By Sarah Sanda
In the heart of Northeastern Nigeria, a quiet yet powerful revolution is underway. Women and girls, often the unsung heroes of their communities, are transforming into digital warriors, wielding technology as a weapon for economic change. This paradigm shift is not only reshaping the region’s economic landscape but also challenging stereotypes and empowering women and girls to rewrite their narratives.
The North East Geopolitical Zone of Nigeria (Adamawa, Bauchi, Borno, Gombe, Taraba, Yobe) has been the stronghold of terrorist groups and insurgent attacks for about 2 decades, as the rise of Boko Haram and the ensuing insurgency has dramatically changed the lives of thousands of women and girls in the zone, with hundreds of women and girls abducted, enslaved, internally displaced and dozens killed. The years of terrorist violence have caused gender-specific suffering.
Since its emergence in 2002, Boko Haram has paid particular attention to women in actions and rhetorics, partly because of the intense debate surrounding the role of women and girls in the Northeastern society of Nigeria. Among other extremist movements, the Boko Haram sect called for tighter restrictions on women and girls in almost all areas of their lives, in addition to the already existing poverty, illiteracy, corruption, patriarchy, and early marriage, thwarting their life chances. The seizure of more than 200 Chibok schoolgirls in 2014 was a much-publicized spike in a wider trend. Notwithstanding, Boko Haram turned to female suicide bombers in mid-2014 as they became increasingly pressed for manpower. The terror group also trained women to fight, using young women and girls as pawns in their brutal chess game.
However, the government in a bid to push back insurgency also recruited women in the fight against Boko Haram. Brave young women enlisted as vigilant militia members, including the Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF), with hundreds of women in the Northeast helping security forces, particularly by frisking females at checkpoints, gathering information and identifying suspects, and also sometimes fighting Boko Haram. Others work in non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and women’s associations or care privately for displaced victims. In some cases, the insurgency has opened opportunities for women’s activism, illustrated by the establishment of several new women-led NGOs in the Northeast.
Interestingly, with the 4th Industrial Revolution in full swing, a new crop of women and girls are combating insurgency and the restrictions imposed on women and girls by the fanatical Islamic sect of Boko Haram through tech, and are currently emerging as digital warriors. Despite the region being ravaged and drawn back by insecurity, like phoenixes, these tech-enthusiastic women and girls from the northeastern part of Nigeria have risen, waging a war against limitations, insecurity, restrictions, and repression through the clicks and taps on their mobile phones and computers.
According to information provided by the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), it was found that in the years 2018 and 2019, the agency conducted training programs for ICT and entrepreneurship, specifically targeting 360 women. These training sessions took place in three different states: Gombe (located in the North East region), Jigawa (in the North West region), and Nasarawa (in the North Central region). Additionally, the agency provided laptops and computers to these women, aiming to improve their prospects for self-employment in ICT fields.
For many people, Tech means Coding, Cybersecurity, Software Development, Cloud engineering, and many other intricate and sophisticated paths, however, the savvy use of the internet and social media is also considered tech, especially for non-code Tech-related paths.
The women and young girls of Northeastern Nigeria are harnessing the power of technology through social media platforms like TikTok, Facebook, WhatsApp, Snapchat, etc. to transform their lives and their small businesses, thereby driving economic change.
Northeastern Nigeria has long been plagued by social, economic, and security challenges, with limited access to education and economic opportunities, especially for women. However, in recent years, advancements in technology and the advent of mobile connectivity have brought about a glimmer of hope, opening up new avenues for growth and empowerment.
According to recent statistics, the number of internet users in Nigeria has skyrocketed, with over 123 million people now connected online. Moreover, mobile phone penetration in the country has reached an impressive 85 percent, providing a powerful tool for communication and access to information for previously marginalized communities.
One of the shining examples of this digital revolution can be found in the entrepreneurial endeavors of Northeastern Nigerian women. Through online marketplaces and e-commerce platforms, these enterprising women have found a way to showcase their skills and products to a wider audience, transcending geographical limitations. From intricate handcrafted textiles and jewelry to traditional delicacies, their creations are reaching customers both within Nigeria and internationally.
Asiya Bako, a 26-year-old entrepreneur from Yola, has experienced firsthand the transformative power of technology. Starting with just a small online store, she now exports her handmade baskets to buyers in Europe and the United States, earning a sustainable income that supports her family and provides employment opportunities for other women in her community. She attributes her success to the reach and visibility provided by the internet, enabling her to connect directly with customers and expand her business beyond her local market. Through E-commerce and sites like TikTok where she advertises her products, she doesn’t have to worry about dealing with market closures due to insecurity.
Education is another area where technology is driving change. Through online learning platforms and mobile applications, women in Northeastern Nigeria are accessing educational resources and acquiring new skills that were previously inaccessible. Through E-learning, young women and girls can go to school without fear of abduction.
This newfound knowledge empowers them to take on roles in sectors such as information technology, finance, and agriculture, where they can contribute to the economic development of their communities. A lot of young girls who hitherto are unable to freely attend school, have access to online learning and resources from their safe spaces.
These Digital warriors also understand the power of connectivity. The widespread availability of mobile phones and increased internet access has become a catalyst for collaboration and knowledge-sharing among women in the region. Social media platforms serve not only as marketplaces for goods but also as spaces for networking, mentorship, and collective problem-solving.
The impact of digital technology on Northeastern Nigerian women’s economic empowerment is not limited to individual success stories. It has far-reaching implications for the region as a whole. According to a recent study by the International Finance Corporation (IFC), narrowing the gender gap in digital access and skills could potentially boost Nigeria’s GDP by $13 billion by 2025. This underscores the importance of supporting initiatives that promote digital inclusion and empower women to participate fully in the digital economy.
Recognizing the significance of this movement, several organizations and government agencies have stepped up to support Northeastern Nigerian women in their digital journey. Initiatives such as training programs, mentorship networks, and access to microfinance have been established to provide the necessary resources and support to enable women to harness the power of technology effectively.
As Northeastern Nigerian women continue to break barriers and embrace technology, their impact on the region’s economic landscape is undeniable. By leveraging digital tools, they are transforming their communities, contributing to poverty reduction, and fostering sustainable development. Their stories serve as an inspiration to others, both within Nigeria and beyond, highlighting the potential of technology to drive positive change and bridge socio-economic divides. Breaking free from traditional gender roles and embracing digital tools, these women are rewriting the narrative, fostering innovation, and creating sustainable livelihoods.
Tech has shown that it’s not only the pen that is mightier than the sword, as the Internet has gone toe to toe with the sword in recent years, beating it on all angles, and the digital warriors of northeastern Nigeria are proof. The rise of digital warriors offers a beacon of hope. As more women join their ranks, armed with determination, creativity, and technological prowess, the future of Northeastern Nigeria shines brighter than ever before.
*Sarah Sanda is a Gender Advocate, a British Computer Society Certified Business analyst and a Certified scrum master from International Scrum Institute. She also holds a Masters’ Degree in International Business from the University of Hertfordshire, in addition to a Bachelor’s Degree in Accounting from Ahmadu Bello University and an MBA (Finance) from Ahmadu Bello University.