IF RURAL WOMEN WERE MORE INCLUDED IN COMMUNITY DECISION MAKING,
WHAT WOULD BE DIFFERENT?
WHEN EXCLUDED, WHAT ACTIVITIES DO THEY ENGAGE IN TO MOVE THEIR OWN
DEVELOPMENT AGENDA FORWARD?
Riverine and rural women are often excluded from participating in community decision making about development. In only 8% of communities surveyed by NIDPRODEV have the women stated they are included in community decision making. This decision to include the women in these traditional societies belongs solely to the male leadership—the gatekeepers of community change. (From experience, NIDPRODEV recommends that, in any gender sensitization project, the project designer develop two separate training workshops — one to sensitize the male leadership into not fearing greater participation by women in community decision making and one to sensitize the women into believing they have the right to participate.) One suggestion for future research is to help identify under what conditions traditional male societies in the Niger Delta are most likely to open the door to full participation of women in decision making. Findings from NIDPRODEV’s survey of 120 Niger Delta communities in an EU-sponsored project suggest some variables that appear to influence outcome, such as how many generations of education the community has experienced. Communities in their 6th or 7th generation of education have a much higher probability of (i) greater women inclusion in decision making and (ii) in women receiving benefits intended for the community as a whole compared to those communities with only 2 or 3 generations of formal schooling.
In the absence of greater inclusion of women in community decision making, community women have found ways to pursue their own development agendas. For those engaged in research or program design for rural or riverine community women, the following responses by community women to questions about “self-help” projects and how community life would be different if they were more included in decision making, should be illuminating. Specifically, women in one NIDPRODEV project were asked to discuss:
- Development projects that the women proactively engaged in, without any external stimulus to do so;
- The general changes they would make if they had a greater role in community decision making; and
- What they believe are the current, most pressing issues for their individual communities at the moment.
WOMEN-DRIVEN COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT PROJECTS
a. BAYELSA STATE:
(i) Education: Because of the lack of teachers in their primary school, the community women decided to contribute money to hire a female teacher, who is always available to teach their children even when the two teachers paid by government are not around to teach. This situation has being ongoing since 2000. Recently, the community men have joined the women in the payment of the hired teacher.
In a separate community, the community women provide food items for Youth Corp Members (Nigeria’s post-college service requirement) posted to the community school, in order to encourage their stay and make them feel at home to teach their children effectively.
(ii) Health Centre: The women mobilized and went to Ekeremor, their Local Government Area Headquarters, Yenagoa, and the SPDC (Shell) office in Warri to advocate for the renovation and equipping of the dilapidated and abandoned Health Centre in the community. This move led to the eventual renovation and supply of some equipment to the Health Centre in 2007. Presently, the Health Centre is now functional.
(iii) Rental Services: The community women met and established a rental services operation of plastic chairs, tables and canopies for those within and outside the community. The operation has been successful as a income generation activity for the community women. They use the money to feed their families.
(iv) Fishing Boat: The community women met and contributed money that was used to hire a fishing boat from people from Ghana. (Note: Only community men engage in deep sea fishing, which is more lucrative than the shallow water fishing done by women.) The hired boat and Ghana fishermen go into the high sea to fish and bring their catch back to the community women who sell it to others for a profit. This activity is mainly done during the dry season when there are fewer waves in the high sea. The women use part of the profits to buy fuel for the Community Generator that provides light for the community.
(v) Construction: The community women had earlier constructed a Teachers Quarters, which the women built with planks and zinc. (The quarters were destroyed during a “crisis.” Now the teachers are living among the people in the community.
In a separate community, the women took control of a building that had been abandoned during construction many years earlier. The women built a roof for the building and installed windows and doors. They use the building now for a Women’s Meeting House.
b. DELTA STATE
Primary School Building: On the primary school building, the community women wrote a letter to Chevron Nigeria Limited (CNL) in 2000 stating that they wanted the school building to be built through their direct labour process and not to award the school building contract to an indigenous contractor who might begin the project but ultimately leave it abandoned and incomplete. As a result, the contracting process was put on hold and CNL asked the men to meet with community women to resolve their differences.
Accordingly, the men met with the women, who told the men of their concern of completion of the school building project, since their experiences have shown that “our men don’t like completing community development projects awarded to them.” At the end of their meeting, both men and women of the community finally resolved that the school building is a “must complete” project. Based on the men’s commitment to the women, the contract was awarded by CNL in 2001 and was completed by an indigenous contractor.
