This year’s World Humanitarian Day (WHD) celebrated women humanitarians around the world. ENE OSANG in this report takes a look at how Nigeria honoured various women humanitarians who distinguished themselves in serving humanity.
The World Humanitarian Day was commemorated for the first time on August 19, 2009, in remembrance of the selfless contributions of the special representative of the secretary-general, Sergio Viera De Mello, and 21 other colleagues of his who lost their lives in the frontline of duty.
It is a day set aside to honour humanitarian efforts worldwide and to propagate the idea of supporting people in crisis.
This year’s Day focuses on celebrating women humanitarians and their undying contributions in making the world a better place.
According to the chairman, Network of Civil Society Organisation (NECSOB) – Borno state, Ambassador Ahmed Shehu, “Women humanitarians hold a sense of unparalleled uniqueness, one that adds to the global momentum of female strength, power and perseverance.”
Ambassador Shehu stated this while speaking during a media briefing organised in Abuja Monday, as part of its activities to commemorate this year’s Day with the theme “Women Humanitarians.”
He said Boko Haram in its 10th year of existence led to the death of over 40,000 people and displaced n fewer than three million people, adding that the casualties were “usually soft targets, innocent victims and aids workers.”
“We will like to use this day to take a moment of sober reflection to remember the humanitarians who lost their lives in the line of duty.
“The humanitarian community lost over 50 aid workers, majority are local actors who sacrifice their comfort and life for others to live, we are urging security agencies to enhance security arrangement that will ensure that local actors are supported in reaching out to the affected population,” he said.
Amongst notable women humanitarians were the 37 aid workers who lost their lives in the North-east of Nigeria, including Hauwa Mohammed Liman, Saifura Hassaini Ahmed Khorsa, and Faye Mooney.
Many other women lost their lives in the North-central part of the country as a result of the persistent farmers, herders’ conflict and all other forms of crisis across the nation.
The CSO stated that it deemed it necessary to honour the living women humanitarians from Borno state during a three-day workshop in Abuja, adding that with the volatile nature of the state these women continue to risk their lives in service to humanity.
Shehu further said, “It is time to honour the women who have acted as first responders to the darkest hours of crisis in the country, particularly in Borno state.”
He said this year’s campaign on women humanitarians supports the recognition that women deserve in the strengthening of global humanitarian response, as well as in protection efforts under the international law.
“80 per cent of people affected by conflicts directly are women and children and most of the time the women are the ones who bear the brunt of the conflicts when the husbands are killed, children are adopted, and the women are the ones who cater for the family.
“Our tradition, culture and mindset usually relegated the women to the background so it is important for us to amplify the issues to the people on the importance of recognising the women because what they go through to make the society a much better place is worth celebrating.”
He also described women as “resilient beings” who work so hard to cater for the family needs and provide succour.
“This deserves to be noticed. In the insurgency areas 87 per cent of those affected are women and when there is a bomb blast 70 per cent of the people affected can be women and children because the men usually have the ability to run for cover.
“Again, sometimes the soft targets are the women and children so special emphasis should be paid on that especially those women that have lost their livelihood need special attention.
“It is not by sharing N10, 000 to women who are victims of conflicts or terrorist attacks, there is supposed to be a deliberate strategy to ensure that the women are empowered because when she is empowered the whole family is sure to be taken care of.
“Women deserve this recognition because we discovered particularly working in the North that when you organise a programme to empower the men, at the end of the programme they will end up marrying more women with the money given to them. So, it is logical to empower the society through the women.”
Appreciating the recognition is the executive director for Women in New Nigeria (WiNN) Empowerment Initiative, Lucy Yuhana, who said the significance of celebrating women humanitarians worldwide cannot be over-emphasised.
“It is significant celebrating women humanitarians because they have done a lot, especially in Borno state in the North-east. I remember when we started, whenever there was crisis we recorded a lot of gender-based violence where women are being used, being taken advantage of by men,” she said.
Yuhana lamented the unending violation of women and girls, particularly in Borno state, adding that perpetrators continue to explore new ways to carry out the dastardly acts.
“Even in the camps, you find out that a lot of violation is still going on such as sex for food and currently marriage for card. No matter how old you are when you have the card, a lot of suitors will come around you because you can feed the household.
“There are many young girls who are supposed to get married but are single because they don’t have the card and this is really affecting the lives of women and girls who are mostly not educated.
“The only choice for these women is to go into prostitution just to earn a living which is very bad; so, we try as much as possible to educate them and empower them through skills acquisition and guide them to have a meaningful life.”
The executive director blamed the Nigerian culture which, according to her, relegates women to the background, saying “this has continued to encourage perpetrators of violence against women.”
“Our culture in my state doesn’t let women speak out and so a lot of times a girl is being violated she doesn’t speak out so she will not be stigmatised and won’t have a husband.
