The contribution of women in societal and economic transformation cannot be over emphasised. For societies to thrive and develop, gender equality is essential and their contribution is of utmost importance. OLUWATOSIN OMONIYI writes
Bukola Onyishi, the Country Director, WfWI- Nigeria explained that, “as its contribution to societal development, Women for Women International, (WfWI) envisions a world in which all women determine the course of their lives and reach their full potential. Her thematic areas are centered on building knowledge, skill development, resource provision and building groups of networks that play supportive roles to every woman in and after the program.
According to her, WfWI– Nigeria, with headquarters in the USA, commenced operations in Enugu in year 2000 and since then, the organisation operations have extended to other states – Plateau, Bauchi and Kaduna States in the offing. The organisation’s core work equips socially excluded women living under extreme poverty in conflict areas with meaningful information, skills and support to improve their economic status.
Since inception, WfWI-N has invested over N300 million with an estimated reach of over 64,000 women cutting across three geopolitical zones in Nigeria. The initiative to focus on empowering women is inherent in their vulnerability in times of conflicts, poverty and societal discrimination.
She quoted Michelle Obama that: “No country can ever truly flourish if it stifles the potential of its women and deprives itself of the contributions of half of its citizens.” And disregarding this vulnerable group of people denies them the opportunity to contribute to nation building. It is therefore imperative to support and encourage these women to build income and contribute to the wellbeing of their families and communities. Over the years, we have witnessed a remarkable transformation in the lives of the women we have worked with and this has endeared the organisation to their host communities.”
Onyishi, further explained that the 12 months programme of WfWI visualizes poverty reduction by developing the income earning capacity of the women and providing them with financial assistance (stipends) to sustain them to meet basic needs all through their training. She said women undergo vocational skill training, business skill training, numeracy training (for those who had/did not have primary education) and healthcare through referrals amid medical check-ups and health talks. To create long-lasting changes in their communities, women are trained in advocacy and decision-making skills to help develop their capacity to positively influence activities in their homes and immediate communities. The leadership connotation provided by the training impacts their behaviour in effectively managing/expanding retail businesses; changes their attitude towards condoning acts of violence and gives them a voice and a platform on which to collaborate with stakeholders within their communities to tackle societal ills.
According to her, the transformation the women undergo during this period translates to a remarkable improvement in earned income, happy family relationships, thriving businesses and healthy lifestyles. Benefits of the program are also translated to community successes through improved communication between leaders in the community and the women as well as creating effective measures to checkmate incessant cases of violence against women in the community.
The programme does not end at giving information and developing skills, it goes further to provide safe havens for women, even after the program. In groups of 25 women, the bond of sisterhood is formed through which the women look out for one another, exchange experiences, encourage one another and act as an emotional support system for each other. This bond of sisterhood goes further when the women form Village Savings and Loan Associations, which is a financial support structure that propels them to achieve their dreams. That is, in starting businesses, purchasing land, paying school fees, etc. Women continue to be active members of these associations after graduations and most often develop strong bonds of friendship. On the other hand, after graduation, the women are encouraged to form Cooperative Societies and trained on how to manage same.
Efforts of the organisation to induce marginalised women to be actively involved in family affairs and assist in creating a conducive environment for the proper development of their children will be futile if there is no support from their spouses and male relatives. To forestall a breakdown of communication between couples and reinforce marital bonds, WfWI-N introduced a ‘Men’s Engagement Programme’ that solicits the support of men to stop violence against women and encourage change in attitude towards women’s rights. Since the inception of the programme, over 7000 men have been trained as allies and their training has been cascaded down to other male stakeholders within the communities. This programme has created a lot of awareness to issues of gender equality, human rights and protecting the dignity of women. “Though, we still encounter defiance from some men at intervals, the program has been lauded by community stakeholders and reformations have been made to some traditions inimical to the wellbeing of women.”
In 2018, WfWI invested the sum of N571 million in the implementation of her programmes Nigeria. In her quest to reach more women in other states, the organisation commenced full-scale training with 300 women in Magama Gumau in Bauchi State in March 2018 with the number increasing to 600 women before the end of 2018. The first batch of enrolled women will graduate in March 2019. To further fulfill her vision of empowering women to reach their full potential, WfWi-N has completed the full assessment of Kaduna State and plans are in motion to start her implementation program this year. The various state governments have been very supportive, however, more work needs to be done.
It has not been smooth sailing all these years of implementing WfWI programmes. The organisation has been faced with challenges ranging from dwindling donor funds to lack of proper infrastructure. To curb the frequent distraction of lactating women and young mothers during training classes, WfWI came up with the PRaY (Project Raino Yara) initiative, which involves the creation of daycare centres to cater for children, the women bring to classes and relieve their mothers of some stresses. The first centre was commissioned at Magama Gumau, Bauchi State on January 29, 2019 and we look forward to many others but we are limited by shortage of funds.
Another challenge is securing spaces within the communities where we work. Over the years, we have enjoyed maximum support from our host communities, but most times spaces are provided in primary schools and when these schools are in session, we experience severe challenges in holding classes. In other instances, the buildings are dilapidated and are subject to the elements during training classes which either makes it too hot or too cold. In addition, the organisation also requires office spaces for operational use in the desired states.
WFWi-N is not only confined to women empowerment, her activities cut across seven of the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations: No Poverty (Goal 1), Zero Hunger (Goal 2), Good Health and Wellbeing (Goal 3), Quality Education (Goal 4), Gender Equality (Goal 5), Decent Work and Economic Growth and Peace (Goal 8) and Justice and Strong Institutions (Goal 16).