Wednesday, February 9, 2011

A Critical Look into the Jos Crisis from a Feminist Perspective - Maryam Kazeem (an Intern with BAOBAB, 2011)

Over the past five years there has been an escalation of sectarian violence in the Middle-Belt Zone of Nigeria. In the North-Central city of Jos, the army sent to protect, and the residents supposedly acting on behalf of their respective religious communities, have carried out extreme acts of violence against innocent victims. In the month of January of 2011, there have already been over 200 victims.[1]
As we saw in March of 2010, the women of the region have had enough of the violence. In response to an attack, which left hundreds dead (many of whom were women and children), hundreds of women in Abuja and Jos rallied against the violence. Wearing all-black ensembles, the women carried photographs of the innocent victims, as well as posters calling for an end to the violence. [2] While the rally captured some attention from both the Nigerian government and the West, the violence in Jos continued throughout this past year and into 2011.
Earlier this week, thousands of women gathered again in Jos to protest against another massacre, which left hundreds dead in just thirty days.[3] One must ask what role women’s organizations in Nigeria have taken to put an end to these political massacres and their innocent victims?
Before contemplating that question, I want to highlight an effective example of women’s activism, from one of our neighboring countries, Liberia. In 2003, WIPNET, a women’s organization in Nigeria played an instrumental role in ending Charles Taylor’s brutal regime and Liberia’s Second Civil War. The documentary, Pray the Devil Back to Hell (2008) directed by Gini Reticker, highlights the activities of Liberian women to end the civil war, with the inspiring result of the election of the nation’s first female president, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. While the film emphasizes many aspects of women’s activism- one of the most important factors, which can go easily unnoticed was the socio-economic diversity of the women activists. While the filmmakers laud the fact that Muslim and Christian women in Liberia worked together, they do not necessarily recognize that additionally, women of different economic status partnered. Leymah Gbowee, who is featured in the film as the leader of the women, was an educated social worker; several other lead members of the women were as well, educated, professional women. I would suggest that the war created a state in which women of different socio-economic status had no choice, but to work together in order to have an impact.
While the recent protest in Jos, involved university students, it is not clear that professional women such as lawyers, police officials, etc. participated in the activism against the violence. I illuminate the example of Liberia, to pose a question of which women are engaged in activism in Nigeria? Is it possible that part of the reason these atrocities, which mostly affect women, keep occurring is due to the lack of involvement of women from “higher” levels of society? I would suggest that women of all socio-economic backgrounds need to be involved in order for change to be truly implemented. This includes market women, police officials, social workers, lawyers, and the women in Nigeria (albeit few) that hold positions in the government. Without the involvement of these women that have tangible authority in Nigeria, these protests will continue to be seen and not heard. It seems clear that unless Nigerians, from all different regions of the country, feel as though the perceived distant violence in Jos affects their livelihood; the violence will continue to persist. After all, one cannot claim that progress is being made in Nigeria for women, when poor women and children, in cities such as Jos continue to suffer.

Maryam Kazeem
African Studies, Sociological Research
Northwestern University 2010

[1] Ayo Okulaja “Governor Weeps as Women Protest in Jos” 234Next, February 1, 2011. “
[2] “Women Protest at Jos Killings” BBC News, March 11, 2010. “
[3]“Christians, Muslims protest at Nigeria sectarian unrest” AFP, January 31, 2011 “

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