A LETTER TO INTERNATIONAL DONORS
FROM 80 WOMEN, 3 ETHNIC GROUPS, 20 RURAL AND RIVERINE COMMUNITIES

The conference began with dancing, singing and drums. One-by-one, women from each of the 20 communities stood in the center of the ballroom and performed their favorite song. Ijaw, Itsekiri and Isoko voices flooded the room. When all had their turn, the 80 women sang together in one voice, “Today is a day of joy.” Over the next 4 days, ethnic barriers became invisible as shared values and shared challenges were brought to light. By week’s end, the dancing began again in celebration of the new multi-ethnic advocacy network they had formed called WIND for Positive Change (Women in the Niger Delta for Positive Change).

As one of their first acts, each of the community’s Woman Leader and their newly elected WIND representative signed a letter they had drafted for the International Donors to read and learn from. The letter in its entirety is provided here:

 

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TO: International Development Donors and Agencies

DATE: 2 September 2010

Re: input from Community Women of the Niger Delta

Greetings from the Niger Delta!

WIND is an association of women from 20 Niger Delta rural and riverine communities. Although we are from different ethnic groups, we share common challenges and common values. Our strength is in our number, our diversity, and our desire to create positive change for women and sustainable development in the Niger Delta.

In WIND, ten of our rural communities are in a project generously sponsored by Oxfam Novib. And ten of our riverine communities are in a project (near completion) generously sponsored by the U.S. Institute of Peace. We have come together to build an association of women from diverse ethnic groups and terrain to ensure that our empowerment and support of each other does not end when projects end.

The intention of this letter is to make ourselves and our communities available to you so that any programs you design will take into account our voices. Our challenges as women and communities are tied to each other. Our health effects our livelihoods. Our environment effects our health and livelihoods. Our lack of infrastructure and public services leaves us in the dark in so many ways. Our needs are many and unheard.

We have suggestions. For example, malaria now has a brother -- typhoid. We hope that malaria programs include information about typhoid. If we are to get mosquito nets for our infants and elderly, please tie that program to malaria medication for those engaged in livelihoods and who are responsible for feeding the infants and elderly.

All of our riverine communities are in desperate need of shoreline protection. Without it, our work and our health suffer. Cholera and the need for sand-filling are related.

We appreciate solar-powered lights and water schemes, but solar-powered water schemes do not produce drinkable water -- these schemes must be tied to water treatment.

The livelihoods of women in all of our communities are effected by many things, including:

1. Low prices in the market caused by over-supply of similar goods.
2. Limited market access due to cost of transportation and women's lack of trust in other women to carry goods for them to faraway markets.
3. Lack of information (about agricultural tips, business management tips, market tips)
4. Lack of education about best structures and practices for cooperatives.
5. Lack of credit at an interest rate less than 37%.
6. Family members stealing or taking women's earnings, cooperatives' savings, or credit from loans.
7. No viable livelihood alternatives.

We welcome you into our communities. The mentoring NCO of WIND is Niger Delta Professionals for Development (NIDPRODEV). They have performed baseline assessments already in our communities and would be happy to share any information with you about our association, how to contact us in our communities, and the efforts that WIND is making now to empower women and pursue sustainable development.

As you know, Niger Delta does not have many strong associations of women that cross ethnic boundaries. And among those that exist, few focus their energy or expertise on the Niger Delta. We ask that you give us the opportunity to speak for ourselves.

Most respectfully submitted by the WIND of:

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