Women as Peace Agents: Supportive Men Make it Happen
Peace agentâ€™s biodata:
Mrs. Ajih Florence is a 65-year old grandmother from Arogbo-Ijaw community, Esa – Odo Local LGA of Ondo State. She is the Executive Director of Women Advancement and Development Initiative (WADI). She was the first female State Coordinator of CISHAN (Civil Society Organizations on HIV/AIDs in Nigeria), 2008-2012 and currently the Deputy State Coordinator of Partners for Peace. According to her, when my husband was the chairman of our L.G.A, we had some visitors from the World Health Organization. One of the visitors noticed my passion for womenâ€™s empowerment and encouraged me to start an NGO. Thus in 1999, WADI was born.
The context: During her husbandâ€™s tenure as LGA Chair, a communal clash arose in 1999/2000 between the Ogbu Apata and Ilaje people. It was a dispute over an oil-rich piece of land. Men and boys had to fight to defend their communities. According to Mrs Ajih, â€œthese men and boys were our children, our brothers, our husbandsâ€. The conflict resulted in displacement. Many families relocated to Delta, Bayelsa and Rivers States etc. Some people died in the process. Mrs Ajih narrated the story as follows –
â€œI think there was a particular case where a woman gave birth in the bush while running away. Though she survived, the baby died. They went through hell. Some left naked… If you didnâ€™t have a canoe, you had to swim. So some swam very long distances before they were rescuedâ€. In any conflict, there are actors, there are victims. Every crisis wears a human face. In that crisis, the actors were the men. In any crisis, a woman would never be a problem person but when the problem comes, the woman would be the one bearing the burden of that problem. The two warring communities lived together for years. Once oil was discovered, greed set in. Women were the victims. If a man is at the war front and he dies, he is somebodyâ€™s husband, he is somebodyâ€™s son.â€
Â What did the Peace Agent do?
- She provided relief materials for victims of the conflict – My husband and I went round the communities. We distributed clothes, foodstuff and even built â€œmake-shiftâ€ buildings.
- She held peace talks. Particularly, she recognized the place of women as connectors. â€œI gathered the women and had a peace talk with them. In the churches, I went round with my husband. We preached peace especially in conflict-prone areas. I would talk to them saying â€œplease talk to your husbands, to your sons and to your brothers. This has to stop because we lived together happily for over 100 years so why fight now?â€ They responded positively.
- â€œI would say the outcome was positive because with the help of the LG chairman, we were able to restore peace. The people that relocated to other areas were able to come back home and since then they have lived together peacefully. My husband was able to foster peace between the Ijaws and the Ilajes.
- â€œThe women in my community see me as a role model. I held meetings with the women several times.. My participation with them really impacted their lives. My Local Government has Ijaw – speaking people. The Apos, the original Ijaws had so assimilated in the Yoruba culture that most of them didnâ€™t even understand the Ijaw anymore, so I was using English, Yoruba and my Ijaw dialect to sensitize them. One particular woman after one such meeting went home and told her daughters they must go to school.â€ Mrs Ajih explained that this was a significant move because in that community, girls were mostly excluded from schooling. â€œFollowing my example, many women went back to school.â€
Â Success factors:
- My early exposure â€“ I had lived abroadâ€¦ I had good insight.
- â€œI have to thank my dear late husband. I had the total support of my husband.â€
Â Challenges faced:
- There were times we were approaching those places and the opposition group would be penetrating, we would have to run and return at a later time. Secondly, to get those that relocated from different places was a problem. It was cost-intensive locating and bringing them home. Sometimes we trekked dangerous parts to go and meet those who were living in the bushes.
- Current challenge now (in our work) is convincing people on averting electoral violence.
Â Peace agentâ€™s demands:
- Community leaders â€“ â€œâ€¦preach peace, act it because without peace, no community can make any progress.
- LGA Chairpersons and State Government– create an enabling environment for peace. Shun favoritism.
- Federal Government â€“ Look out for early warning signs to avert conflict.
Â The International Womenâ€™s Day #MakeItHappen is a series that highlight key women, who through their actions and work, have created a peaceful environment that has led to more economic opportunities for women and men in their local communities.