Teachers’ Salaries: The community women contribute equal amounts of money for the payment of teachers engaged by the Parents Teachers Association (PTA), due to the lack of teachers in the schools.
Primary School Building: The community women gathered and made a case to SPDC (Shell) for the construction of a new primary school, but there was no positive response from SPDC. The women — through a 13-woman delegation — made another move to the Warri North Local Government Authority, who promised to forward their demand to SPDC. Three months went by without a response, so the women decided to disrupt SPDC’s operations. Their disruptive activity lasted for two weeks, within which period the community women were grouped into Shifts A, B and C to allow for their action to go on around the clock. After two weeks, Shell started a road project they had requested earlier; this act led to the women returning to Shell the keys they used to lock up the SPDC premises. It was during this period that the primary school building was also approved and built, and a community water supply scheme was approved.
(ii) Water Scheme: An American whom the women know only as Rocky and who worked for CNL as Site Supervisor visited the community. Upon seeing him, the community women quickly mobilized themselves and fetched a bucket of water from the local well — which serves as their only source of drinking water and for other domestic use — and brought the water before Rocky. The Site Supervisor could not believe that the water before him was the only source of drinking water available for the community as such. The women said Rocky felt very bad about the situation and promised the community that a good source of drinking water would be provided for them by CNL. Accordingly by 2001, a potable drink water was provided by CNL for the community. Of the 10 communities in the USIP project, this community is the only community with good drinking water. (Note, the drinking water is a by-product of the cooling system at the nearby Chevron flow station.)
(iii) Building in Post-”Crisis” Period: After the fighting between Itsekiri and Ijaw, there was no accommodation within the community. The crisis had rendered most of the women homeless. During the negotiation of EGTL Phase “3,” the community women demanded for monthly payments to take care of themselves. The women’s group — which is known as the Ugborodo Women and comprises women from Ode-Ugborodo, Ogidigben, Madangho, Ajudiabo and Ijala communities — met and agreed that they would not share the money that would be paid to them. Instead they used the money for development projects in the five above communities.
(iv) Oil Company Employment: In 2002, the community women made a peaceful demonstration to Chevron Nig. Ltd (CNL) premises in Escravos. They gained entrance into the premises and occupied it for about two weeks. The essence of the protest was for CNL to create special employment chance for their youths. During their “takeover,” thirty-two more of their youths were employed by CNL. Also, a Passport “19” Speedboat was provided for each of the Ugborodo communities and an agreement was reached between CNL, Government, and the women’s communities. Both the men and women from the communities signed the agreement.
(v) Road Construction: The community women heard of the planned Benin-Ogbudugbudu Road construction and cleared the access road for surveyors to have easy access to carry out their survey work. Although the survey work was completed, the project has yet to begin.
(vi) Radio House: The women’s group joined with the youth group to build a radio house for the community, which is used to inform the community of events and provide plastic chairs for seating.
(vii) Community Decision Making: Initially Town Hall Meetings were called and women had an equal opportunity to participate in the decision making process. Later, however, decisions were taken by the Ora-Aja and the men without informing the women or demanding for their input. The women felt challenged and made the move to correct the status-quo by meeting the Ora-Aja and the men on the need for women to be participating in the decision making process of the community. Presently, women are considered in the decision making process in the community as its serves the best interest of the community in development. (Note: NIDPRODEV has observed through its work with the community women involved in the successful 2002 takeover of oil platforms that there is now variation in the current level of proactive behavior among the different communities of women who participated. In all the communities, it appears as if the men attempted to suppress women’s “political” activities after the take-over. In only one of the communities were the women successful in convincing the men to allow them to continue their “push.” A potential research agenda would look at understanding the variables that contributed to the variation in women’s proactive political momentum following the single event (flow station takeover) that brought them all to the same level of feeling empowered.)
BROAD COMMUNITY CHANGES WOMEN WOULD MAKE IF INCLUDED IN DECISION MAKING:
a. BAYELSA STATE:
- They will ensure that SPDC (Shell) provides a micro-credit scheme for the women to do income generating activities and be involved in community development. They further said that they have not benefited from SPDC micro-credit schemes in the community.
- They would ensure a situation whereby development partners involve women among stakeholders in meetings where community development decisions will be considered.
