerleaders in this country.” Elsewhere, Sonaiya expanded on this message: “I have a stake in Nigeria. I am qualified to run for the presidency of Nigeria. Like what Barack Obama said, he thought there was a skinny little black boy who thought that America had room for him. Well, this not so skinny woman thinks that Nigeria has a place for her, at the leadership level also.”

Many agree, and in particular a number of Nigerian women have taken notice. As one Nigerian writer commented, “Prof. Comfort Remi Sonaiya is the only woman contesting for the presidency in the forthcoming Nigerian elections in February 2015. Unfortunately, not many of us have heard of her, her running mate, Saidu Bobboi or her party, Kowa. I say unfortunately, not because she’s a woman like me, but because watching this video of her I found on Youtube, I get her, and she feels so much more capable, approachable and qualified than both Goodluck and GMB. The prof is an intellectual and in 2008, she was named an International Ambassador Scientist of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. Sonaiya became the National Public Relations Officer of KOWA Party soon after she resigned as Professor of Foreign Languages at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ife. In the video, is a speech made at the 2013 TedexIfe where she speaks the language of the youth which included singing and rapping.”

Check out her 2013 talk, “How Could You Have Power and Not Use It?” Tomorrow, almost certainly, either “Goodluck or GMB” will be elected to the Presidency, but the future is in the race run by Comfort Remi Sonaiya. Listen. You can hear Nigerian women singing, rapping and asking hard and necessary questions through the cracks in the glass ceiling of the most populous country on the African continent.

 

(Photo Credit: YouTube / Kowa Party) (Video Credit: YouTube / Tedx Talks)

#BringBack: Bring back the thousands, bring back the hundreds, bring back the one

 

January 14 will mark the ninth month since more than 300 schoolgirls were abducted from Chibok. At that time, women organized #BringBackOurGirls to break the national and global silence that covered the atrocity. Those women are still organizing, still mobilizing, still demanding action and accountability. Meanwhile, from the national as well as the global community, the silence has intensified. The Chibok women of #BringBackOurGirls warned, from the outset, that failing to act meant the violence, terror and horror would escalate and expand. This week, their prophecies came to horrible fruition.

Over the past week, Boko Haram is reported to have attacked and razed 16 villages. Baga has been emptied. Many were killed. Others fled to Chad. Many of those who fled drowned in their attempts to cross Lake Chad. Amnesty reports this as “Boko Haram’s deadliest act” thus far. According to survivors, women, children, elders and the disabled were the principal targets. They were hunted as they fled. Now, the landscape is littered with their dead bodies, burnt homes and abandoned villages. The bodies pile up, too many to bury.

Over the weekend, in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state, a girl, some say she was ten years old, walked into a busy market. A bomb, strapped to her waist, exploded, killing many, wounding many more. The girl was torn into two halves.

Some say using a child so young is a new phase. It’s not. The schoolgirls of Chibok are the girl-child of Maiduguri. The line is direct. The women of #BringBackOurGirls said so, nine months ago, and no one listened. Will anyone listen now?

Bring back the hundreds; bring back the thousands; bring back the one. #BringBack #BringBackOurGirls #BringBackChibok #BringBackBaga #BringBackMaduguri #BringBackOurGirls #BringBackOurGirls #BringBack

 

(Photo Credit: Premium Times)

#BringBackOurGirls #BringBackOurGirls #BringBackOurGirls

April 14, 2014, over 300 schoolgirls were stolen, like so much property, from their school in Chibok, in Borno State, in northeastern Nigeria. Over at Africa Is a Country, Karen Attiah and I wondered, separately, why the coverage was so little so late. We also wondered why the coverage was so bad. For example, it took a long time for the so-called world press to start reporting on women’s organizing efforts, under the rubric of #BringBackOurGirls. Since then, the European and American media have begun to pay attention, sort of.

Meanwhile, women, students, concerned people across Nigeria are organizing, mobilizing, and demanding. They’re demanding stronger and more effective action on the part of the government, and they’re demanding more consultation and more respect. The mothers of the stolen girls, in particular, understand that this is about women’s and girls’ dignity, respect, autonomy. Those girls were stolen partly because they are girls pursuing studies, mostly because they are girls. Reports say they are to be sold into slavery. In Borno today eight more girls were stolen.

Yesterday, Naomi Mutah Nyadar, one of the leaders of the #BringBackOurGirls movement, was or was not arrested. Her colleagues, Lawan Abana and Saratu Angus Ndirpaya, say she was detained. The police say the encounter was “purely an interactive and fact-finding interview.” There’s nothing pure here, and it doesn’t matter. What matter is this: #BringBackOurGirls. #BringBackOurGirls #BringBackOurGirls.