“We started our work when insurgency started and we have discovered a lot of violations on girls like rape, assault, and people come to repot cases of gender- based violence.”
Another recipient, the programmes director of PAGED Initiative, Ummi Bukar, expressed gratitude for being recognised, and gave the assurance that she will continue to project grassroots people so their voices too can be heard.
She said, “What I have always done is to bring out stories of other people who I think are more worthy of notice so, I feel it’s a very great day for them that the world has chosen to honour them. This is nice and I think more of this should come up to encourage people to do more.
“I will continue to project people who are doing normal everyday things just to survive and at the same time doing extra ordinary things. I will continue to create a platform for women especially for their needs to be heard and also continue to ensure that people always look at the implications of every activity to women and girls.
“I will continue to ensure that gender is being mainstreamed in whatever aspect so that whatever is going on people look at the implication to both men and women.”
Bukar, who said she gets her inspiration from being female herself and so personally knows that things affect people differently, regretted that same stories of a particular people in the society have been recycled over the years and need to change.
“I feel like the world is stuck up on telling one particular story so I feel like every story matters and should be heard rather than just showing or telling the story to the people in a particular way.
“Everybody matters and should be heard regardless of what part of the world you are from or how little you think you are.”
Also, the executive director, Rehabilitation Empowerment and Better Health Initiative and the director, legal affairs of the Network of CSOs in Borno state, Fatima Shehu Imam, said it was an honour being recognised as a woman humanitarian.
“I feel very honoured to be recognised as a humanitarian and, most especially that this year’s theme revolves around women in humanitarian action. This honour is long overdue because if you look at the response generally its women that are the first point of response in every form of crises and conflict,” she said.
According to her, the recognition will spur her to more humanitarian work, stressing the need for re-building Nigeria.
“Before now, it seemed like efforts of women were not being recognised but now that a whole year’s theme is focusing on women and their efforts further shows that our actions and efforts are being appreciated.
“We appreciate the support from international community, from government and donors in ensuring that our efforts do not go in vein.”
Govt to the rescue?
However, the NECSOB chairman lauded government’s efforts, particularly security personnel whose lives are usually on the line during crises, stressing the need for them to be treated well.
“We are commending the security agencies for their relentless effort in securing and protecting the territorial sovereignty of Nigeria, while sympathising with the families of who those who lost their lives, we are urging all relevant agencies to enhance and ensure quick dispensation of the severance packages of the fallen heroes so that it will cushion the effect on their families and motivate upcoming generation to be in the frontline to depend humanity.
“We also call on the UN Agencies, NGOs and other partners to provide insurance cover to the local civil society they are partnering,” he said.
Similarly, the PAGED Initiative’s director noted the efforts by women humanitarians which have led to many interventions, she however said more needed to be done.
“We hear stories of how the government has heard about the condition of certain people in a particular place and they up their game to help the people, but there are many people like that and so it is not enough.
“We need to have more people creating this platform, we need to hear more about what is going on with people and we need for government interventions to increase because the fact that we are still having attacks, people are still in IDPs camps and people still don’t have access to facilities and basic amenities means that a lot still needs to be done.
“In a lot of instances when the conflicts started the main targets were the men. But the women went out of their way to protect the men and so when they come to look for the men the women disguised them and hide them.
“Some other times the men ran away and the women knew where they ran to, but will never reveal this just to protect their men and a lot of women have died protecting the lives of the men in their lives.
“Again, lots of women have been abducted because they refused to disclose where their husbands ran to. Sometimes again the women can’t run for their lives because they cannot leave their children behind. Women sacrifice themselves, their integrity, yet some of them are not accepted back to the society because they have been with Boko Haram. All these and many more must be considered to enable a better society for all.”
More deliberate actions needed
The CSOs and the women humanitarians stressed the need for the federal and state governments as well as other donor agencies to take more deliberate actions to nip humanitarian issues in the bud.
According to Yuhana, there are so many areas of intervention and the government and other donor agencies should also consider asking the people what their needs really are before any interventions.
“We want the federal government to make a special kind of subvention to the North-east, particularly in Borno state. R-ebuild areas affected by insurgency because we are more backward now lacking schools, hospitals, etc.
“Also, before bringing any intervention, I always give an example of a particular people that came to Borno state and saw children going to the stream to fetch water early in the morning and they provided water for them, but the community didn’t really lack. They didn’t do assessment before providing what they thought the community needed.
“The people complained and said what they were rather in dire need of shelter saying ‘we don’t have shelter and so we can’t meet with our husbands and wives at night; so, the best thing to do is to send our children to the stream early in the morning.’”
She, therefore, urged actors to ensure that when they go to the community they should do a need assessment to know what they want and “not what you want as a donor, this is very important.”