In laying the context for the depth of challenges facing some women and families in Nigeria, this paper opens with a story of a mother and her children escaping imprisonment by extremists insisting that they submit to their ways and teachings to avoid persecution. Travelling alone and across inhospitable terrain for three weeks, with little food and through harsh weather, the family finally made it to an internally displaced people’s (IDP) community where they finally received the aid they desperately needed.
This is a story that has been repeated all over northern Nigeria in recent years, a problem exacerbated by a lack of services in rural areas that means help is often far away. Among a population of 172 million, it is estimated that around 40 million people have still not been reached with primary healthcare provision. Additionally, an estimated 5 million people have been displaced due to the Boko Haram insurgency, which severely hampered ambitions to provide accessible healthcare and security to all by the year 2000. Further broad context is provided in with regard to gender dimensions of agriculture, land, and water in the country, painting a picture of extreme and worsening social, economic, and political barriers to women’s empowerment.
The fundamental problems faced by nomads, migrant farmers, and rural people, that disproportionately impact women, are then identified by the author. These include poverty associated with poor housing, sanitation, inadequate nutrition, and polluted water; uneven distribution of health services and a lack of doctors, leading to high mortality and low life expectancy; high rates of illiteracy; inadequate education and transport infrastructure; traditional customs and beliefs that resist change; a lack of awareness of rights; pressure to push children into adult responsibilities early; and endemic prevalence of disease, especially malaria and cholera.
Finally, the paper discusses the question of how best to empower rural women, particularly in a time of great upheaval. The key, the author concludes, is education, and providing women with the opportunities and means of expanding their expertise and roles beyond traditional gender roles. At the same time, it is important to acknowledge and treasure the expertise already found within those roles.
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