“If women participate more in political activities and decision making at all levels, it will go a long way in bringing about change.”
Zariyatu (Zari) is a women’s rights advocate and entrepreneur from Nigeria. Since the start of the Boko Haram insurgency—an armed rebellion against the Nigerian government that killed more than 10 thousand people in 2014 alone—Zari’s organization, the Wildan Care Foundation, has been working with women in internally displaced camps. The organization provides women in northeastern Nigeria with entrepreneurship training and support.
What led you to start your organization?
The organization actually started in 2000, as a personal passion. Anytime I went to the hospital I saw young children that were in so much distress and the families could not afford medical bills. I took it upon myself to provide a little money, and support them. From there we got involved with the doctors so that whenever they got a case that could not handle their bills, they could come to me. From working with the children, I saw the need of mothers and the importance of getting them involved.
Do you still work with people that you’ve worked with since 2000?
We are more of a big family now. Whenever another woman needs assistance—if she is pregnant or there’s nobody to stay with her, for example—one of the women will come and stay. It’s a kind of sisterhood. I have an open-door policy with the women. That’s the only time they’re able to confide in me, and tell me their problems.
You’ve done a lot of research and work around women entrepreneurship. How does the idea of entrepreneurship play into helping women who have been internally displaced?
These women don’t have any form of livelihood. So we teach them how to do small things such as soap making, sewing, small things that they can do. It is important that we help them realize that they can support themselves. Having something to do lessens the psychological trauma and helps integrate the women more into the community.
What is the women’s movement like in Nigeria?
Women’s participation in political activity, especially in leadership roles, is very low. It has to do with culture—if a woman comes out, there’s stigmatization and name calling, they tell you “go back home, you’re supposed to take care of the kids”. Even the bold ones face a lot of challenges.
What effect has the Boko Haram insurgency had on women’s participation?
The insurgency has really brought out the need for women to participate. People know that women are peace initiators; they are peacebuilders. If women participate more in political activities and decision making at all levels, it will go a long way in bringing about change. We are trying to mobilize women towards getting involved in political activity—we still have time before the next election. It’s a movement that’s really growing and this way we can get more women registered to vote, more women in political office, more women in decision-making roles.
Learn more about the Boko Haram insurgency in north-eastern Nigeria.
Read about the impact of the insurgency on women and children in north-eastern Nigeria.
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