- They will also ensure that government provides more teaching staff for the school.
- They would ensure that benefits are shared evenly among the stakeholders in the community, which to them is not the practice now, because the men are dominating. “The men always sideline the women in decision making processes in the community and hijack any benefits from distribution to the women.”
- They would ensure a situation where issues that concern women are included in the development process. “Men should not be part of the process. Let the women handle it alone. There should be no interference from the men on women issues.” (Note: There is great variation between level of trust between men and women in Bayelsa State compared to Delta State. There is also less trust among community people toward all levels of government in Bayelsa State compared to Delta State.)
- The women would support the NIDPRODEV-backed Community Monitoring Group members in carrying out their work to ensure its effectiveness by reporting activities to them or supporting their view on a particular project.
- “Women would be able to carry the right step when the men get the information for them.”
- At present, the community women through their meetings usually assist the community leaders in terms of providing money for the community leaders to handle certain community issues (when the need is made known to them).
- They would ensure that the decision making process in respect of community development would be an inclusive one where all stakeholders (men and women) in the community will combine to take decision as it affects the community development.
- The women visitors in the community (those who marry into the community) would be considered in the development process so that their issues would be taken into consideration as it affects community development.
b. DELTA STATE
- They would organize a peaceful demonstration to the concerned authority where other legitimate means of drawing their attention to our problems fails.
- They would ensure constant contact with the sponsors of any developmental project in the community to ensure the completion of such project to specification.
- If women had their way, they would demand that those who act as community executives actually reside in the community, because they believe that such leadership would help improve the community. (NOTE: Far too many of community representatives do not reside in their rural or riverine community. After gaining wealth, they move elsewhere but still maintain leadership and control of the flow of information into and out of the community to government and oil companies.)
- They would encourage women involvement in the community executive, which they believe would bring about transparency and accountability in community decision making process and development. The decision making process would be an inclusive one, where all stakeholders in the community will be given equal opportunity to contribute towards community development issues.
- Women would exercise their right on the issue of community project monitoring and inform other women who were not present in the meeting and support the CMG to ensure the success of the CMG activities.
- The women are also interested in executing projects in the community. Therefore a process that would put women into consideration in the award of development contracts should be put in place for the community women.
WOMEN’S RESPONSES TO WHAT CHANGE IS NEEDED IMMEDIATELY IN THEIR COMMUNITY:
a. BAYELSA STATE:
- Skills acquisition centres should be established for the younger women in the community to build their capacity on income generation activities.
- The jobs coming to the community should be shared in a way women are considered. They believe that jobs identified as men’s work could be easily handled by them.
- Provision of market boat for community women is needed to increase their income generation activities.
- The health centres need to become fully functional. If a health centre or hospital is planned to be constructed, be sure to contact the Minister of Health to make sure that when the building is commissioned, there are already doctors, nurses, equipment and drugs available on commissioning day.
- Women can organize their children for environmental sanitation exercises to clean-up the community.
- The NIDPRODEV-backed Community Monitoring Group members will provided information to the community women to assist them in their move for community development and leadership as well as organize adult literacy programs for the women.
- They require roads linking communities to each other is necessary for ease of movement and improved economic activities.
- They suggest that community women meetings should be held on a monthly basis and community development issues should be a major part of the agenda.
- They want a situation whereby fishing materials are made available for the people, which they would be ready to use effectively for income generation and upkeep of the home.
- They want a situation whereby the contracting process should provide for women participation at the community level by creating certain quotas for women contractors or builders.
b. DELTA STATE:
- Women’s participation should be extremely encouraged during the introductory meeting of a contractor that wants to come and work in the community.
- The contracting process should encourage women participation in project execution of the community.
- A system that would take care of the elderly women should be put in place to assist them in their needs.
- The community women have met and plan on how to embark on a peaceful demonstration to CNL in respect of the sand-filling project of the community anytime from now. According to them the present situation in the community affects women health negatively.
- Advocacy efforts are needed to get the government to post more and better qualified teachers to rural schools.
Women’s Support for Increased Dialogue: According to the women, the youths have formed an alliance with contractors, which the women believe could hinder the Community Monitoring Group from doing their work effectively. On this note, the women would champion a dialogue process with the youths to allow the CMG members to carry out their job effectively for the community and ensure community development projects completion — while the skilled and unskilled youths would be engaged by the contractor based on their competencies to carry out their jobs with the contractor.