Category Archives: Gender

Les coûts du leadership féminin en Afrique… au Niger

Je suis fière de voir les changements qui sont en train de s’opérer dans nos sociétés nigériennes. Tout est loin d’être parfait – d’ailleurs beaucoup de défis restent à relever. Mais le constat que j’ai fait depuis quelques années est qu’il y a de plus en plus de femmes, jeunes tout comme plus âgées, qui apportent leur valable contribution à la construction de notre pays, dans différents domaines. Mais toute discussion honnête avec ces femmes font ressortir des craintes et des sacrifices dans une société qui leur prescrit des rôles, souvent rigides.

Aucun être humain ne réussit seul. Il y a un adage commun qui dit, « Behind every great man is a great woman – derrière tout grand homme il y a une grande femme ». Un exemple parlant est le couple Obama où Michelle a dû mettre ses ambitions de côté pour faire briller celles de son mari. Elle savait qu’elle devait être la femme parfaite pour que son mari puisse accéder au pouvoir dans une société qui a des racines misogynes encore profondes (Hillary Clinton en sait quelque chose). Cet adage est d’autant plus vrai pour les femmes qui aspirent à des positions de leadership, surtout en Afrique. Behind every great woman is a great man or a man who could not handle it and missed out on growth. Combien d’hommes africains, ou dans notre cas nigériens, seront prêts à soutenir leur partenaire dans leur épanouissement professionnel ? Combien le feront sans « punir » la femme d’une manière ou d’une autre ? Combien le feraient sans la forcer à masser leur ego, assis sur leur propre insécurité ?

Beaucoup de femmes “leaders” Africaines souffrent : plus que toute autre, elles se retrouvent dans des situations qui exigent des choix impossibles et des contraintes qu’elles doivent assumer… Celles qui décident de faire fi de ces contraintes sociales choisissent par défaut de vivre en isolation. Nous devons apprendre à nos frères et nos fils que leur grandeur ne réside pas dans la suppression des rêves de leur partenaire – tout au contraire… et le manque de soutien actif est aussi une suppression car personne ne réussit seul. Les modèles existent – connus ou cachés, historiques ou actuels. Ici à Cambridge, une amie d’un autre pays a eu une bourse exceptionnelle pour faire son doctorat – son mari a pris un départ momentané pour venir la soutenir en gardant les enfants, encore petits. Quand je raconte son histoire au Niger, les gens demandent si son mari est normal ou s’il est blanc. C’est des sacrifices incroyables qui font une réussite professionnelle équilibrée et épanouie pour les individus qui forment cette famille. C’est très fréquent de voir des femmes qui suivent leur époux pour des etudes, pour des positions à l’extérieur, etc. Mais une femme, en général, essaye même de ne pas « aspirer » à beaucoup d’opportunités de peur de…. (compléter par ce que vous savez déjà)

Pour celles qui aimeraient composer une famille un jour tout en ayant des aspirations personnelles qui dépassent les rôles traditionnels, un des choix les plus importants est le choix de son partenaire. Conférence après conférence, discussions après discussions, les femmes qui sont plus âgées, qui ont réussi a combiner vie de famille et carrière exceptionnelle, ou qui avouent avoir échoué dans l’un ou l’autre expliquent que la clé réside dans le type de soutien que nous avons (ou pas) à la maison. Quand le monde du travail te secoue de défis, quand être femme noire Africaine et jeune qui aspire à avoir un impact conséquent dans sa communauté demande ton engagement, que retrouves tu à la maison? Un partenaire qui te soulage dans les tâches et te soutient ou bien quelqu’un dont le soutien ne dépasse pas la rhétorique? Un partenaire qui sera content de te voir enterrer tes rêves ou bien quelqu’un qui n’aura pas peur de faire des sacrifices pour tes rêves soient aussi valides que les siens? Certes ceci n’est pas la garantie mais c’est une des inconnues innombrables avec lesquelles jongle la femme nigérienne qui veut voir ses rêves professionnels fleurir. Et pour ceux qui aiment les mathématiques (comme moi), on sait que dans une équation à plusieurs variables, l’interdépendance est une nécessité.

