By Mohammed Ibrahim
Hajara Suleiman fled religious violence in her village in Kaduna State when clashes between Christian and Muslim groups became too intense. Now, Suleiman is an example of a transformation happening for many women in Northern Nigeria.
Margaret Kwa'ada Julius works with vulnerable citizens at the NGO Eye Opener Youth and Women, and she brings women like Suleiman together to implement peace.
"Women have a very big role to play in this country," says Kwa'ada Julius. "We have influence."
Through her participation in Kwa'ada Julius‘ program, Suleiman says she has learned to live harmoniously with neighbors from different ethnic and religious groups.
"I have seen a lot of progress,” Suleiman says. “Because all the women of this organization we show love to each other—love and affection. We didn’t differentiate anybody from any religion or any ethnic group."
Fellow participant Eucharia Everest agrees. "[Kwa'ada Julius] has taught me how to unite with people, whether they are Muslims or Christians, she has taught me how to unite together with them."
Regina Onah also works in conflict resolution in the region, as part of the Development and Peace Initiative. After political and religious clashes in the region left over 800 dead in 2011, Onah and her team went into Kafanchan village to implement peacebuilding projects.
"We achieved success," Onah says. "When we got there we realized that there were some communities where Christians don't go into because they were Muslim-dominated communities. There are areas that were Christian-dominated communities that Muslims didn't go in."
They held interfaith talks, and even football matches, to bring opposing groups together.
"We were able to bridge this gap," Onah says. "We identified key stakeholders or gatekeepers in the communities, we were able to bring to the table community-based organizations, religious leaders, some political leaders too."
Globally, when there's an effort to settle violent conflict, women’s involvement at the negotiation table has been proven to increase the odds of peace agreements being reached. One study of peace processes over the last three decades showed that when women’s groups were able to influence a peace process, an agreement was almost always reached. Another study revealed that the peace agreements reached with women’s involvement were also likely to last longer.
"Usually people see women as vulnerable,” says Onah, “or as people who don't have the capacity to mediate or negotiate when it comes to peacebuilding . But I tell you, women have what it takes.”
Rahmatu Adamu works at the Interfaith Mediation Centre in Kaduna, and met with divided groups in Maiduguri (the birthplace of militant Islamist group Boko Haram). Adamu says even if they aren't leading peacebuilding initiatives, women can be powerful influencers.
"We should find a way to communicate with each other, it is the bed of the whole thing–communication,” Adamu says.
"Women can influence our men to toe the line of peace. Women can influence our children to toe the line of peace. All we need is that self-esteem and that self-confidence. Once we have that I think we have the capacity."