How Nigerian Grassroots Women Promote Sustainable Urban Development
By Dr. Limota Goroso Giwa
Women at the grassroots are experts in the challenges that urban communities are facing every day. As they fulfil different roles from working informal jobs to caring for children and senior citizens, their input is essential in localising the New Urban Agenda in a way that it meets the needs of all citizens. Dr. Limota Goroso Giwa reports on the involvement of grassroots women in urban development in Nigeria.
Grassroots women’s organisations in Nigeria and all over Africa participate in achieving sustainable urban development. For example, the global women’s network GROOTS International, which is part of the Huairou Commission, Slum Dwellers International (SDI), and Women in Informal Employment (WIEGO) all participated in the Habitat 3 African regional meeting in Abuja in February 2016. These groups jointly strategized to make a statement on the way forward towards realizing the New Urban Agenda
Issues of Urbanisation in Africa …
With urbanisation rates rising worldwide, achieving sustainable and equitable urban development has become a pressing challenge for municipalities. This poses many challenges with serious implications for development policies. Africa has the highest urban growth rate in the world, resulting in the expansion of informal and unplanned settlements in urban areas. Such unplanned growth brings with it various environmental challenges, social exclusion of poor urban communities, and infrastructural neglect. Forced evictions and human rights violations continue to harm vulnerable communities.
… and in Nigeria
With more than 180 million people, Nigeria has the continent’s largest population, and its cities are among the most populated in all of Africa. Due to its population growth and development challenges, poverty and urbanisation are pressing issues in Nigeria. Urbanisation in Nigeria comes with various challenges, such as soil degradation, rapid deforestation, urban air and water pollution, desertification, and erosion. Many parts of the country have suffered serious damages from oil spills. It has resulted in the loss of arable land, putting at risk cities’ food supply and destroying livelihoods in rural and peri-urban areas.
These challenges and realities have caused the Nigeria government to promote the SDGs goals at all levels of governance and to address urban inequalities based on the specific conditions of towns and cities in the country. Municipalities have a vital role to play in creating conditions for suitable economic growth, improving environmental management, and reducing poverty as a prerequisite for urban development.
The Nigerian government has established national development plans and strategic regional development plans for the country’s six geopolitical zones. The objective is to set up mechanisms to address the rapidly urbanising environment and harmonise economic, social, and physical development. Complementary, strategic regional development plans will help promote new hubs of economic growth and employment opportunities that will help stem rural migration and urban immigration.
Adequate planning and stakeholder participation is expected to ensure that issues such as slum upgrading, housing for all, the promotion of small-scale urban economies, job creation, the “safer city”, and security challenges are all addressed.
Grassroots Women Are Implementing the New Urban Agenda on the Local Level
Women at the grassroots level are helping to broaden government knowledge by engaging with many urban stakeholders, getting them on board to implement the New Urban Agenda. For example, the Huairou Commission, SDI, and WIEGO mobilized grassroots women from all over the world to attend the Habitat 3 Conference in Quito in 2016. More than 100 women’s groups were represented at Habitat 3 and the High Level Meeting.
In 2016, the African regional meeting of Habitat 3 took place in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital city. Among the organisations present at this meeting were the Federation of Muslim Women, the Christian Women Association, Women in Agriculture, AMAC Women Association Abuja, WIEGO representatives, the International Women Communication Centre (IWCC), and the GROOTS International delegation, with the IWCC acting as the local host NGO. The event brought together different urban thinkers for group sessions such as roundtable discussions, plenary sessions and field visits to communities and selected urban centres to analyse and understand the challenges of urbanisation. Delegates visited the states of Lokoja, Adamawa, Lagos, Abia, Katsina, and River.
The purpose of the community visit was to identify which of the New Urban Agenda resolutions are environmentally sustainable, to provide suggestions on resilient urban development strategies, and to help address urban challenges in cities such as Kano, Kaduna, Lagos, and Ibadan and in oil spillage states like Rivers, Delta, Cross River, and AkwaIbom. The community visit exposed the numerous linkages between urban and regional development. For instance, the oil industry’s activities and lack of security of drilling sites and pipelines leads to the destruction of arable land through oil spills and deforestation. This affects both urban and rural populations by endangering food supply and, in turn, food security.
Grassroots women help to identify ways to implement the New Urban Agenda by committing to common ground issues and setting priorities:
- Rights to the city
- Rights of habitat
- Inclusive and sustainability cities
- The city as a common good
- Access to formal employment
- Access to high-level education
- Informal settlement challenges.
To move forward with the above listed areas of concern, grassroots women in Nigeria organised the Urban Thinkers (UTC) platform to bring together stakeholders from different cities. Grassroots women are also implicated in drawing up strategies to implement the New Urban Agenda at the local level, for instance in regard to ending poverty and making cities inclusive by providing access to social infrastructure for the masses.
Grassroots women have also made recommendations to local governments, UN Agencies, the World Urban Campaign (WUC) and other stakeholders on how to implement and realise the New Urban Agenda, between now and 2030.
Women Make Things Happen at the Community Level
Like many women around the world, women in Nigeria perform unrecognised and unremunerated work such as caring for children and relatives, running the household, informal jobs, organising cultural activities and acting as teachers within their communities. A lot of the time, they are not adequately compensated for fulfilling all these roles and tasks.
What is more, their contribution to social cohesion and urban development often goes unrecognised or is taken for granted. Grassroots women know about the struggles of everyday life in the city. Therefore, their voices and knowledge are indispensable for achieving more inclusive, sustainable ways of life. From food production and food selling to the informal economy: Only with grassroots women’s input can issues of gender disparity and micro-economic growth be adequately addressed.
It is therefore necessary to appreciate and emphasise the continued involvement of grassroots women in urban development at every level.
Dr. Gorosa Giwa has written several books and articles in local and international journals, and has received several local and international awards, namely the Rear Germ Award in 2003 by UNIFEM, the ASHOKA Award for social entrepreneurship in 2001. She was also among the 1000 women nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005.