[International Women’s Day #MakeItHappen] Women As Peace Agents in the Niger Delta- Profile of Ms Emem J. Okon

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Women Waging Peace: Meet Emem Okon, an astute Peace Advocate in the Niger Delta

 Biodata of Peace Agent:

Ms Emem J. Okon is a 47 year old activist from Ikot Otu village in Ikot Ekpene Local Government Area of Cross River State. She is the Founder and Executive Director of Kebetkache Women Development & Resource Centre, a women’s rights focused organization headquartered in Port Harcourt, Rivers State. She is a community mobilizer, development practitioner, women rights activist and ardent advocate for gender equality and the advancement of women. According to her, “I have been in the women’s rights movement since 1997, when I started as a member of Women in Nigeria (WIN), Rivers State branch. I became the state secretary and later the State Coordinator of WIN Rivers State. I have occupied leadership positions in various networks and coalitions including Zonal Coordinator, Gender and Constitution Reform Network (GECORN); Member, Board of Trustees & Oversight Group, African Women United Against Destructive Resource Extraction (WoMIN); South-South Zonal Coordinator, West African Network for Peace-Building (WANEP)”. Ms Okon was the Pioneer Secretary, Conflict Mitigation and Management Regional Council (CMMRC) Rivers State branch. She is a deaconess and a Director, Foreign Affairs in Royal House of Grace International Church.

 Context: Emem works in local communities that have been devastated by conflict and where competition for resources often results in violence. These communities have huge oil reserves but many of their residents are poor. One of such communities is Rumuekpe which experienced violent conflict for over 5 years as a result of leadership tussle, misuse of community funds and privileges from oil resources. Many people lost their lives; many women were raped; some became widowed. The key parties involved in the conflict were Youth Leaders, Men, Security, Chiefs and Local Government Officials.

.  What did the Peace Agent do/Achieve?

  1. Identified the Rumuekpe Women Prayer Warriors as an organized group already working in the community;
  2. Harnessed their number and vision and supported them to take action beyond prayers. The movie “Pray the Devil Back to Hell” helped to motivate the women to initiate a peace building action
  3. Trained the women on conflict transformation and peace building. In collaboration with the CMMRC, held a mediation meeting with the women, youth and men of Rumuekpe.
  4. Initiated and sustained dialogue between men, women and youth on how to restore peace
  5. Supported women to take mass action and held a peaceful protest march at the Government House and Rivers State House of Assembly calling on the leaders to desist from fueling violence
  6. With support from Kebetkache, the women from Rumuekpe community wrote letters and engaged with the oil companies and received funds to rebuild the primary school that was destroyed in the community during the fighting.
  • Other testimonies by Emem:

“On March 10, 2007, I led over 100 community women in Tere-ama community, Rivers State on a Mothers for Peace rally to campaign against militancy and cultist activities in the community. On April 9, 2007 (Easter Monday), I led over 250 women drawn from 14 communities in Emohua LGA. on a Mothers for Peace Rally to campaign against militancy, kidnapping , cultists’ activities in Emohua and Ogbakiri and involvement of youths in election related violence. Also, on July 21, 2007, I led over 300 Ogoni women on a Mothers for Peace Rally in Khana and Gokana communities to call on the youths to stop involvement in cultist activities, and violent conflict. “

“High poverty rate among the women whose means of livelihood were destroyed during the years the conflict is an issues. I am making efforts to ensure that the women benefit from the N220b loan facility handled by the Quintessential Business Women Associations.”

    Peace Agent’s demands –

  1. Community leaders: Consolidate the current calm in the communities by adopting measures to prevent further escalation of conflict. Involve women in community peace-building processes.
  2. LGA chairpersons: Invest in peace and have an established peace-building program within the local government area. Involve women in peace-building processes.
  3. State Governments: Rehabilitate women from communities affected by conflict such as K-Dere, B-Dere, Rumuekpe, Ogbakiri, Omoku, Kaani etc. Involve women in peacebuilding and decision making processes. Identify victims of sexual violence in conflict affected communities; women widowed as a result of violent conflict; women who became childless as a result of poverty; women who had to join the fighting in one way or the other need to be healed in all dimensions.
  4. Federal government: Provide grants for women in conflict affected communities in the Niger Delta. Extend the amnesty program to women affected by militancy, cultist activities, particularly women that were affected by the military invasion in Gbaramatu clan in Delta state in 2009. The Federal Government should implement the UNSCR 1325.
  5. Others: Development Partners, Media and Civil society: More work to be done to promote the participation of women in peace-building and decision making processes. There is need for more capacity building; advocacy and media campaigns.

The International Women’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.

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