WOMEN AND LIVELIHOOD IN NIGER DELTA

WOMEN AND LIVELIHOOD IN NIGER DELTA

BY DR NOSA. I. ALADESELU,

PRESIDENT AFRICAN WOMEN EMPOWERMENT GUILD.

INTRODUCTION

The Niger Delta (ND) Region located in southern Nigeria, comprises of nine states namely; Abia, Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, Edo, Imo, Ondo, and Rivers States. The region covers about 112,100 square kilometers, which is about 12% of the total surface area of the  Nation. On the Atlantic Coastline, it is bordered to the east by Cameroon. As by 2006 census, its estimated population was over 28 million, with women constituting 49 percent of the population (NPC, 2007).

Women in the Niger Delta belong every where , not just the Kitchen and the other room.  I wish they did.   But Women play a major role in sustaining family lives.  Just imagine if women stayed in the Kitchen and the other room what would happen to many families in the Niger Delta!!! Women in Africa are at the heart of development as they control most of the non-monetary economy (subsistence agriculture, bearing children, domestic labour etc.) and they play an enormous role in the monetary economy too (trading, wage labour, employment,) (Yawa, 1995) Women contribute to the  economy and to combating  poverty through both remunerated and unremunerated work at home, in the community and in the work place.

The Niger Delta produces all of Nigeria‟s oil and gas, both on land and offshore, and the petroleum industry is the “backbone” of the Nigerian economy. It accounts for over 90% of Nigeria‟s foreign exchange revenue and over 80% of total government revenue” (NDRDMP, 2006). Unfortunately this has been the bane of livelihood in the Niger Delta.

 About 80% of the economically active population in the landed area of Niger Delta form the agrarian labour force, using labour intensive technologies for production. They are mainly small farmers enduring low returns from agriculture due to inadequate investment in the sector, lack of investment credit and poor agricultural policies. Poverty is not only pervasive, it is widespread and on the increase. The conservative poverty line of N3,290 per person per month, shows that over 70% of the people live in poverty and 47% of the households are earning income levels below the cost of the minimum food basket which yields 2,700Kcal/day/adult equivalent AEU (estimated at N2,468 per person per month).  Women in the Niger Delta are often the most disadvantaged groups within rural communities.  The women in the Niger Delta  are primarily reliant upon  trading, fishery ( fishing), and  subsistence agriculture for their source of livelihood (common crops include cassava, yam and rice)

 Livelihood

Livelihood refers to means of earning a living, income from a person’s environments which could include  physical, social, even meta-physical environment. This comes in the form of daily, periodic or regular job, work, employment, occupation, trading or /and business. Ellis (2000) views livelihood as comprising of assets, activities and access. Whereas Assets refer to

  • Natural,
    • (fish, forest, water, land)
  • Physical,
    • (buildings, roads, equipment, infrastructure
  • Human ,
    • (labour, experience, skills, education and health).
    • (savings, credit)
  • Social Capital
    • Market

Livelihood Activities comprising

  • Fishing
  • Agriculture (yam, cassava, rice, plantain, palm oil, palm wine, cocoa, vegetables, fish farming poutry, piggery, snailery etc)
  • Forestry
  • Trading

Access

  • through institutions and
  • social relations, both of which are influenced by gender factors to the undoing to women livelihoods. In spite of available legislative and administrative frameworks for fostering gender equality in Nigeria, structural and cultural discrimination against women still exist. Relevant studies on women status in ND reveal abysmally low representation of women in institutions even those created for conflict resolution and peace building in the Niger Delta

These, together, determine the living gained by the individual or household. Livelihoods in the Niger Delta communities in Nigeria are varied, complex and dynamic. Environmental pollution, seasonal cycles of resource use and changes in access create conditions that bring challenges resulting in livelihood insecurity for rural households. “Nonetheless, the women, the main breadwinners in most of the households, continuously struggle against these stresses and shocks” Emem Bassey Inyang, 2013.

Diversification

Aside livelihood insecurity, diversification is a major characteristic feature of livelihood of women in the Niger Delta, arising from their  need to evolve a strategy to overcome and survive the stresses and shocks they encounter frequently in their living and business environments. These include:

  • risk reduction,
  • response to diminishing fish supply from fishermen caused by the pollution of fishing grounds,
  • reaction to crisis situations, and
  • liquidity constraints (Barret et al., 2001).

The women also diversify to cope with shortfall of income following environmental shocks to their natural asset resource. When fish die as a result of oils pills, households must find other pursuits, whether in formal employment (e.g. wage labor), or informal employment (e.g. petty trading).

Diversification is also seen as a form of risk management (Barret et al. 2001). The implication of the “diversification as risk management” rationale is that the need for self-insurance is a function of the availability of substitute social insurance,  provided supposedly through transfers by the government, by non-profit agencies, by community or family members. Since social insurance can at least partly substitute for self insurance, one would expect greater need for asset, activity, and income diversification where social insurance is relatively scarce.

