Real change for Nigerian women

For the last four and half years, Translators without Borders, and now CLEAR Global, has been supporting humanitarian organizations and other service providers in northeast Nigeria to effectively communicate in a wide range of local languages. We’ve been providing language and translation support and training so that local response workers and international organizations alike are more equipped to support the millions of people displaced from their homes by conflict and insurgency. They have a right to access information that will help keep them safe and healthy. At the end of 2021, Aimee spent three months as acting Country Director for Nigeria. She worked closely with the team in-country as well as partner organizations and other local colleagues to figure out what we can do next to make real change for local people.

Aimee Ansari, CLEAR Global CO-CEO and Acting Country Director for Nigeria
Aimee Ansari, Co-Chief Executive of CLEAR Global, and Acting Country Director for Nigeria

She stares at me with a look so intense I wonder what’s coming next. “Our women are on the front lines – they are the first who are attacked and the last to be able to leave. They are abducted and abused. But they can do nothing. They have no voice. They don’t even know their rights.” 

Z is a trained lawyer; she speaks passionately about human rights and the rights to compensation that women who have been attacked by insurgent groups deserve. I’m in Maiduguri in northeast Nigeria. Women here are kidnapped, forced into marriage or worse, and also must be the first to respond when insurgents attack their villages. They put themselves at risk every day. Last week, about 60 kilometers from where I’m sitting, four women were abducted while collecting the firewood they need to cook for their families. 

Z goes on, getting more passionate, “Women have no way of knowing their rights. The information is always in the wrong language and written in a complicated way. No one is really communicating with them.”

She’s frustrated. Her organization, a Nigerian legal association, is trying to help, but there’s so much work to do and they aren’t language or communications experts. When I tell her about what Translators without Borders and CLEAR Global do, her face lights up. She asks me if we can work together; they want to learn how to ensure that information is communicated in the right way and via the right channels.

Nigeria Women Attire in Camp

Of course, it’s a bigger problem than needing to support women to get information and advocate for compensation. In Nigeria, women who have been attacked by government forces are entitled to compensation, but not those who are attacked by insurgents. Right now, they have no recourse. Z has a plan, though, and working with us is one step along that road. She is creating a movement. Good communications and information that is easily accessible is at the core of her strategy.

But international attention to this crisis is declining, and with it funding to support the work we all do. At the same time, insecurity is increasing, leaving women even more vulnerable.

I tell Z and her colleagues that the work they do is important to me and to CLEAR Global. And that I will work hard to find support for our joint work. And I dearly hope that CLEAR Global can find a way to really support them – build them multilingual chatbots that can be used via a text message service (USSD/SMS) so that the women in the bigger villages can ask questions and get answers. We can host multilingual call-in radio programs with experts to explain to women their rights, write and record jingles and dramas in nine local languages that can be saved on a USB and played on loudspeakers or phones in the area. We can help by simplifying legalese and translating it so it’s easier to understand for people with any literacy level. If we at CLEAR Global can do this, it will mean that Z and her team can focus on what they are good at – building their own movement, talking to their leaders, and changing policies.

It’s exciting to think about – we can enable this amazing Nigerian woman to make real change for women, making our work truly locally relevant and sustainable.

Written by Aimee Ansari, Co-Chief Executive of CLEAR Global, and Acting Country Director for Nigeria

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