Sella Esther Sowa, a 42-year-old native of Kenema in the Eastern Province of Sierra Leone is a victim of violence in her community. She grows and sells vegetables to support her four children, nephews and parents. Sella was caught in a web of land dispute which erupted within her family. Unlike other women who would simply fold their hands without doing anything about the situation, she decided to take a stand: “I want[ed] to get involved in decision making in my community” she said. Well, the reader will soon discover how a determined village vegetable seller changed her narrative to become a blockbuster United Nations’ Peace Ambassador.
The courageous lady in our lead story comes from a patriarchal community where women are supposed to be seen not heard. It is apparently abominable for women to inherit property or lay claims to material possessions. Narrating her ordeal, Sella disclosed that family feuds were a recurrent decimal in their home. This led to constant threats and confrontations. Since the issues were around land and inheritance, initially she felt, there was nothing she could do as a woman. But the saying “where there is a will, there is a way,” gave her the courage to intervene. How did this come about?
She narrated that on this fateful day, some boys attacked her brother’s house. They smashed the windows of Salieu’s residence with stones. Her younger brother was suspected of the attack. Since her house was next to Salieu’s, the attackers escaped through her kitchen. The terrible experience made her move since her family was no longer safe in that environment. That decision would soon change the soar grape in her mouth.
Not long after that, Sella learned about a UN Women’s training for Female Peace Ambassadors. The news excited her because she felt that that would provide her the much-needed skills to fulfill her dream of bringing an end to the conflict in her family. As such, she decided to enroll in the programme. Expectedly, the training afforded her the necessary skills for peace-mediation and community-conflict resolution.
The training addressed challenges women face daily in their communities such as lack of security, power of decision-making, discrimination, financial constraints, denial of rights and the mandate to either vote or contest for elective positions in their communities. They also got expert advice on how to overcome these challenges through self-esteem, rising against sexual harassment and being role models to other women in the community. “For years I felt powerless. I stayed quiet and avoided issues that required mediation, but after the training, I organized a family meeting where we talked about the distribution of the land. I feel proud to be a peace ambassador and I want to get involved in decision making in my community” Sella surmised.
This epic story reveals how one determined woman can change the course of history in her community. Every year around the world, 8th March is observed as International Women’s Day. Also called Civil Awareness Day, Women and Girls Day, Anti-sexism Day and Anti-Discrimination Day, the celebration remains a focal point in the movement for women’s rights. The example of the heroic woman from Sierra Leone should be a metaphor for women who are facing various forms of abuse to brace up for action.
Sadly today, women are either engaged in domestic fights or are used as punching bags by their husbands. The scourge of domestic violence is alarming. For instance, in 2018, Agency Report disclosed that the Hisba Commission in Sokoto State recorded 30,160 cases of domestic violence from January 2017 to April 2018. The issue of domestic violence on women and children who are often at the receiving end is a spoiler of peace in the home environment. The different forms of violence against women include sexual violence, harmful traditional practices, trafficking of girls and ethnoreligious violence against women by the terrorist groups. Every mother would put the worst atrocity of Boko Haram as the abduction of the Chibok and Dapchi schoolgirls as well as others in the den of kidnappers.
Lack of peace also reminds us of the grim scenario of women who suffer verbal, sexual, physical and psychological abuse by men. No doubt, violence against women destroys peace and security. It also undermines their basic rights, freedom, health, welfare and contribution to national development. Women are encouraged not to give up at least for the sake of those who have died in these unfortunate circumstances, others who are suffering in silence and the unborn.
It took a courageous Rosa Louise McCauley Parks (February 4, 1913 – October 24, 2005) to revolutionize the status of people of colour in a society of White Supremacists. Recall that the American activist in the civil rights movement played a major role in the Montgomery bus boycott. Little wonder, United States Congress refers to her as “the first lady of civil rights” and “the mother of the freedom movement.”
On the home front, the heroic example of women peacebuilders and activists is worth noting. Ann-Kio Briggs, Nigerian environmental and human rights activist and founder of non-organization Agape Birth Rights has always spoken in condemnation of the illegal activities of the Niger Delta Avengers for their attacks on oil and gas installations which results in power outages. On her part, Hajiya Hamsatu Allamin has been a courageous voice as a peacebuilder and activist who was a panelist at the UNs Conference on Countering Violent Extremism in February 2016 at their headquarters in New York. In the same year, she was selected as an outstanding peacemaker for the Women Peace-Makers Programme at the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice (IPI), University of San Diego (USD). These are few out of the numerous women in Nigeria who are peace-builders and activists.
Globally, women are more than ever coming together to form networks for peace. As such, mothers are carriers of “living water,” who are challenged to embrace holiness, bear fruits and provide access to quality education for their children. They can live out their lives fully by embracing patience even as they contribute to every sphere of national life. As mothers, they can establish local peace initiatives in their communities. Unless mothers come out and publicly criticize those who unleash acts of terror on society, it is unlikely that they can carry “Living water” to a world that thirsts for peace.
The UN and relevant stakeholders like Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) should hold governments and parliaments accountable for ensuring the full implementation of the 35% seats benchmark for women in parliament. That way, they would be able to contribute their quota to peace and national development. Training and mentoring of women and girls is key. Sella, in our lead story, offers us these beautiful concluding lines: “I am proud to be a Peace Ambassador; I want women to believe that they too can make a change as Ambassadors of Peace. I want to get involved in decision making in my community – we must be united and work for a common goal to take leadership positions and be active in keeping peace in our community.” Get involved and the time starts now.
NB: I dedicate this article to the evergreen memories of the three most influential women in my life – My late Mom, Lady Martina J. Dyikuk, my late elder sister, Justina J. Dyikuk and my adopted mother, Mrs. Agnes Asabe Yakubu. The memories of the good times we had together will never be forgotten. May your sacrifices and intercession counter the narrative for all women who are victims of conflict or violence especially the young and most vulnerable.
Fr. Justine Dyikuk is a Catholic Priest and Researcher who combines being the Editor of Bauchi Caritas Catholic Newspaper, Communication’s Director of Bauchi Diocese with his job as a Lecturer in the Department of Mass Communication, University of Jos, Nigeria. He can be reached through – firstname.lastname@example.org.