Local women must no longer be excluded from the decision-making table in the co-ordination of responses to humanitarian emergencies in Nigeria, particularly when they are the ones most vulnerable in these crises, Christian Aid's CEO has said.
Women and children are those most affected by humanitarian crises either from natural disasters or man-made conflict in Nigeria. The ten-year conflict in the north-eastern region of Africa's most populous country has affected an estimated 7.7 million people in the three worst hit states of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe.
Millions of women and girls have been left vulnerable in a crisis characterised by widespread abuses, including attacks on civilians, rape and other sexual violence, child recruitment, pillaging and forced displacement.
Despite the long-running crisis in the north-east, Nigeria's Humanitarian Country Team, the highest decision-making body coordinating the humanitarian response, does not have any representatives from local organisations.
The Women in Humanitarian Response in Nigeria Initiative - supported by Christian Aid, CAFOD and the United Nations Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) - is a new network of women-led local organisations aimed at increasing women's representation within humanitarian response.
Too often, humanitarian interventions are gender-blind, and make insufficient effort to understand women's and girls' distinct priorities. To counter that, Christian Aid is training female volunteers in north-east Nigeria to educate others about infant and child feeding, as well as menstrual health, while debunking myths that constrain women. But much more needs to be done.
Speaking at the launch of the Women in Humanitarian Response in Nigeria Initiative on Friday, 13 September, Amanda Khozi Mukwashi said that no peacebuilding or humanitarian response strategy can be effective if local women are not included right at the outset.
She said: "This week, in camps in Maiduguri for people displaced by the conflict, I have seen with my own eyes the devastating effects of this complex and protracted crisis on women and girls. We have heard that girls as young as nine are finding themselves widowed, and others of a similar age are pushed to offer themselves for sex in exchange for money, simply in order to survive.
"These crises are man-made, not woman-made, and yet it is women who are the most adversely affected by them. It therefore makes no sense for them to be left behind in finding solutions - especially when local women are the ones who know best what is needed. The Women in Humanitarian Response in Nigeria Initiative is a much-needed way to create leadership spaces for the women whose voices are the missing key to bringing about much-needed change in these desperate situations. It's about women taking the space, but equally, about making the humanitarian response more effective and accountable to the people it aims to serve."
This initiative in Nigeria fits well with broader commitments under the Grand Bargain to empower local and national organisations to play a more prominent role in humanitarian response, including in decision-making structures.
Christian Aid leads the Accelerating Localisation through Partnerships consortium programme, which includes ActionAid, CAFOD, CARE, Oxfam and Tearfund - together with local and national organisations in Nigeria and three other countries - and has worked since 2017 to research and pilot ways to strengthen local organisations through partnership-based humanitarian response.
The Grand Bargain Localisation Workstream conducted a mission to Nigeria in April 2019 to examine the dynamics of humanitarian response, especially in the north-east. Its report recommended that the UN and international NGOs "support local and national NGOs with consortia building, including support for the newly-formed women's organisation network".
Mimidoo Achakpa, the convenor of WIHRNI, said at the launch: "Women play very important roles as responders during crisis situations - usually through unpaid work for their families, communities and within humanitarian settings. They put their lives at risk in extreme circumstances but are not given adequate recognition or support within humanitarian structures.
"Relatively well-resourced international agencies that respond during humanitarian emergencies must ensure they equip local women's organisations to set the power agenda. Currently, the power relations that operate between international agencies and local women's organisations lead to a sense of unequal partnership and mission drift. Local women's organisations can provide invaluable insights into the needs and priorities for women, empowering women in the long-term and enabling genuine transformation."
Charles Usie, country manager for Christian Aid Nigeria, said: "Engaging and supporting local women is imperative in achieving the objectives of Christian Aid's new seven-year strategy Standing Together, which we launched this week in Abuja. We must ensure that women are not left behind in the move towards a more locally-led humanitarian system. It's important for us to support the work of the new Women in Humanitarian Response in Nigeria Initiative because it creates space for women to lead on issues that often affect them most, especially when their perspectives are ignored. We look forward to an ongoing relationship with this initiative."
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