Aishatu Kabu has a passion for her own community-based organization for women and girls displaced by conflict in northeastern Nigeria. The passion helps her carry on despite stigma and threats.
She learned the ropes while working for international humanitarian organizations after fleeing an attack by Boko Haram soldiers on her community in 2014. Her family’s house was among those “burnt down to ashes.”
She saved up wages from her work at one of the international NGOs so that she could register Zenith of the Girl Child and Women Initiative Support (ZEGCAWIS).
Now she finds herself in a lopsided competition for resources with long-established global aid organizations, struggling to sustain her three-year-old community based in Maiduguri. She has 20 paid staff and 30 volunteers.
“Access to resources and access to funding has been the major challenge since day one,” Aishatu said in an interview. “It’s a highly competitive context when there are international NGOs present. It’s very very difficult to access grants.
“In terms of capacity, in terms of strength, they have an advantage over us because they manage multi-million-dollar projects.”
Her idea is that international organizations will move on when conflict dies down, that local organizations would not only be more trusted but would be more sustainable in the long run.
An example Aishatu cites of the advantage of local NGO is sourcing supplies for her NGO from local women groups. It helps empower them. She is plugged in to do that while the international NGOs generally bring in their supplies, she said.
One example is locally sourcing a standardized menstrual hygiene and dignity kit. Other advantages of a community-based NGO she cited are language skills, cultural knowledge, and trust because members of her group have been affected themselves by the conflict.
“When I go to an IDP (internally displaced persons) camp I speak the local language like them, I narrate my story of how I trekked from my community … and tell them that I am displaced and the only reason I don’t live in an IDP camp is because of my access to education.”
The goals of ZEGCAWIS include local application of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on inclusion of women in peace processes, and five other themes. They are gender-based violence, sexual reproductive health and rights, women and youth economic empowerment, child protection, nutrition and livelihood.
Among the programs are comprehensive case management for survivors of gender-based violence; programs for pre and post natal care; nutrition awareness; and economic empowerment of women.
Aishatu said she was fortunate that she ensured that she had an education. It helped her land a voluntary job with Save the Children and later a paid job with Plan International.
Now age 24, she completed secondary school a year before the 2014 conflict, received her social work diploma in 2016 and now is studying for a BSC in mass communications at University of Maiduguri.
She started ZEGCAWIS from scratch, mobilizing friends and family to work as volunteers. In 2018, months after officially registering her NGO and still operating on a volunteer basis, she appeared on a panel during the annual global 16 days of activism campaign against gender-based violence.
As the youngest on the panel , she gained the attention of officials with funds distributed via the United Nations Population Fund, which coordinates programs against gender-based violence in humanitarian settings. Those funds and others since then have or are about to expire.
“So how are we going to sustain the good work started by the international community beyond their presence ?” she asked. “How can we sustain the work we do in terms of women’s rights, promoting social justice, promoting peace and ensuring that the women peace and security agenda of the UNSCR 1325 resolution has been achieved?”
What is the most rewarding part of your work ?
The rewarding part of the work is we are saving humanity. We are making sure that the voice of our people, especially women and girls, is being heard.
Also, because of this work I get the opportunity to attend a lot of training and can establish my presence all over the world - Canada, the US, other countries in Africa.
An interesting part is that I notice people becoming gender sensitive around me. Or in my presence. As a student, as an aid worker and of course an activist, if a lecturer, facilitator, or a colleague would use ‘he, he, he’ for everything, they will use ‘he or she’ because of my presence. They know you represent womanhood. Even if they will not sustain it in your absence at least they are trying to exhibit that women and men share the world when I am around.
Some advice from family or friend that stays with you ?
The advice that always remains in my mind from mentors is that if you want to succeed you have to be determined and focused. Ours is a very culturally sensitive environment and the kind of work we do comes along with threats, it comes along with societal stigma because for them as a woman you should not have a voice. It is only determination and focus that will make you overcome that.
What advice do your have for other young women activists?
The advice I would give other women, especially coming from a culturally-sensitive place like mine anywhere around the world, is the fact that they need to be focused and determined and passionate about whatever they are doing.
If you want to be an activist for women and girls make sure you are passionate so that not any threats, not any societal stigma will make you think twice about it. Passion will take you to your goals to bring about change, to contribute to sustainable development, to achieve equality.
This applies not only to activism but to entrepreneurship and academia.
If you’re not passionate about it, just forget it, because the kind of stigma and harassment we receive… if not for the passion we cannot continue with the good work we are doing.