Development in Practice and Christian Aid Nigeria sponsored an event called “GEADOR: Breaking Down Gendered Barriers in a Patriarchal Society”, an inspiring panel focused on the organizations’ attempts to work together to challenge existing social structures and give voice to women in rural Nigeria, a society where they are traditionally excluded and oppressed.
This approach was called GEADOR (Gender Empowerment And Development Organizing Resource), and worked at local, village levels with both sexes in order to improve gender equity perspectives and empower women in a nation where women constitute merely 6.4-6.9% of the country’s government. These NGOs believed that the key to improving women’s degrading conditions under traditional patriarchy lay in promoting female statuses within Nigerian communities along with encouraging greater contributions of women and girls at all levels of development.
Specifically, the approach tried to work together in unity with older men, older women, younger boys, and younger girls in order to tackle barriers upholding inequality of opportunity for female achievement such as the absence of women in decision-making positions, the poor accountability of the state to implement and support women’s rights, and underlying traditional customs such as the inability for women to inherit land or property of their own. Such obstacles were self-identified by focus groups separated by age and gender, since it was assumed that such controversial topics would be more easily discussed among peers. Later however, these groups were brought together for an open discussion as a cohesive group in order to analyze participants of all ages and genders in their ability to listen to and accept different perspectives on gender issues and challenge the accepted, yet oppressive, norms of their society.
These organizations were thrilled to report that open dialogue among village men and women of all ages had positive consequences for the communities in which GEADOR was implemented. Since the approach was put into practice in 2013, more women have been invited by village members and chiefs to participate in community practices and public meetings than ever before. Additionally, threats facing women are increasingly brought up in discussion and are being addressed by the village community, such as the traumatic customary practice of exiling widows for three months following their husband’s passing being reduced to just one week.
The organizations attribute this monumental success to their realistic approach, such as agreeing to avoid certain “no-go” topics as discussion of women becoming King, or the questioning of non-harmful traditions such as the women offering male guests sacred fruit. This is also helped along with the support offered by community leaders who back the GEADOR programs and volunteer specific male participants from their villages that they believe would best be open to gender equity ideas, and best be willing to share what they have learned with the rest of their community. In this way, GEADOR has allowed NGOs to defiantly create safe spaces for women and girls to capture their voices and build a strong sense of self-esteem in a region where females are often the least seen and the least heard.