Je salue ces femmes nigériennes leaders qui dans leur moment de calme se retrouvent dans le type de changement qu’elles auraient apporté malgré les défis ; je salue ces femmes qui ont défié des normes sociales qu’on pensait inamovibles ; je salue ces femmes qui, dans leur combat, ont pris beaucoup de coups et se relèvent défaite après défaite ; je salue ces femmes qui ont été appelées par tous les noms, tout simplement parce qu’elles voulaient aussi valablement construire leur communauté et leur pays en plus du travail important qu’elles tiennent dans leur foyer ; je salue ces femmes aussi qui se sont senti dans l’obligation, avec des regrets peu exprimées refoulés naturalisés, d’enterrer leur rêve. Le leadership, c’est aussi transmettre ses rêves, dans notre combat, nos silences, et nos sacrifices, aux générations futures.

 

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200 days since Nguelewa… Do all lives matter equally?

Today marks 200 days since 39 young women and girls were kidnapped by Boko Haram militants in the village of Nguelewa in the region of Diffa in Niger. It was the first Boko Haram mass kidnapping in Niger. It is a tragedy that 39 women and girls would be violently removed from their families for an uncertain fate, probably ending up as slaves, abused sold or married off by force. What is also tragic is the silence surrounding the disappearance of these women in international as well national media. All those lives that disappeared, are they not human? Does one need to be French, American, Norwegian or a schoolgirl to garner international outcry when you disappear? An Amnesty International report found that in the span of a year (2014-2015), over 2,000 women and girls have been abducted. I could not find current numbers on how many have been kidnapped since the conflict started in the early 2000s. This testifies of the sheer difficulties associated with tracking who has been kidnapped and who has returned when so many of these movements go unheard. We rarely hear about them – they are women and girls (but also men and boys) from villages spread across the Sahel region and at the margin.

I recently attended an interesting talk by a friend and colleague from Adamawa State (Nigeria). She argues that Boko Haram casualties in schools is not a bi-product of the crisis; in fact, schools, as sites, are at the heart of the struggle. When looking at the outcry garnered by the kidnapping of over 200 girls in Chibok, I couldn’t have agreed more with her. Militants know that they make a clear statement, not only about their ideology but also about their power, when girls in school are involved. However, when the group wants to grow its ranks and make revenues, they simply kidnap women whose lives have institutionally been left at the margin of their societies. Women and girls in rural areas are often the poorest, the least educated (speaking here about formal educated), and the least embedded in formal political processes. They are also the ones most affected by the lack of basic services from health to education and water access. Therefore, when they disappear, it shakes their families, their villages…. but sadly, not more than that. The multiple marginalisations they face in their daily lives and the institutional inequalities they endure daily translate into a deafening silence when their lives are curtailed forever.

It is true that Security renders any analysis much more complex because security concerns are so dynamic and therefore often unpredictable. There are large scale efforts such the newly formed UN-backed G5 Sahel Force involving Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Niger, and Mauritania (like you, I was shocked that like Nigeria was not part of the ‘GX’ Sahel Force…. but that’s a topic for another day). However as many experts point out, these military efforts must be matched with social development programmes and most importantly with creating a counter-narrative to militant groups with speech, action and real alternatives.

If women are being kidnapped, enough men, especially young men, are joining in the ranks of these groups swayed, for some, by their targeted messages or ideology but most because the grips of poverty are so dire on their daily lives and future prospects that they see joining a militant group that pays them a regular income as the only alternative. In a way, some of the forces leading African youth to pay significant amount of money on an uncertain journey on through the Sahara desert to the shores of Italy or Spain are similar forces throwing them into the hands of militant groups: poverty and lost hope that they can “make it” there.

While I am cognisant of the fact that the issues will not be solved on a one-to-one or village-to-village or even country-to-country basis, when such tragedies happen, when 39 lives (and with them families) will never be the same again, our collective responsibility is to never forget the ones who have gone and break this politics of silence when certain African lives suffer. None of these women will read this, but someone in their family might and must know that their lost ones are ours too. #JeSuisNguelewa

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Why has Chibok captured the imagination of the world while the women and girls of Ngualewa seem lost in a whisper of demands by the relatively small Nigerien twitter community?

 

L’école, une double perte ?

