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Interview: Nguavese Tracy Ogbonna

Interview with Nguavese Tracy Ogbonna Published on: 10th August 2016

Nguavese Tracy Ogbonna is a program officer with Women Environmental Programme (WEP), an NGO that works to enhance the livelihood of women and youths in environment and governance.

What ways would you say that your fight for gender equality is different from how other people might be approaching it?

One thing about this is research. Before you do any intervention in a community, you have to go into the community and understand the issues. Gender is broad, and different communities have different dimensions to it; they have different structures that make up their understanding of it. So if you know the specifics of each community, then you will be better able to address its problems. What we do is try to understand the dimensions of gender in a particular community before we plan our programs for specific intervention.

What does working for the livelihood of communities around environmental issues look like on a daily basis?

We usually have programs that last for one year or six months, depending on the time frame and we work in areas of gender, water, land and human sanitation and renewable. For instance, we are working with some women in Buruku Local Government, in Benue State, in the area of renewable energy because of the climate change issue.

Women in this community produce food, but they don’t have the power to store them. So if people didn’t buy the food they were selling, it end up wasted at the end of the day. So what women environmental program did was to provide the women with solar dryers. Now they can actually dry their food with the solar dryers and ensure that they have food for a longer period of time, even if people don’t buy them all. That was an example of getting down to the community and solving the problem at the community level.

Another example was that because of climate change and the use if the chemical-based fertilizers, there was a lot of land degradation. So we trained about 80 women on how to compost. They were trained so they would produce the compost and then use it on their farmland. This helped give them a better yield, which also ensured food security. These are some of the little things that we have engaged in.

So how would you say that the environment and climate change is a gender issue?

It is a gender issue because even though climate change affects everybody, the poor and women have more issues. For instance, men can easily migrate, but women have the burden of care for the family and even for the elderly and the sick. They have to fetch the wood and the water, and so they are left behind. Also, because women don’t have the deciding power in the family, they are not able to make proper decisions about farmland, cattle or whatever they need. That is why the government needs programs that build more resilience for women.

So when you are talking about specific intervention for women and environment, how do you go about figuring out solutions?

The ways climate change affects women is not the same in every place. In the north we talk about desertification, in the south we talk about flooding. You need to go into the community and find out how climate change is affecting them, because it affects everyone differently.

Before, people could predict that rain was going to come at a specific time, but now because of climate change farmers are no longer able to predict precisely when rainfall will come and so it affects production. One of the interventions we did was to train agricultural extension officers who worked with rural farmers on innovative ways to understand climate change peculiarities in their community so that farmers were able to know exactly when to plant and how to work better.

And when it comes to the kind of strategies that you have come across, what challenges do you sometimes face sharing your knowledge?

For the people in the rural area, they don’t know what climate change is; It is alien to them. They think: “oh maybe it is a witch,” that is why their crops are not yielding properly. So you need to break down what climate change means to them and tell them about the different issues that are happening so that they understand. The language barrier is also a key challenge. We need to give these people information in the languages they understand. We also need to use their gatekeepers, people that influence them, to give them such information.

Another challenge for us is working with government officials. They already know what climate change is about, but the challenge is getting them to share the information and not keep it to themselves. There is a difference between giving information and sharing that information.

For instance, the women in Adikpo Community in Benue State, where we trained them on soil compost, are now training other women. It is not contained to within just those initial 80 women, they are spreading it. In fact some of them are even trying to produce compost and sell to replace the chemical-based fertilizer being used.

One of the other things we need is structure. Recently, I was at a meeting with the honourable minister of the Ministry of Women Affairs, and I was telling her about highlighting the work of the civil society. She said: “ok, there’s a website that needs to be updated so that people can begin to upload their information and others can have easy access it.” But that is basically in the urban area, the rural people don’t have such structures for information sharing. You have go to their informal platforms of their group meetings, religious organizations or small groups and be deliberate about the information you want to give them.

It’s easy for you to go into a community and give them information, but how you follow up that information is one of the key challenges we have.

We do report. We do our overviews, we do our findings, and then after getting their voices, we share it. We share it with academia and ministries of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as well as CSOs so that the information is passed around and is out there for free.

So how have you found ways to really get people on board with you?

For instance, about 150 million Nigerians use firewood. Women in rural areas, even in some urban areas, die annually because of smoke inhalation because cooking with firewood is almost equal to smoking five packets of cigarettes per day. When we show women these things – and they know that this is how their lives are going to turn out – they are willing to adopt new practices.

The only problem is that if you are giving them new practices, you have to make it easy for them to understand. Also, in the rural areas people are seriously financially challenged, so you can’t bring a solution that is expensive, they simply won’t adopt it. If you tell somebody: “OK, use renewable energy to cook,” and then they can’t afford to buy it, they will simply go back to their old ways because they have no other choice.

So number one: give them the information in a way they will understand, then show them examples, and then give them opportunities they can afford. You can even train people in the community to produce it. In fact, WEP trains women to make fuel-efficient stoves, which reduce the amount of firewood usage, with mud. There are other products like that out in the market, but if you don’t teach these women how to use it, they can’t. So you teach them, you give them practical examples or the practical lessons they need and that way they begin to employ change at the grassroots level.

If somebody gave you an unending pot of money, what are the biggest gender equity issues that you would tackle first?

We would deal with the environment, with getting renewable energy for cooking and then getting women access to water. Women spend a lot of their time and energy on these things. It tells on their body, it tells on their health. If you provide efficient cookstoves for women it will reduce their workload and work time, also if you make water available they will stop travelling far distances to fetch water for the entire household. Those are the basics and for me that’s what I would do.

What would gender equity for Nigeria look like?

It will look like a society where there is no gender-assigned prejudice and everybody has equal access. That will greatly advance Nigeria because, for instance, in the north we would have more female doctors. Due to religious restrictions, women don’t like to see male doctors. So in a situation where there are more female doctors in the north, more women would have access to health care services and there would be fewer issues with women having to access medical care.

In the southeast, where boys are able to be equally educated with girls, you will have a society where boys are as knowledgeable as girls. Even if they might still want to do business, they would at least be knowledgeable.

You currently have cases where women don’t have access to their own farmland, and I would like to see a Nigeria where women can also own land and have the ability to increase their income. Research has shown that 70% of a woman’s income goes back to the household which means that you have a household that is more provided for nutritionally and psychologically. This would be a good society for Nigeria.

If you can have the energy needs of women met, it would be wonderful. You would have women waking up in the morning and having a fuel efficient cook stove to cook on without endangering herself. She would also be able to access water without straining herself or spending so many hours and she could use that extra time to read a book or do something socially enabling.

You would have more women participating in politics. With equal access there would no longer be a women’s wing. Political party systems would accommodate both women and men, and give them the same opportunities to contest. You would have a Nigeria that has a level playing ground for both men and women and a society that supports everyone to participate. And that’s when you’ll see proper development in our country.

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