Niger: A woman’s lot
Today, I’ve got it in for Nigerien men. Women’s rights definitely haven’t made their way to Niger. Driving through the arid country, all I can see is men sitting around in the shade while the women are in the hot (and I mean 45 degree hot) sun pounding millet, washing clothes, looking for food, fetching water and looking after their children. You see children helping with the chores before the men budge from the shade of a tree.
The men have come up with an ingenious plan to get away from their family responsibilities during the most difficult time of year – the time of year when food from the harvest is finished and families struggle to feed themselves. They’ve invented ‘L’exode’ which is basically an excuse to leave their families and disappear for months on end.
The formal line is that they migrate to cities to look for work to bring money back to their families during the ‘hunger time’ but the women I’ve been speaking to say they never see any of this money, they’re not sure where their husbands go and they don’t know when they will return. As far as I can work out it’s a massive ruse to scarper during the most difficult time of year leaving their wives desperately trying to cope alone at just the time they need a bit of support.
Therefore it makes perfect sense that we’re working with women in our programme to reduce malnutrition in Niger. We give a monthly cash allowance to the most vulnerable women with children under three for a period of six months to tide them over until the next harvest. This year the hunger period has been even longer than usual and this cash enables women to buy food to feed their children.
In our new report, State of the World’s Mothers – Niger ranks the second worst place in the world to be a mother (it comes in just behind Afghanistan). I, for one, would feel extremely hard done by if I was a Nigerien mother. Not only do they shoulder all the family responsibilities but women in Niger have a 1 in 7 lifetime risk of dying in childbirth, they’re only likely to have had four years of formal schooling, one in six of their children are likely to die before they reach their fifth birthday and they earn only 34% of what men do.
Strangely enough only 12% of government seats are held by women.
It really is a tough and unfair reality for the women of Niger.