Reaching the World from Nigeria

Olanike Olugboji is an award-winning conservationist and women’s empowerment advocate. She is based in Nigeria but has had the opportunity to travel internationally. She holds degrees in urban and regional planning. 5

Nigeria ranks fourth in the world on the 2014 Global Terrorism Index (GTI), and first in Africa. Acts of terrorism, along with militancy, crime, rights violations, extrajudicial killings, violent demonstrations, organized atrocities, and ethnoreligious hostilities, have led to quantum loss of life, injuries, destruction of property, and displacement in the country. Life in urban and rural communities is becoming volatile and demoralizing. Rufus O., a respected senior friend and colleague, has remarked that “with the ongoing spate of insurgencies and hostilities, the ship called Nigeria is sinking, and sinking fast.” For many Nigerians, the frequency of social hostilities, the counterstrategies (shrouded in controversy), and the debilitating trauma that follows, are cause for concern.

“I don’t even know how to start,” recounts Dorothy, about her seven-day walk with her family from Adamawa State in northeastern Nigeria to safety in Cameroon. “It wasn’t a good experience at all. Some women left homes half dressed in their wrappers. Many were searching for their children. I saw some women huddling up to five children around themselves, as we walked miles away from peril that befell our communities. No water, no food. It is not an easy experience for women especially. Imagine that some pregnant women even delivered their babies along the way. There was a woman whose baby died along the way, yet the baby remained strapped on her back until we reached safety.” Her pain-laden yet tranquil voice conveyed her gratitude that she and her family made it.

By informing a global network of empowered online activists about the challenges faced by women in my community, I am able to exchange ideas and explore solutions for my community’s plight.

In 2004, when I fully committed to environmental activism, the goal of promoting equity, justice, and peace was uppermost in my mind. I continue to advance this cause through the Women Initiative for Sustainable Environment (WISE), a grassroots nonprofit organization I founded in 2008. We advocate for women’s active representation, participation, and leadership in natural resource governance and peacebuilding in Nigeria. At inception, the projected reach of WISE was grassroots women in rural and urban areas of Nigeria. Now, WISE’s access to the internet, coupled with representation and participation in numerous international women’s events has afforded the organization opportunities to advocate for women at a global level. WISE’s global advocacy efforts thrive primarily on a growing online presence, which is fueled by social networking, global citizenship, and activism.

To date, over 3,000 women have been engaged in activities promoting water security, food security, forest conservation, peace, climate justice, and digital empowerment through WISE programs.

As a young girl, each time I visited the countryside with my family, barefoot women and girls carrying heavy containers of water on their heads, walking long distances under the scathing sun were a common sight. We lived in a city where all I needed to do was turn on the tap to get myself a clean glass of water.  The reality of this disparity stayed with me, and I dreamed of doing something about it someday.

After graduate school, I worked within the corporate sector for about four years until ultimately, inspired by my care for nature and distinctive sense of equity and justice, I journeyed into the world of social activism when I founded the Environmental Management and Protection Network (EMPRONET) in 2004. However, on-the- ground realities reignited my childhood dream, and my work became centered on engaging grassroots women in natural resource stewardship. On the ground realities revealed that grassroots women were most vulnerable to the impacts of environmental problems, and were excluded from intervention efforts. In 2008, I shared my vision with the board and collaborators of EMPRONET, as well as my family and friends, and they endorsed the transition from EMPRONET into the founding of WISE. WISE is a response to identified gaps in grassroots women’s representation and participation in the natural resource sector. WISE advances women’s rights, roles and responsibilities as it concerns environmental sustainability and development.

Olanike Nigeria Building Peace Forum #PeaceTech

(Photo Credit: Curt Carnemark / World Bank via Flickr)

To date, over 3,000 women have been engaged in activities promoting water security, food security, forest conservation, peace, climate justice, and digital empowerment through WISE programs. Anna Avong, the leader of another grassroots women’s group, Attarkar Women’s Association of Nigeria, was appointed to her village’s traditional council after WISE supported her group’s construction and installation of a biosand water filter in a local primary school.

My online activism has afforded me informed access to a number of opportunities, connections, and resources which shape my work on the ground. For example, through a joint online application, Anna and I were selected to attend the first African Women and Water Conference. It was here that we learned of the Biosand filter water filtration technology. Women’s digital empowerment training has also been included in WISE programming, as a result of a six-month online training course on citizen journalism and digital empowerment I benefited from as a World Pulse Voices of Our Future (VOF) Correspondent. My virtual activism contributes to my real life and likewise, my online activities are fueled by my real experiences.

Over time, my understanding of how to use digital tools to fulfill both my personal and community development aspirations has broadened. I use digital videos, slideshows, photographs, Internet radio, and social networking to make the world aware of the stories, needs, and solutions in the communities I serve.

I am the host of “WE—Women and Environment” on Sylvia Global Media and I have an online blog called Women, Environment, and Society Think-Tank. Both undertakings are dedicated to raising awareness and spurring action around environmental and other societal issues that touch women’s lives. These initiatives move beyond raising awareness to empowering women acting for change.

Over time, my understanding of how to use digital tools to fulfill both my personal and community development aspirations has broadened. I use digital videos, slideshows, photographs, Internet radio, and social networking to make the world aware of the stories, needs, and solutions in the communities I serve.

 

In 2008 I joined World Pulse, an online community with tens of thousands of women and their allies from more than 190 countries. World Pulse, in particular, enriched and enhanced my work, and further stirred me to continue thinking out of the box. In 2013, World Pulse highlighted me as one of ten leaders changing the world for the better.

Women with heart-rending stories like Dorothy’s are tragically common in Nigeria.  It has always been my ambition to make a positive difference for the women of my country and today. With WISE and the support of virtual communities like World Pulse, I will continue strategizing, developing, and implementing agendas that focus on equipping indigenous women with skills to help them share their stories and best practices in development, especially in natural-resource stewarding, conflict resolution, and peacebuilding. Access to the Internet and community platforms has given me the skills, contacts, and confidence to connect issues that matter to me and my Nigerian sisters, to the global community.

Editorial Note: This article was written prior to presidential elections scheduled for February 14, 2015 that have been postponed until March 28, 2015. According to Nigeria’s constitutional requirements, the elections must be held by April 28, 2015.

(Feature Photo Credit: JBDodanevia via Flickr)
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