Si le thème de cette journée de la femme nigérienne fait le lien direct entre la scolarisation des filles, l’autonomisation des femmes, et le développement durable au Niger, ce n’est pas par hasard. Les filles et les garçons nigériens sont présents au primaire en nombre de plus en plus grandissant chaque année, ce qui démontre une avancée dans l’accès à l’éducation primaire. Selon des données de l’Institut National de la Statistique (INS), le taux brut de scolarisation était de 82,1% pour les garçons et 70,2% pour les filles (2016).

Néanmoins, le taux de survie tout comme le taux d’achèvement des cycles scolaires restent très bas, surtout pour les filles qui vivent la scolarité comme un parcours de combattant. Les données démontreraient que les filles comme les garçons ont du mal à « survivre » la scolarité… Mais c’est à partir du secondaire que l’écart se creuse sérieusement – les filles disparaissent au fil des annees. Sur la population entière d’enfants en âge d’être au collège (classe de 6eme), 43,7% des garçons et 30,6% des filles sont à l’école. Si l’accès au collège reste un privilège, très peu arrivent à franchir ce cap. Le taux d’achèvement du secondaire est de 20,3% pour les garçons et 14,1% pour les filles (2015). Ceci signifie que si on commençait avec une cohorte de 100 filles au CI, à peu près 69 finiraient le primaire et seulement 14 arriveraient à finir le collège. Ce chiffre est global et de ce fait cache des disparités régionales mais aussi entre les zones urbaines et rurales et entre les riches et les pauvres. L’accès, le maintien et la survie scolaire semblent être déterminés par plusieurs facteurs.

Ce qui ressort de ces données générales est que la scolarité est parcheminée d’embuches et d’obstacles divers pour les filles au Niger, et encore plus pour celles qui sont dans les zones rurales. Du fait du taux élevé d’abandon et des faibles opportunités, certains parents se demandent réellement si l’école en vaut la peine. Une femme explique que pour envoyer sa fille a l’école, il faut faire plusieurs calculs car souvent l’école est une double perte…. Les filles partent à l’école pendant 6 ou 7 ans sans apprendre grand-chose dans des écoles dont la qualité est généralement médiocre mais aussi ces filles perdent l’opportunité d’avoir pleinement cette éducation traditionnelle qui les prépare au rôle de femmes, épouses, mères dans leur communauté.

De ce fait, pour que la confiance entre les parents et l’institution scolaire soit reconstruite et consolidée, il faut nécessairement que l’éducation proposée soit de qualité. En changeant la perception et la réalité sur les acquis à l’école, nous pourrions amener les parents à voir l’école non comme une perte mais comme un investissement… Il est facile d’imaginer que ce sentiment de perte doit se faire sentir aussi au niveau de l’état qui continue de mettre des milliards par an dans un canari fissuré. Imaginez les pertes occasionnées considérant que l’éducation au collège coute un peu moins de 40.000FCFA par élève. Avec chaque abandon (et ce malgré les bénéfices sociaux de chaque année supplémentaire), le Niger perd sur un investissement non abouti.

Women’s Day, A Daily Act.

 

In 2015 I attended a deeply enriching conference with Prof. Tariq Ramadan in Niger, and a woman in the audience spoke. She spoke about how she felt full of potentials, had great dreams, thrived and was happy to be useful to her society. She added that today, she and many women around her felt they had to bury their dreams because our society imposes difficult choices on them. Many women in the room were in tears listening to the cry of a woman whose voice spoke a truth that consumed her. Many in the room nodded. It was a sad inconvenient truth. This is the reality of many women even as they tried to be bold and strong. The emancipation of women will not be complete if in their daily lives they are diminished or “contained” by the very people who are closest to them, the very people who are supposed to uplift and support them. For married women, that person closest to them is their spouse. This is neither a bashing nor a fight; it is the continuation of a conversation worth having. Being “bold” for women sometimes comes with heavy social costs. It is therefore, understandable that many women (un)consciously construct their lives in a manner that sometimes bury, diminish or contain their potentials. And when that happens, everyone loses. Prof. Ramadan’s response demands us all to start an internal adaptive work because change demands efforts. Change also demands that we deconstruct the idea of our own individual comfort for ones that also account for the other.

