“We Want To Be Empowered,” Bagega Women
Nnu said that during election, they vote more as politicians only sweet-talk them but do nothing to improve their community. At most she said, “they share five hundred naira or give us rubbers or rice, which still do not circulate.” But the material gift is not their problem.
Bagega is the largest village in Anka LGA of Zamfara state. Located in northwest Nigeria with a population of about 3,000 people, who are mainly Hausas by tribe, their major occupations are farming and mining.
Bagega village, just like any other village and town in Zamfara state, restrict women to a certain way of life as they are govern by sharia law, which limits women’s main priority to giving birth and maintaining their household, while abiding by the rules set by their husbands.
A man is the head of the family; this is no cliché in Bagega.
However, the issue is, how do these men take up their responsibilities as husbands and fathers when they are stretched playing such role in more than one household? To bridge the lapses, the women are saddled with the responsibility of taking care of themselves and their children.
It is a popular saying that when you educate a man, you educate a man, but when you educate a woman you educate a nation. It was during my visit to Bagega village that I realized the depth in these words.
Hassana Bawa, a dark skinned woman, cladded in a white-handles shirt with a wrapper tied to her chest welcomed me along with Hauwa Lawali, an old woman who directed me to the compound to meet with the other Bagega women.
Hassana Bawa offered me a local seat made from wood, with a wrapper laid on it to serve as cushion, so I could feel comfortable. She smiled to my greeting in Hausa and responded warmly. I asked her, “Ma’nene damuwar ku?” This means what are your problems? And Hassana Bawa replied saying “damuwar mu tana da yawa,domin akuwai abubuwa da yawa da muka rasa” meaning, our problems are many as there are a lot of things we lack.
She said their children suffer from illnesses such as malaria. The women suffer from infections caused by unhealthy environment as they lack adequate health centers in their community. She pointed to a little boy of about 6 to 7 years, who couldn’t go to school because he was ill. An older boy whom I saw reading the Qur’an in the room is said to have finished secondary school but couldn’t further due to lack of sufficient funds. Poverty is a major problem in Bagega.
Saratu Abbas, a young woman in her late teens, is one of the daughters of the Bawa’s household. She came home with her baby to seek for financial help from her parents. She said if she had the opportunity she would have chosen school instead of marriage. She was only able to obtain an O’level certificate in Gusau Secondary School, before she was married off. She said in hausa, “nayi kokari nayi makaranta gusau na secondary ama babu abin yi, sahana nayi aure,gashi na dawo gida domin nemar taimako.” This means “I tried and finished from Gusau Secondary School but no work to do, so I had to get married. Now I’m home in my father’s house to get help after which I will go back to my husband.”
Saratu said that not all girls who embrace marriage regret it. Her younger sister, Jamila, who is also married is having a better life because her husband agreed to send her to school of nursing after she completes her secondary school education. She is doing well with the hope of a bright future. However, Saratu appeals for government support. She said that their community should be looked upon as they lack proper opportunities to lead a healthy life.
Meanwhile, Hassiya, another wife of the Bawa’s household, who has been listening to our conversation, chirped in. From where she was at the other side of the compound, she rose up to say “yanmata mu bayan primary da secondary, sai aure domin babu kudi mu tura su wani makaranta sai de in mijin ya yarda ama mafin yawa maza ba su tura su” this means “our young girls get married after primary and secondary schools as we cannot afford to help them further except if the men they are married to would sponsor them. But in most cases, they don’t.”
To tackle the challenge, she suggested that the government should create vocational skill acquisition programmes to empower women.
Aside limited access to education and lack of finance, poor sexual and reproductive health education is also a threat to women of Bagega. Those interviewed said they have no idea of what family planning entails. They have no access to birth control, which is called “tazaran aiuwa” in Hausa.
Hassana Bawa said if they were knowledgeable, they would have accepted it because it would have helped them in giving birth at the appropriate time with proper spacing. It would have also helped them better plan for the number of children to have.
Although women in Bagega engage in petty trading as a means of generating income to support their husbands, Hassana said the business of selling hura made out of guinea corn doesn’t bring in much profit as they have less money with more responsibilities.
The women admitted to have received support in the past, but mostly verbal promises. A female commissioner from Abuja, the capital city of Nigeria, whose name they cannot remember once paid them a visit and made many promises that never came to pass.
Hassana Bawa said, “commissioner nan ta zo ta dawki wotunar mu, kumar ta kira mu gauruwa,bayan haka ta samu abin da ta’ke so,sai ta wuce”, meaning ‘this commissioner came and took a picture of us and called us widows, which was all to her own benefit.
Mary Labu, a nursing mother, said the commissioner told them that she was going to teach them vocational skills such as soap making, shampoo, bead-making and so on, but left with their complains and has not returned.
Hauwa Lawali, who earlier introduced me to the women, said they will appreciate if government will help them by providing vocational training as a better means of providing for themselves and also assisting their husbands.
She shed more light on the promises made by the female commissioner. According to Hauwa, the commissioner brought with her many handmade things such as fancy beads (jewelries) and gathered women together but didn’t teach them. She left with all she had brought without impacting anything on them.
Mary Labu said all they desire is to be given a chance that will help them and their children.
Rahinna Galadima, another woman from the neighborhood came in after a while to join us in Bawa’s compound. She insisted that even if she was late, her name must be written because she wants to be a part of the story.
Rahinna, a very funny and friendly woman, pointed out that all was not gloomy in Bagega. There are very good roads, she said. But like other women she noted that the most pressing need is women empowerment programme. She also said they appreciate the work of “Follow the Money,” a programme championed by Connected Development (CODE), a non-governmental organization based in Abuja. CODE help create awareness about government pending promises on helping them and their community.
Also Nnu Magaji, one of the older women in the compound, said women empowerment need in the community is not one to be overlooked. Vocational training will empower them, so they can sponsor their children to school.
Nnu added, “indace zamu sami irin ki guda biyu a wana dan anguwar mu,da zamu je muyi barci domin muna da wanda zata kai kukar mu” this means “if we could have two of rural reporters in our small community, we would all have gone to sleep as we would have a voice to speak for us”.
Bagega has a good road network. But the village lacks enough schools, no electricity and limited access to clean water. Nnu said that during election, they vote more as politicians only sweet-talk them but do nothing to improve their community. At most she said, “they share five hundred naira or give us rubbers or rice, which still do not circulate.” But the material gift is not their problem. They are more concerned about being empowered so they can stand for themselves as women.