Women for peace: Yagana, Nigeria

To mark International Women's Day 2016, for which the official theme is #PledgeForParity, we are profiling some of our female peacebuilders around the world and asking them: What can gender parity mean for peace?

You can read all of their featured stories here.

Yagana, Nigeria

Dr Yagana Bukar is a senior lecturer in the Department of Geography at the University of Maiduguri (UNIMAID). She was one of the lead researchers of International Alert and UNICEF’s recent report Bad blood, which explores how victims of Boko Haram violence in Nigeria are often stigmatised by their communities when they return home.

Please describe your professional background and what you are currently working on.

I am from Bama in Borno state, northeast Nigeria, which is one of the most deprived regions in the country, with illiteracy rates of up to 80%. This region of the country is also extremely patriarchal. Fortunately for me and my eight brothers and sisters, my parents – who were barely educated themselves – supported us all in receiving an education.

I completed a PhD on gender and poverty among women. It looked at women’s lack of access to education, land and natural resource management, with a focus on rural women in villages in northern Borno state, on the border with Niger.

The study looks at how women in these poor communities manage issues relating to water scarcity. In rural areas, they are often forced to walk up to 20km per day for a very little amount of water, which is used for a number of purposes such as cooking and cleaning.

Women here often lack rights to land outside of marriage, and are typically disadvantaged within their own society. In rural communities, they also don’t receive adequate healthcare. They may have to travel on a donkey for hours when in labour before reaching the nearest maternity clinic and in some cases they may lose their own life or that of their child. And yet they have shown great resilience in coping with these conditions.

What inspired you to work in this field?

Coming from one of the regions that is most severely affected by the Boko Haram insurgency, I have always wondered how I can help. The research I conducted for the Bad blood report was a huge opportunity to be involved and a privilege for me, as many of my relatives are currently in captivity.

I want to contribute my part and tell my story to the world because I have been a witness to everything that is happening. My mother was still in Bama until a few months ago and while I visited her over the years, I saw insurgents come into the town and then leave. I have seen the brutality that they used.

Conducting this research opened up a whole new dimension to me because it is not only about what is happening, but also what people and communities need to do to move forward and to repair themselves.

What role do you think gender equality/women’s empowerment could play in long-term peace?

For me, gender equality is about women having the same opportunities to play their part. You have to create a level playing field, and women need to have more involvement in all spheres, including politics, for their needs to be fully addressed.

Which women inspire you and why?

I am so inspired by the resilience of the women I met in rural villages in northern Borno state, who are able to adapt to any conditions and care for their children.

Will you be celebrating Women’s Day this year? How?

I will be celebrating International Women’s Day in a special way this year. As a result of my participation in the research, I will be going back to the rural communities and talking with the women about the positive things in their lives. These women have inspired me greatly, and I want to continue engaging with them further.