Unearthing dreams…

Being in support of women achieving their highest potential is a daily act. It starts at home, and while the occasional Facebook posts or public statements from men help, I would wait to see how he treats the women around him before I press “like”. Some call women all the ‘sweet’ words there are but are not willing to lift a finger to share responsibilities of taking care of the house, or supporting their wives in achieving their dreams, or in simply giving her reason to believe in herself. The examples are endless. Just this week I visited the Ministry of Education and one guy (a military man) came for help on a “dossier” for his wife (a physics and chemistry teacher). He bluntly said, “what I tried and didn’t succeed, there was no way she could do any better”. Thankfully, the women at the secretariat explained to him that the wife was the one who was the teacher, and the one in the best position to explain her situation… Everything he was saying was ‘approximate and incomplete’, and that he should really send his wife to come and defend her case. The guy concluded that he would come with her accompanied. Everyone laughed. Another highly educated and accomplished man (who claimed to be a strong defender of women’s rights) told me that he reserved his “feminism” for his daughter and his employees, not his wife. I wonder how this man expects to raise his daughter into a strong and confident young woman when he treats his wife as if she were devoid of any potential or as if she didn’t have voice. How many men see “women’s empowerment” as an external thing that would not happen in their own home? Being in support of your daughters and wives achieving their potential begins with you being honest about how much support you give your partner of life. I am grateful and salute the men who do value the women in their lives, with their words and with deeds…  these men are many, but if we are still talking about how few women there are in certain space, it is because there is still much work to be done together.

Mismatch of expectations for ambitious women

A Harvard Business Review (HBR) article found that even though Harvard MBAs valued professional and personal lives, women’s satisfaction with their professional growth was much lower than that of their male counterparts. Unsurprisingly, (desired) career outcomes were much lower as well. This is not necessarily because women “opt out” to care for their families (although some choose to) or because women want less opportunities for career growth. There is a serious mismatch of expectations about life objectives and aspirations… I would argue that in many African cultures, this mismatch is known from the onset, hence there is very little ground for conversation between potential spouses because duh, obviously… Even when couples try to navigate different sets of arrangement, societal pressure may thwart their efforts… in many Nigerien cultures, the woman would be called to order (the family may summon a second or third wife to put this wife back to her place), and the man would be teased as “mijjin hadjia”, the husband to his wife. Although there is some noticeable change. A guard in a company in Maradi who depended on a small salary explained that he managed to send his daughter to nursing school. After she married, her husband decided that she would no longer work because he wanted her at home all the time. The father opposed this decision because he knew how much he invested to have one of his eight children be financially stable and independent, and how much he also counted on his daughter’s financial help after he retired. This is not to say that every single woman aspires (or must aspire) to a (high-profile) professional career, but for those that do, we ought them as our sisters, wives, mothers, and colleagues our support.

As a Muslim woman…

I look at the age-old yet so relevant example of Khadidja, the first wife of the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH). Khadidja is the very definition of a woman who has successfully managed to balance her professional aspirations (expending her business into an impressive financial empire) with her family demands. She also made a timeless contribution to her community. And in the Seerah (Narratives of the life of the Prophet), you could see the balance and the immense support the Prophet (PBUH) and his wife mutually provided each other, both to grow personally spiritually and professionally. In a book by Jean Boyd, The Caliph’s Sister, we see Nana Asma’u a Muslim woman from the 18th century in the Sokoto Caliphate (present-day Northern Nigeria) who has carved dynamic spaces where both men and women could critically engage with developments in their communities. She trained an army of women teachers (jaji) who would systematically disseminate knowledge beyond the confines of her own community. Nana Asma’u was a poet, a writer, a philosopher, a policymaker and a teacher; she was also a wife and a mother. Individuals of the likes exist in contemporary Sahel societies. I see them in my mothers, my sisters, my ‘formal’ and Koranic school teachers, in Ms. Amina J. Mohammed (appointed deputy Secretary-General to the UN), and many others who navigate and negotiate complex social and familial structures to be examples worthy of emulation to their sons and daughters. We are in no means a monolithic group. Women’s empowerment is not a foreign concept. In fact, it has existed in the very fabric of our societies, but these notions have somewhat been colonised out of our minds. Changing these forms of injustice begins with meaningful respectful and compassionate debates, not just on Facebook or on e-platforms, but at home.

These are some reflections, not exhaustive, jotted down on paper with the hopes that they would begin/continue meaningful conversations on these issues. Any comments and suggestions welcome.