Since the 2009 Amnesty Deal, conflict transformation initiatives have focused mostly on disarmament, amnesty, and settlement of armed local groups. Many consider the rehabilitation efforts inadequate. What will prevent the disarmed groups from resorting back to weapons if they do not find adequate income and food generation opportunities in future? Though important first steps, the amnesty arrangement and follow-up measures are unlikely to bring sustainable peace as long as they focus merely on the symptoms of social unrest: reducing/ controlling armed violence.
From Symptoms to Causes
Strengthening women's voices in the public arena might help to set issues on the policy agenda that currently are not prioritised - including water supply, health care, and economic development. These might help to start tackling some of the underlying causes of the social tensions. The fragile peace in the Niger Delta may not be sustained if no serious work is made of protecting people’s rights to food, water, and a healthy living environment.
The narrow focus of public policymakers on ‘violence control’ has not been conducive for women’s participation. Women rarely were active partakers in the armed violence. They do not directly benefit from the amnesty arrangements and follow-up measures. But they can provide valuable insights for future policies if the focus would shift from ‘violence control’ towards a more holistic approach of protecting human rights and promoting development.
Public policymakers in the Niger Delta inadequately tap into the potentials of women like Hannah, Naomi, and Rebecca. They play a key role in keeping an economy of provisions going in the vastly impoverished Niger Delta. They produce most of the food for their families. They invest in their children’s heath and education. And they do everything they can to give their children a better future. They could be powerful catalysers for development – if only they were empowered to thrive.
Across the world, evidence is mounting that women's empowerment yields a ‘double dividend’: it elevates not only women but also their children and communities. According to the UN, investing in women is likely to raise economic productivity, reduce child and maternal mortality, and increase the chances of education for the next generation. Women might be the best captains to navigate the Niger Delta out of its troubled waters – if only they were given the chance.
It's time to listen to women's voices.
"There is no tool for development more powerful than the empowerment of women."
Kofi A. Annan
Former Secretary General of the United Nations