Women in rural areas across Nigeria are working to make impact in the development of their localities. It is noteworthy that women in the hinterlands and coastal line areas in the Niger Delta are currently embracing emerging technology to boost economic activities and their standard of living. The Capacity Building Programme Manager and Gender Mainstreaming Coordinator at the Foundation for Partnership Initiatives in the Niger Delta, Bose Eitokpah, in this interview says women’s productivity and income will improve if they embrace technologies. Adedayo Adejobi brings the excerpts:
Gender mainstreaming is one area that the Partnership Initiatives in the Niger Delta (PIND) focuses on in the Niger Delta, what is the motive behind this?
If you look at the Niger Delta region, you would agree with me that there are more women at the bottom of the ladder, struggling with life and particularly with poverty. They don’t have opportunities that are available to the men, yet they contribute immensely to the economic activities of the region. At PIND, we visualise an egalitarian and peaceful society that guarantees equal rights and equitable access to and control of productive resources; ensuring that individuals, marginalised women are empowered to create wealth and overcome poverty and disease irrespective of sex and other demographic differentials.
For instance, the Foundation in 2011 and 2012 commissioned two gender studies. We wanted the advocacy to be evidence based. And truly, the findings affirmed that patrilineal inheritance patterns in most parts of the Niger Delta, discriminatory socio-cultural norms, and exclusion of women from decision-making processes, restricted mobility and the gender division of labor within communities have strong links with women’s level of access to and control over productive resources. By 2014, we developed a gender policy to further strengthen the Foundation’s commitment to supporting youth, women and men, in achieving their economic growth in a peaceful and enabling environment. We all know that if a woman is empowered, a whole community is empowered. Therefore, with gender mainstreaming, we are working to make sure that women in the Niger Delta realise their economic potentials and lead meaningful lives.
Nigeria recently joined the rest of the world to mark the International Women’s Day (IWD), what is the history of the Foundation in celebrating this day?
The International Women Day celebration has become an annual event for us at PIND. We should actually refer to the whole month of March the International Women’s Month because only one day – March 8 – is not enough to celebrate women, particularly so, as most events happen either before or after March 8. Having said that, let me recall when PIND started to commemorate IWD. The Foundation first participated in the celebration of IWD in 2015. Deriving its theme from the Global theme: “#MakeItHappen,” PIND chose the theme: “#MakeitHappen – Women as Peace Agents in the Niger Delta.” Following this, eight women were profiled as peace agents. These women were interviewed and featured in a week-long social media campaign on NDLink, PIND’s online development information hub. Three of these women later participated in a live radio show to discuss the theme and issue a call to action. Since then, commemorating IWD has become a constant annual activity for the Foundation with PIND and its collaborating partners deciding on unique themes derived from the national theme. The 2016 global theme was “Pledge for Parity” and PIND and its partners’ theme was “Pledge for Parity: Support Women in Agriculture.” A forum was organised to celebrate women farmers and to discuss how women can achieve parity through agriculture in Asaba, Delta State.
