Gender Interventions in Nigeria Empower Vulnerable Children and Female Caregivers through Education, Economic Strengthening, and Advocacy

The Head of the Community Development Department led a group of participants during the International Women’s Day rally in Delta State. {Photo credit: Gilbert Ojiakor/MSH.}

In Nigeria, women and girls carry the bulk of the caregiving burden for those infected with HIV and children left vulnerable or orphaned by AIDS. These responsibilities often prevent girls and women from obtaining an education and developing income-generating skills. Compounding these problems are social norms that inhibit girls and women from accessing HIV & AIDS information and services and severely limit their control over their sexuality, thereby leaving them vulnerable to violence and abuse. Other harmful Nigerian customs include depriving girls and women of economic resources and legal rights needed to protect themselves.

Fortunately, since 2009, the PEPFAR-funded, USAID project, Community Based Support for Orphans and Vulnerable Children (CUBS), has been addressing these challenges by working with orphaned or vulnerable girls and female caregivers, as well as key stakeholders at national, state, and community levels. In 2012, for example, the MSH-led CUBS conducted gender training for 260 service providers, law enforcement agents, and state and local government representatives. The training helped participants to: understand gender concepts; identify gender-related needs; design interventions to meet gender-related needs; and provide legal protection and other social services to support women and girls.

Since this training, many of CUBS’ local partners have reported positive changes in their communities. In Rivers state, for example, a recently widowed woman reported that a male relative had seized all of her family’s assets. The child protection committee (CPC), newly empowered and informed by the CUBS training, resolved this issue in favor of the widow and restored the assets to her. Similarly, in Bayelsa state, a CPC chairman who had attended the CUBS training was inspired to initiate police action against a man suspected to be sexually abusing his daughter.

[A CUBS' facilitator discusses household economic strengthening with a group of trainees.] {Photo credit: Emily Bunde/MSH.}A CUBS' facilitator discusses household economic strengthening with a group of trainees.Photo credit: Emily Bunde/MSH.

In addition to the stakeholder training, CUBS has reached over 4,500 female caregivers through community-based trainings on reproductive health, psychosocial support, and nutrition. In the past year, CUBS also trained 1,059 female caregivers in household economic skills and gave over 150 of these women seed grants to start or expand a small business.

“[CUBS] trained us how to manage our businesses, calculate profit and loss, and make our businesses viable,” said one caregiver beneficiary.

“CUBS helped me to minimize useless spending and I now have savings,” said another caregiver.

“The training showed me how to manage my home and monitor my children, especially the girls. I now interact with my children better,” said a caregiver from Delta state.

To support vulnerable children themselves, CUBS and its partners have established two or more “Girl Groups” in each of the project-supported states.  Through peer interaction and mentoring, these groups help girls build life skills and learn ways to protect themselves from HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.

Project staff and beneficiaries celebrated these gender interventions last month during Nigeria’s 2013 International Women’s Day (IWD) celebration. Female caregivers from four states of the Niger Delta joined community members in an IWD rally where campaigners raised banners and slates reading:

  • “Stop all forms of violence against women,”
  • “Give women a chance,”
  • “Stop female genital mutilation,”
  • “Promote girl child education,”
  • “Say no to wife battering,”
  • “Stop girl child early marriage,”
  • “Educate the girl child,” and
  • “Empower women.”

[CUBS staff participated in the International Women’s Day rally in Delta State. Photo credit: Gilbert Ojiakor/MSH]CUBS staff participated in the International Women’s Day rally in Delta State. Photo credit: Gilbert Ojiakor/MSH

In three other Niger Delta states, CUBS made community-based presentations on topics entitled:  

  • Women as Agents of Change and Development,
  • Identifying Harmful Social Norms and Practices that Increase Vulnerability of Women,
  • Legal Protection for Women and Girls, and
  • Having an HIV & AIDS Free World.

CUBS’ work with stakeholders, caregivers, and vulnerable girls is empowering Nigeria’s women and girls. The project’s interventions are tailored to the local context and target the needs of individuals, families, communities, and systems. This customized, holistic approach is equipping stakeholders and beneficiaries to sustain and expand CUBS gender interventions throughout Nigeria for years to come.