 

CHALLENGES

Best captured by a  fisher folk in the Niger Delta, pointing at the flame of a gas flare across from his mud and

thatch-roof home (This Day Newspaper, Feb 6, 2006).

  “These days, it is like a curse in the creeks of the Niger Delta. Fishes don’t grow, not even crabs or shrimps…we can’t feed our children and to worsen the situation we can’t sleep because of that light,”

  • Destruction of the natural resource, pollution of the land and  water bodies,  reduction in resource abundance,

The exploration and exploitation of oil in the Niger Delta has resulted in massive environmental degradation which has caused losses of livelihoods, displacement of communities resulting in untold hardship and poverty for the entire ND population, especially the women.. Oil spills and gas flares have constituted major sources of disaster to the communities. While the spills occur every now and then the flares are permanent features.  The major effects of the incessant oil spills include pollution of the fishing grounds, water courses, ground water, farmlands, and air, food poisoning, loss of biodiversity, loss of health, and subsequently death, while the effects of gas flares include depletion of fish stocks, deforestation, acid rain, loss of biodiversity and emission of carbon dioxide and methane (Ashton-Jones 1998; Ogbuigwe 1999).

In the views of Emem Inyang et al, (2013) (University of Uyo) reporting on a study of three fishing communities, there has been  no coordinated, holistic compensation package, safety net mechanism or rehabilitation strategy for members of the communities of the ND to date, despite the massive wealth derived from the ND. “With the losses, and lack of access to their resources, the oil wells, farmlands, fish, forests, potable water, etc., and with the absence of any tangible assets, there is a high level of livelihood insecurity, insecurity of lives and property, and therefore a high level of vulnerability, especially for the women, who are left behind in those communities to fend for themselves and their households. For many of the women, their husbands have fled, seeking greener pastures elsewhere, and in the process have married other wives, and this has culminated in untold hardship for the “abandoned” wives and their children.  In order to survive, the women in the communities attempt to diversify their livelihood activities, deviating from their lucrative fish processing and trading businesses of former times, in order to cater for their livelihoods and those of their households.”

  • seasonal cycles of resource use,

There are two major seasons which affect livelihood activities in the Niger Delta: the rainy season from May to October, and dry season from November to April.  In some the riverine areas  fishing communities , about 10 years ago the traditional occupation of most of the population was in fisheries and fisheries-related activities, involving over 80 percent of the population either directly or indirectly. However, with the wanton destruction of the environment by oil companies such as Shell, Mobil and Chevron, occasioned by several oil spillages and gas flares on farmlands and its territorial waters over the last 30 years, there have been losses of livelihoods in the fisheries sector, leading to diversification into other livelihood activities by women in the communities.

  • The traditional division of labour gives women in Niger Delta fishing communities the responsibility of providing and managing natural energy sources required for the maintenance of the household, and environmental pollution poses a major challenge to achieving this, placing an extra burden on them.
  • Pollution increases the women-hours she will devote to fetching clean drinkable water, gathering forest and water products, which are crucial for food supplement, and firewood for domestic use (Ononge 2002). for sale, to earn an income.

Home front  

  • Niger Delta women are also involved in polygamous marriages and each wife is expected to cater for the welfare of her children (Omorodion 2004; Udong et al. 2010).
  • The extended family system also pervades the communities, compelling men who share incomes with their wives to distribute their incomes between the female-headed units within the polygamous unions, concubines and other extended family members like aged parents, brothers and sisters in school or pursuing training.

White collar jobs

  • Also, because the rural women are last on the list to be hired by the oil companies due to their lack of relevant qualifications, they suffer discrepant impoverishment, thereby deflating their gender status vis-à-vis men.

CONCLUSION

The economic crisis and security of life and property in the Niger Delta have been exacerbated by increased exploitation of oil and gas resources. These have further impacted the socio-economic lives of women in the Niger Delta who are twice victims of gender-based discrimination. They are underrepresented in politics, education and economics, including employed labour in the oil industry. The women are therefore struggling continuously against environmental pollution, lack of resources, seasonality and discrimination and gender based deprivations, which constitute stresses and shocks, in the process of ensuring sustainable livelihoods for their households. It is pertinent therefore to stress that for the status of women and their livelihood to improve in the Niger Delta, enhanced infrastructural development and provision of basic amenities to lighten the home burden on women and girls,  affirmative legislation, improved health facilities and systems, unfettered access to business financing, equal access to education for girls and women and sustained pressure by women leaders for increased representation of women in government and other decision-making positions, must be accelerated.

 

REFERENCES

Ellis, F. (2000). Rural Livelihoods and Diversity in Developing Countries. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Emem Bassey Inyang &Ekaete Evans Udong (2013) : Livelihood Insecurity And Diversification Among Women In An

Environmentally-Challenged Niger Delta Region, Nigeria

 NDRDMP (2006). Niger Delta Regional Developmental Master Plan. Niger Delta Development Commission, Federal Republic of Nigeria

Nigeria Country Gender Report 2012

Federal Ministerial Platform Report, 2012.

 

This Day Newspaper, Feb 6, 2006

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