Women leading change for a safe and prosperous Sahel
March 27, 2023
As we commemorate International Women’s Day this month, we remain particularly inspired by the resilience of those leading change in protracted conflicts and fighting for the safety, dignity and well-being of their families and communities.
Every day, women play critical roles in bringing peace and security to their communities in conflict-affected regions in Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Mali, Niger and Nigeria. Despite these immense challenges, they are leading and participating in community stabilization committees, working as engineers to restore structures destroyed by conflicts, such as houses, schools, police stations, health clinics, water points and market stalls, and supplying their communities with goods and services. These women are also actively engaged in decision-making processes related to rebuilding communities and areas shattered by violence and conflict.
Baba Sultan Ibrahim, Chairperson of the Women’s Association of the Limani Subprefecture in Guité, Chad, underlined the role women play in regaining livelihoods. For example, the provision of agricultural and fishing inputs and tools enabled farmers and fishers (60 percent of whom are women) to earn a living and support their families.
The participation of women in multifunctional platforms has also enabled them to collaborate on creating innovative products and incorporating innovative sales strategies. Equipping them with these tools not only resulted in increased productivity but in gaining financial security and preventing gender-based violence.
With support from UNDP’s Regional Stabilization Facility, such initiatives are having a considerable impact on the community as a whole, leading to a significant decrease in insurgent attacks reported in Guité and in reducing child enrolment in armed groups.
In Burkina Faso, women also contribute to restoring degraded land and cleaning up public spaces, including markets, schools and medical centres. The installation of solar-powered systems, as part of the programming, is also having a tangible effect on the opportunities available for women. “We used to experience frequent power outages, and it was especially difficult for women in labour”, stated Salimata Talata, a midwife at the Seytenga maternity ward, emphasizing the importance of solar kits for medical facilities.
“With 24-hour electricity, we can now provide continuous care.”Salimata Talata
Overall, the installation of thousands of solar-powered streetlights across the six countries is making women feel safer, especially at night, as indicated by the 46% increase in the safety and security perceptions survey results from 2020 to 2022.
Meanwhile, in Mali, women are engaging in expanded income-generating opportunities, including fish farming, plastic waste processing, weaving and dyeing. Adama Ouloguem, who grew up as an orphan, joined a group of women in her community to contribute to stabilization livelihood efforts. Citing the production and selling of soaps, she illustrated how stabilization programming has helped boost women’s entrepreneurial capacities and incomes. Today, Adama is the president of the Bandiagara Association.
Stabilization programming in Cameroon has provided opportunities for young women like Marguerite Vadzaye Jeremie to regain financial stability and independence. After conflict disrupted her family's farming income, Marguerite underwent tailoring training and was provided with the necessary equipment to start her own business. Now, at 19 years old and the third among seven siblings, she supports herself and her family. “I now make enough revenue to take care of my needs and support my family while I work to achieve my goal of becoming a renowned stylist. I’m also engaged in the community, training vulnerable girls and women so they can also earn a living.”
“I’m also engaged in the community, training vulnerable girls and women so they can also earn a living.”Marguerite Vadzaye Jeremie
While women have taken on critical leadership roles in the Sahel, the Lake Chad Basin, and other parts of the world, they continue to face numerous challenges stemming from deeply ingrained socio-cultural norms and structural barriers.
In crisis and post-crisis contexts, women face multiple traumas, including exploitation, violence perpetrated by extremist groups and separated families yearning to return home. Despite these challenges, women continue to show remarkable strength and resilience to rebuild their lives. Their participation and leadership are essential for creating a safer and more prosperous future.