Women-only storytelling space in Nigeria

In northeast Nigeria, the Boko Haram insurgency is now in its tenth year. Women from the conflict-affected communities form the majority of the vulnerable internally displaced people in the northeast, with many women now solely responsible for their families’ protection and economic wellbeing. 

When Hadiza’s* husband died as a result of the Boko Haram insurgency, she was devastated, and left without a support system in a new town:

“Because of the insurgency, my husband and children and I had to relocate from Bama to Maiduguri. Not long after we arrived, my husband was killed here. I was left a widow with seven children and no one to help me. I was completely devastated [and] had no hope of moving on with life.”

Hadiza was alone and very vulnerable.

“Nobody, not even my husband’s relations assisted me. I moved in with my husband’s brother but he told me he was going to sell his house and we had to leave. I was shocked as I had nowhere to go with my children and couldn’t return home to Bama due to fear of Boko Haram.”

Conciliation Resources works in northeast Nigeria with vulnerable and marginalised women like Hadiza, seeking to empower them with confidence, skills and opportunities to speak out about their experiences, concerns and needs. 

When Hadiza first heard about the women-only storytelling spaces, she was uncertain about joining.

“When I was asked to join the group, I was very reluctant. I thought it was for troublesome women! I quickly realised that in reality the group could help me to improve my life, be productive and not have to depend on others. The other women helped me to see hope in life. I gradually began to believe in myself, to realise that I have the capacity to move on and do something for me and my children.”

Alongside our local partners in Borno and Yobe states - Hope Interactive and the University of Maiduguri Muslim Women's Association - we are creating opportunities for young women’s voices to be heard. 

In twelve communities we have created women-only spaces which have already given hundreds of women the opportunity to share their stories of conflict. For many, it has been the first time they have shared their stories with anyone outside of their closest family. It is a critical step in building their confidence to articulate their stories and challenge the stigma associated with many of the women’s experiences.

Through the project, women are also able to come together to discuss their mutual needs and concerns and work together to advocate for solutions within their communities. The space for women to discuss common problems and identify strategies to resolve them does not usually exist within the traditional confines of women’s social interactions.

“Meeting other women who have experienced similar things to me has also shown me that I can speak out when I have problems. For example, one of my sons kept running away from school. I believe it is very important for him to be educated so he can have a good life. After I discussed this issue with the other women, I felt confident enough to meet with the Principle of my son’s school and voice my concerns about his truancy. I requested that she deny him permission to leave the school premises during classes.” 

In northeast Nigeria, women have frequently been excluded and marginalised from political, social and economic spheres. Not only has this made some women more vulnerable to recruitment by Boko Haram, but it has largely excluded women from local efforts to tackle the insurgency and strengthen community security.

Working with women from some of the most conflict-affected communities in Borno and Yobe state we aim to empower women with the confidence, skills and space to articulate their stories and engage with authorities to advocate for issues that are affecting them within their communities, and eventually for security responses that are considerate of their needs. 

This project is made possible thanks to the National Endowment for Democracy.

*Hadiza is not her real name.