That’s all that matters.

That’s the message delivered today by Fatima Zanna Maliki, a student, a woman, a woman student: “We appreciate the concern and efforts of all the civic society organisations, women groups, leaders and the international communities towards our plight and we are urging them not to relent until our girls are brought back home safely in particular and peace returns back to our country in general. We, the youth and students in Borno State, have endured unimaginable hardship for the past four years and we took it upon ourselves to call upon stakeholders and the President in particular to act urgently… The abducted students of GSS, Chibok are our sisters and colleagues, after 21 days of their abduction, we don’t know their condition, we don’t know how they are faring, we don’t know if they have eaten this morning, we don’t know their health condition, we don’t know there whereabouts, we don’t know! We don’t know!! We don’t know!!!”

Students of Borno have called for a day of sympathy tomorrow, during which no classes or lectures would occur. They also warned the President that if something isn’t done, they’ll be back.  If the girls, all the girls, aren’t back by May 24, 40 days into their captivity, the students and youth of Borno will mobilize students from across the country to gather in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno:  “Students will be brought across the nation if no success is recorded before the 40th day of the abduction, to sit tight on Ramat Square to protest until the schoolgirls are freed.”

I teach and work in a Women’s Studies Program. Every year that I’ve taught, somewhere a group of women students, girl students, has been attacked, for being students, for being girls and women, for being girls and women pursuing education. It’s a long and tragic list that the schoolgirls of Chibok have now joined. Tomorrow, stop at some point at least and do something to acknowledge the schoolgirls of Chibok and the long list of women and girls, of women and girl students, who have suffered the same violence they are now suffering. For women and girls, there has to be something other and better than the work of mourning.

#BringBackOurGirls #BringBackOurGirls #BringBackOurGirls

Bring them all back.

(Photo Credit: Tom Saater for Buzzfeed)

African women smallholder farmers haunt the G8 … and The Guardian

In 2012, the G8 launched the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, which, controversially, gave agribusiness a seat at the African farming table, right next to governments and aid donors. Agribusiness had always been there, but now the arrangements of hand holding and pocket filling would be formalized. Despite promises of the `new’, transparency around the arrangements did not increase. If anything, the world of African food security and nutrition transactions became murkier.

This week The Guardian ran a series of articles on the New Alliance. Many see the Alliance as colonialism with a neoliberal face. First, the aid processes become increasingly privatized and imbedded into the workings, and failings, of markets. Second, the contractual and policy decisions are not only made behind closed doors, they’re made in settings that prohibit any direct involvement of smallholder farmers. Neither the Alliance nor The Guardian seems to care that smallholder farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa are overwhelmingly women. What’s not new here? Millions of women workers rendered invisible … again.

Ten African countries signed agreements that `open’ them to greater foreign direct investment. The countries are Benin, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Malawi, Mozambique, Nigeria, Senegal, Tanzania. The national commitments involve land and water; seeds; tax; finance; infrastructure; food security or nutrition; and other. Ten countries signed 209 commitments. Of those ten countries, only Benin made any commitments to women, and those two commitments are, at best, vague: “Design and set up a gender-based information and communication system to prompt behavioural change in the agricultural and rural sector.” “Improve how gender is addressed when designing, implementing, monitoring and evaluating projects/programmes and activities in the agricultural sector.” As of yet, the progress on these is listed as “Unknown.”

The Guardian reported on Malawian smallholder farmers being kept in the dark on Malawi’s commitments; on Tanzanian smallholder farmers’ concerns that the new alliance will only turn them into cheap labor for the new, large farming corporations; and on Ghanaian smallholder farmers’ mixed reactions. The Guardian doesn’t mention or quote any women smallholder farmers.

Women comprise as much as 80% of African subsistence farmers. In Burkina Faso, gardeners and smallholder farmers are overwhelmingly women. From palm oil production in Benin to cocoa production in Ghana to general smallholder production in Tanzania, women predominate in numbers but not in access to resources or control. In Malawi, women make up almost 70% of the full time farmer population. Every major multinational agency has issued a report on the centrality of women in agriculture to any food security agenda. Repeatedly, reports demonstrate that women constitute the majority of smallholder farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa, and yet have little to no access to land tenure or to State or international assistance. Those reports also suggest that extension services automatically look to men as `change agents.’

Women farmers are a majority of the adult farming population. They are not part of the picture. They are the picture. They are not part of the story. They are the story. When you see the picture, when you read the story, if you don’t see and read about women farmers, write to the authors and tell them, “No women farmers, no justice.”

 

(Photo Credit: Wikipedia.org)