Nigeria: empowering women, transforming society
Built predominantly from oil revenues, Nigeria is now Africa’s largest economy. Yet underinvestment and inequitable distribution of wealth means few of the nation’s 175 million inhabitants benefitted from the exploitation of these natural resources. In light of this, workers, their unions, and broader civil society are increasingly calling for greater transparency and accountability of the Nigerian government, particularly in the River State Niger Delta where environmental degradation and human rights abuses abound. This Solidarity Centre case study, part of their Catalysts for Change series, examines the work of one initiative in the area, the Women Initiative for Transparency and Social Justice (WITSOJ) which trains and mobilises women and young people to effectively engage in democratic politics, and hold government accountable. The initiative spawned, and drew support from, a broad coalition of trade unions, women’s associations, sector-based workers associations, and other stakeholders including police, media, and clergy.
Since its formation in 2007, WITSOJ has trained over 5000 women in hands-on workshops. Women are taught, and given tools, to effectively mobilise, utilise, and involve local leaders and the media, and hold local government accountable. Several WITSOJ successes are presented, including: large-scale election monitoring and voter empowerment; greater transparency by state governments in terms of publishing budgets online; and holding local government accountable for fulfilling health policy. While the initiative has had a lot of success, to the ire of some politicians who feel threatened by accountability, there is still a long way to go. Poor infrastructure and corruption are two large, difficult challenges to overcome, and to help others achieve similar success the publication closes with five key lessons for futrue projects: conduct a situational analysis; educate and mobilise citizens about their democratic rights; get community members to meet with service providers; partner with labour unions and build roots in communities; and finally, don’t give up!