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

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Violence against Women: Giving Voice to the Voicelesss

Biodata of Peace Agent:

Ngwamma Onuoha, a woman in her mid-forties from Abia State has been involved in development work for over 12 years. She has served in various capacities as Deputy Coordinator, Civil Society on HIV/AIDS in Nigeria (CiSHAN), Abia State Chapter, Sec.-Gen. Coalition of Religious Leaders on HIV/AIDS & Other Development Issues in Abia State, Life Member Planned Parenthood Federation of Nigeria (PPFN), ex- Coordinator P4P, Abia State & now Assistant Secretary, P4P Central Working Committee. In addition, she is a farmer, agro-processor, empowering women/youth groups with income generating/lifeskills, an activist involved in women’s rights issues like Harmful Traditional Practices, Conflict Mitigation and Human/Child Trafficking. She has worked extensively to mitigate conflict both at family and community levels.

Context: A young woman recently lost her husband and was denied access to his property because she refused to be inherited by her brother-in-law. Wife inheritance is practiced in many cultures in Nigeria and in many instances, the woman has no voice to say ‘no’. Many women subject themselves to this practice for fear of being dis-inherited or thrown out. In this particular case, the woman was rendered homeless and her children were thrown out of school. The effect of this emotional/psychological abuse on the widow and her children was devastating. The gender studies commissioned by PIND show clearly that patrilineal inheritance is practiced in most parts of the Niger Delta. When combined with harmful widowhood practices including wife inheritance, the effect can be devastation.

What did the Peace Agent do?

  1. She identified potential allies within and outside the community and built a strong support base for the widow – These included women in both families, the widow’s mother, FIDA (Federation of Female Lawyers), Abia State chapter, village women’s groups, men from both families, traditional rulers, the widow’s pastor and the Admin-Gen, Ministry of Justice.
  2. She supported the widow to articulate her issues in writing – A letter was drafted and sent to the Abia State Assembly.
  3. Several meetings were convened at various levels to address the issues

Results:

  1. The Administrator General at the Ministry of Justice insisted on the payment of a Monthly allowance to the widow from income generated from her late husband’s property.
  2. The Monthly allowance helped re-settle the widow and her children to some extent.
  3. At some point, the allowance was withheld but constant monitoring and intervention helped to ensure that she got the support regularly as stipulated.
  4. Though she is yet to regain full control of her husband’s property, her self-worth was restored. According to the Peace Agent, “she was drawn back from the edge of total breakdown to pick up the pieces of her life”.
  5. Bringing community structures to bear on issues such as wife inheritance considered a private family matter is a difficult task. According to Ngwamma Onuoha, “no one takes widows’ issues seriously- they tell you it’s a “family matter”; then lack of funds to seek legal redress is another issue; even lawyers that offer pro bono services ask for “fuel money””. In order to provide a platform to support women to handle such issues, the P4P, Abia State has established an impartial conflict mitigation group made up of females. The group – Peace Moms – provides supportive safety nets for women whose rights have been violated and supports other internally displaced persons.

Peace Agent’s Demands

  1. Community Leaders should include women in the traditional justice systems.
  2. LGA Chairpersons should be more proactive in conflict mitigation issues especially VAW.
  3. State Governments should fast track litigations/ urge Houses of Assemblies to pass Conflict Mitigation Bills into Law
  4. Federal Government should enforce domestication of the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women and ensure States also do same.

 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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