Diffa, Mali, February 1, 2019 — Kellou is a Women’s Protection and Empowerment Manager working in Diffa, a region in Niger where thousands of refugees and displaced Nigeriens are living after fleeing conflict.
Niger is ranked at the bottom of the UN’s Human Development Index. Poverty is rife. There is frequent fighting and natural disasters have caused widespread food insecurity.
Women and children are on the frontline of the crisis: the emergency has exacerbated abuse and violence against them.
Women living in Niger face systematic discrimination – the country has one of the highest rates of child marriage and highest fertility rates in the world. Women who have small businesses can see their income denied, their partner deciding how to spend the money which they have earnt. Gender-based violence is wide-spread.
Rape, kidnapping and prostitution are commonplace for women living in Niger. Natural resources like water and wood are scarce. Women are forced to walk long distances, many facing sexual violence on the journey to find these basic necessities for their families.
The crisis has also left children at extremely high risk of abuse and exploitation. Children face being kidnapped by armed groups and being separated from their families. Children are often not registered when they are born and will become stateless, limiting their rights. There are also many children unable to access education.
With funding from ECHO (EU Humanitarian Aid) in 2018, the International Rescue Committee strengthened our protection approach to prevent violence against women and children. Over the last 12 months, we’ve worked with displaced people and refugees in Diffa to reduce violence, abuse and exploitation against women and girls, as well as men and boys.
Our Safe Spaces for women provided psychosocial support so women could receive counselling after facing violence. They were crucial in giving women the space to meet and safely discuss their challenges and concerns.
Many displaced people arrive in Diffa traumatised with little hope for the future. The support we provide gives women the space and support to open up about the violence they’ve endured. Together with IRC teams, women develop action-plans for the future.
Women like Fati, who used to experience domestic violence in her own home and thought it was normal. Fati is now the President of the Safe Space for women in Sabon Carree, a neighborhood in Diffa, helping other women who are experiencing violence. The sessions at the Safe Space include skills training, like sewing and knitting. This has encouraged more and more women to join the group as they’re able to increase their income-generating abilities.
The IRC has also supported 198 children in Diffa. This included establishing that vulnerable young people were staying in safe environments. We worked in close collaboration with the International Committee of the Red Cross to reunite children travelling alone with their families. We supported the local community, so they were able to become host families to care for children who had been separated from their parents or had become orphaned.
The security situation in Niger has worsened over the year, and although our services have provided support and protection to hundreds of people, there is still much more to be done. This year, with funding from ECHO, we’re working to increase how we empower women financially, giving them the chance to rebuild their lives.
Read more about our work in Niger.
The International Rescue Committee responds to the world’s worst humanitarian crises, helping to restore health, safety, education, economic wellbeing, and power to people devastated by conflict and disaster. Founded in 1933 at the call of Albert Einstein, the IRC is at work in over 40 countries and 29 U.S. cities helping people to survive, reclaim control of their future and strengthen their communities. Learn more at www.rescue-uk.org and follow the IRC on Twitter & Facebook.