The 2017 national theme was “Be Bold for Change.” PIND and its several partners organised two fora, one on “Women Be Bold for Change in Adopting Agricultural Technologies” in Benin, Edo State and a second forum on “Women Be bold for Change in Peace Building and Community Leadership” in Bayelsa State, both with different audiences and partners. The national theme for 2018 was: “Time is Now: Rural and Urban Activists Transforming Women’ Lives.” PIND’s corresponding theme was: “Time is Now: Transform Lives of Rural Women in Agriculture and Small Businesses.” To reflect the essence of the topic, the event was held as an outreach to local women farmers in Umukabia Ogodo in Imo State. For 2019, The UN International theme which was also the national theme for IWD is “Think Equal, Build Smart, and Innovate for Change.” Taking its inspiration from the theme, PIND and its partners chose the theme: “Innovate for Change’’. Innovate for Change for PIND and its partners mean doing things differently/smartly in order to increase efficiency, productivity and impacts. In 2019, the celebration was about innovating for change, we decided to showcase and promote fish smoking technologies that we have introduced to the coastal line women in the Niger Delta at this year’s celebration. It might interest you to know that women in the riverine communities of the Niger Delta are mostly into fish smoking. This is what they do to earn their living, though using old technology of barrels or drums as stove for smoking fish. This old method as you may be aware is hazardous to their health, dangerous to the eco-system, expensive to manage and not economical for the large scale of processing the do. The Foundation and its partners thought of how to help them to work smart, improve their income and bring about meaningful and sustainable change. So we came up with promoting the two inventions: the Chokor oven and Smoking kiln. These two innovations have been tested and proven to be user friendly, economical and can best be described as appropriate technologies for women in aquaculture value chain. So the management of the Foundation decided to use the 2019 IWD to increase awareness of Chorkor Oven and Smoking Kiln as appropriate technologies for fish smoking among riverine women in the nine Niger Delta states. We felt that practical demonstrations of the use of the technologies would help to facilitate a change in the mindset of women in the adoption of Chorkor Oven and Smoking Kiln. This was actually done during the IWD event which was held in Akure, Ondo State and we saw the enthusiasm of women in not only embracing these tools but also in putting them into use. We also used that event to facilitate linkages and networking among women farmers and relevant actors/stakeholders. A total of 182 participants (160 women and 22 men) attended the forum that combined practical demonstration of fish smoking technologies and discourse.
What are the benefits of the new fish smoking technologies?
Fish smoking is a major occupation for 80 percent of women across the coastline of the riverine communities of the Niger Delta. The Chorkor Oven (CO) and Smoking Kiln are technologies designed for fish processors who are mostly women. Women spend hours and days smoking fish with drums which consume firewood, time and expose them to burns and carcinogenic material. The CO is made with locally sourced material and reduces fuel cost by 40 percent and saves time by 37 percent. The first set of COs was designed to serve clusters of fish smokers. They were huge and installed in central locations. Discussions with women in communities and study by PIND confirmed that location of COs in public spaces hindered its acceptance by women, most of who culturally carry out their fish smoking activities within their home premises, while performing other domestic functions. Even though, various sizes of COs that allow women own their smoking ovens within the convenience of their homes have been introduced, the held notion of COs being communal in size and deployment has persisted and continues to affect its acceptance and adoption by women in many communities. Creating awareness about the diversity in current designs of COs (this is innovation) was to help change this negative perception and increase interest of women in CO.
At the Akure forum, women who are using the ‘new CO models’ shared their experiences on how they have improved processing, preservation and income from fish as a result of technologies adopted. Their stories were compelling.
How will these help to alleviate poverty in the Niger Delta?
When women adopt technology, it means their productivity will improve and income will increase. This means improvement in earning and purchasing power of women. This will in turn reflect on their living standard and the wellbeing of their households.
Women in the coastal line of Niger Delta complain of not having capital to work, is there any plan to assist them?
Well, this is a familiar challenge, but I will say that the Foundation is talking to banks to develop suitable products for the women. The Foundation is also establishing relationships with development organisations with some focus on increasing access of women and business membership organizations in Agricultural value chains to business resources. The IWD event really created an opportunity for the women to present their successes, achievements and then to look for platforms to address some issues that have been impeding their advancement at the community level, state and region and one of such is the problem of funds. Everyone knows that the issue of accessing resources is a recurring issue for women in business. One thing we did was include a session on how to access resources to procure technologies in the agenda of the Akure IWD event. The discussants also addressed issue of value addition. We had senior officials from the Nigeria Export and Import Bank, Nigeria Incentive-Based Risk Sharing System for Agricultural Lending, President of Organisation of Women in International Trade, interact with the women. Issue of peace was also mainstreamed in the forum agenda. High Chief Akomolafe Pius, Ondo State Partners for Peace Network Coordinator engaged the women on the importance of fostering peaceful environment while in pursuit of innovation and change.