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IWD: Are Women In Conflict Areas Excluded From Celebrations?

Annually, on March 8, the world celebrates the achievements of women making a difference as part of activities for International Women’s Day. But underprivileged women doing the same in conflict regions are hardly recognised. Is this a form of social exclusion?

As the world celebrates International Women’s Day (IWD) on March 8, 2022, the activities are geared towards ensuring that women are front and centre. Panels, walks, and conversations are awash with important calls for gender equality and the inclusion of women in key facets of society. Yet, on the other side of town, most displaced women have no clue what is going on nor are their efforts, in pushing forward despite their unpopular diversities, celebrated. 

IWD, which began in 1911, is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity. Significant activity is witnessed worldwide as groups come together to celebrate women.

This year’s theme is ‘Break the Bias’ which aims to explore the biases that women face in society and ways to overcome them. However, it is important to point out that the activities advertised and organised so far, and which have attracted public interest, are those that target and mostly celebrate women in urban communities or women who have access to social visibility. 

In line with the theme, the official website of IWD wrote, “Whether deliberate or unconscious, bias makes it difficult for women to move ahead. Knowing that bias exists isn’t enough, action is needed to level the playing field. Imagine a gender equal world. A world free of bias, stereotypes, and discrimination. A world that is diverse, equitable, and inclusive.” 

One key way of achieving this is to extend an equal hand to women in rural and conflict-prone areas who are not part of the social media fanfare due to lack of access. The office of the United Nations (UN) Women in Nigeria on March 5 “celebrated and recognised the achievements of Nigerian women” through its IWD Naija awards. 

The awardees were all deserving women with access to social visibility. However, there was no mention of women in conflict-ridden areas in Nigeria who are advocating for their rights and hitting milestones, despite low resources, exposure, and literacy levels. 

HumAngle has consistently reported some of the activities of such women. An easy example is the Knifar women in Borno State, Northeast Nigeria, which is the epicentre of the insurgency crisis in the country. 

Impact of the Knifar women

Thousands of women in Borno have had to raise their children alone because their husbands, arbitrarily accused of being Boko Haram terrorists, are jailed by the Nigerian Army. But they are not planning to give up hope. 

In 2017, they formed a group to advocate for the release of their husbands. They are known as the Knifar women and HumAngle has continued to extensively tell their stories since 2020 through text, audio, and videos.

In the last few months of 2022, their advocacy yielded a long-awaited milestone when 550 men, confirmed to be husbands of members of the group, were released by the Nigerian authorities.

The men had been arbitrarily arrested and detained between 2015 and 2016 by the Nigerian Army on allegations of being part of the terror group.

The latest batch of release took place on Nov. 12 from the Borno Maximum-Security Prison, where the former detainees had spent the past five to six years of their lives. 

The men were mostly displaced people fleeing from communities such as Andara, Banki, and Boboshe, all in Borno, which had come under heavy Boko Haram attacks, especially between 2014 and 2015.

A form of social exclusion?

In Borno State, where the Knifar women reside, a large-scale event is usually held annually to commemorate IWD and honour women who have remarkable achievements. Noticeably, this recognition excludes underprivileged women as is also the case in other parts of the country. 

Is the exclusion of underprivileged women in the celebration of IWD a form of social exclusion? Or does it only count when other parts of society are excluding women? There is no universally agreed definition of social exclusion, but it is generally agreed that lack of participation in society is at its heart. One recent UN definition describes social exclusion as “a state in which individuals are unable to participate fully in economic, social, political and cultural life, as well as the process leading to and sustaining such a state.”

While anyone is potentially at risk of social exclusion, certain characteristics or attributes increase the risks. People can also experience social exclusion depending on their location, according to researcher Jenny Birchall.

For each of these groups, Birchall noted, social exclusion is experienced as a result of complex and intersectional factors that combine to reduce their participation in society. There are forms of social exclusion suffered by women in rural or underprivileged parts of society. But there is a need to also expand the definition beyond access to amenities to general involvement in society.

In this case, the systematic sidelining of underprivileged women from participating in the celebration of Women’s Day even though they are also women, should qualify as social exclusion. Yet, like the Knifar women, they are making real changes in the world. It is important to strive to recognise the achievements of all groups of women regardless of their background or location as this strengthens the core message of IWD. 

As the world celebrates IWD in 2022, the statement from the UN Women Executive Director Sima Bahous comes to mind: “Let us make this International Women’s Day a moment to recall that we have the answers not just for SDG 5 but, through the advancement of gender equality, for all 17 Sustainable Development Goals and Agenda 2030.”

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Anita Eboigbe

Anita Eboigbe is a journalist and data analyst with nearly a decade of media and communications experience in Nigeria. She has expertise in human interest reporting, data reporting, interactive content development and media business management. Anita has written for several national and international publications with a focus on communication for development. She holds an honours degree in Mass Communication and several certifications in data analysis and data journalism.

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