Building Resilience and Peace in the Tillaberi Conflict: Women Partnering to Build a Better Future – Niger

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Oullam, March 28, 2022 – The sun has just risen over Ouallam, a city in the center of the Tillaberi region bordering Burkina Faso and Mali. A group of women are walking in the same direction. One by one, they arrive at a market gardening site. Their feet are covered with dust; some walked five kilometers to reach the place. Gardening tools in hand, these women are there to assert their economic independence.

The women immediately set to work, troweling the soil and sowing seeds across the earth. They grow potatoes, lettuce, tomatoes, onions and other vegetables on this site. The harvest allows them to earn a living and feed themselves and their families.

After hours of cultivating the land, these women all meet under a tree to share their daily worries and challenges. Sitting in her chair, Maïmouna listens to these entrepreneurs, gives them advice and encouragement to persevere. This influential woman and former mayor of Ouallam created the market gardening association to give hope to local women and those who found refuge in the region after attacks on their villages in 2016 displaced them. Today, 204 women, including 48 displaced women, are part of the association.

The Tillaberi region has been at the heart of the ongoing crisis in the tri-border area. In recent years, the region has been characterized by increasing instability due to attacks by various armed groups. This has forced many families from their homes, threatening the livelihoods of displaced and host populations. An estimated 99,000 internally displaced people have taken refuge in the region, according to OCHA’s humanitarian needs overview for 2022. basic services, such as health care, education, water and land, and has led to tensions between displaced and host communities.

Market gardening in Ouallam both provides livelihoods for women and promotes the inclusion of displaced women in the community.

“As a former mayor, I know the situation of displaced women very well. I allocated the first sites for displaced people in the city of Ouallam. It was important for us to support these women, and enable them to rebuild their lives after losing everything,” says Maïmouna.

“I came to Ouallam after armed groups attacked our village. One day, I had the opportunity to meet the president of the Ouallam women’s association, who offered me to join the market gardening project I accepted, of course, because I didn’t have a job, and it would allow me to earn a living,” says Karima, a displaced member of the association. “So I started working with the group of women, indigenous and displaced. Today, we are like sisters,” she adds.

Through its Niger Community Cohesion Initiative (NCCI), IOM supports activities that aim to build social cohesion and economic resilience in fragile communities in order to reduce and/or ease tensions. All activities are identified and implemented with local authorities and community members.

In January 2021, after the terrorist attacks against the two villages of Tchomobangou and Zarem Darey in the department of Ouallam, the prefect of Ouallam asked the IOM to support these women in the management of this market gardening site. While a water basin was available nearby, they lacked motor pumps to irrigate the garden. NCCI supported the group with two motor pumps.

“The motor pumps lightened the burden on women who used traditional buckets to collect water from the pond to bring it to the garden; it took a lot of effort and time, and the quality of the products was not so good. Today, in less than 30 minutes, we water the whole site. This way, the women can now concentrate on the productivity of the seeds,” explains Balkissa, a woman member of the association.

“The host population of Ouallam have been true humanitarians, assisting displaced people in distress, showing remarkable hospitality and solidarity,” said Barbara Rijks, IOM Niger Chief of Mission. “It is therefore important to develop inclusive programs that meet the needs of displaced people and host populations in order to create more livelihood opportunities for the whole community,” she adds.

Another NCCI initiative in Tillaberi in May 2021, at the request of the prefect of the department of Tillaberi, was the training of a group of 60 women in peanut processing and cosmetics manufacturing techniques – two emerging sectors in the Tillaberi region. This activity aimed to provide vulnerable women with economic opportunities to improve their access to livelihoods.

Hadjara is one of the women who participated in this training. She moved to Tillaberi with her two children after her divorce in search of a better life. At the beginning of her new life, she struggled to support herself in this city where economic opportunities are limited.

“I opened a restaurant in Tillabéri, but it didn’t work because I lacked financial management skills”, “I learned the techniques of making cosmetic products. For example, we learned how to produce soap , incense, air freshener, body perfume, liquid soap,” says Hadjara. “We also received training in micro business financial management. When you sell your products, you have to know how to your money. And that’s what I’m doing now”,

“I was able to recruit eight new members through this activity. They witnessed the improvement of my living conditions, so they approached me and told me that they wanted to participate in the project”, explains- she.

Thanks to the project, she is able to accompany her children to school with one to university, which she was unable to do before.

“Now I can put aside 99,000 XOF (152 euros) or 50,000 XOF (76 euros) and help finance his studies. He could soon graduate,” Hadjara added.

“We appreciate Niger’s Community Cohesion Initiative as it contributes to social cohesion and peacebuilding in our communities which are affected by insecurity and conflict,” says Dourahmane Diori, the Governor of Tillaberi. “The program responds quickly and flexibly to address drivers of instability and build resilience to external shocks. Above all, it reaches all layers of the affected communities, especially young people and women, and this is very important.

The NCCI implements its activities in conflict-affected regions, including Tillabéri, Tahoua, Maradi and Diffa, with the aim of increasing vulnerable communities’ confidence in local government authorities and state structures and improving their resilience and their cohesion to resist and resolve conflicts, insecurity, and violent extremist threats. This includes providing sustainable economic opportunities to vulnerable women and youth to improve their livelihoods. The Initiative is funded by the German Federal Foreign Office (GFFO), the European Union, the US State Department’s Office for African Affairs and the United Nations Peacebuilding Fund.

Through its programmes, IOM works with the Government of Niger and its partners, including UN agencies and NGOs, to put in place a humanitarian-development-peace nexus approach. This approach aims to improve the resilience of affected individuals and communities, to combat factors of instability and to provide durable solutions to forcibly displaced people.

Story written by Aïssatou Sy, Public Information Officer, IOM Niger

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