Gender fight, seeing the future and development: The story of Mazah in Nigeria.

[This story emerged during group work in the Community Development Journal Conference in July 2015 at Edinburgh. The session was flagged off by Jacqueline Shaw and Graham Jeffery’s presentation titled -Between Potential and Reality: negotiating participatory cultural processes towards community emergence
Group members: Oga Steve Abah, Walter Arteaga 
Jo Howard, Erika Lopez Franco and Rituu B Nanda
Steve narrated this story on the action he and his team took to resolve a conflict in the community. The story here is from Abah’s contribution]

Mazah village in Jos North Local Government (Plateau State, Nigeria) is about 45 minutes’ walk from Jos metropolis. This village, which lies in a trough fringed by a range of hills, presents a beautiful scenery. Mazah also appears to be protectingly offered a shield of invincibility. In reality however, the caved-in location of the village supervised by the overlooking hills describes its defeat and neglect: women deliver their babies at the foot of the hills and, very often, mother and child do not survive the ordeal. Here also middlemen stand guard and wait for the women to climb out of the valley with their load of farm produce. The middlemen buy cheaply and sell at sky-high prices in Jos metropolis. The middlemen’s advantage, and the women’s calamity, is that there is no motorable road to the village. The only way to reach Mazah is to weave your way though a rugged terrain of stones, rocks and scree. This is the community in which the Nigerian Popular Theatre Alliance (NPTA), a national NGO conducted its workshop on women’s health in 1993. At the time, Mazah had a population of about 2,000 people was an agrarian community growing grain crops such as corn, sorghum and acha. The farmers also grew tomatoes and guava fruits, but the self-sufficiency, which guaranteed survival in this village in times past was already under threat.

The project’s two key objectives were to examine the health issues and secondly to strengthen the community structures, i.e. local organizations to tackle some of the problems. In order to work with and dialogue the community members, the team of facilitators from the NGO immersed itself by living in a primary school within the village for about 10 days. This gave us the opportunity to understand the people, their living practices and culture. Our strategy involved what we describe as ‘homestead’ in our practice. We visited people in their homes, attended their village meetings, ate with them in the evenings and engaged in their home chores. About four, five days into this engagement, we were ready to problematize the issues we heard in a small theatre skit-balloon and performance to open discussions of community issues. Look at the drama:
Morrison and Jenks are two villagers engaged in a heated debate of what the needs of their community are. We hear them as they come into the arena. Jenks greets Morrison, who refuses to acknowledge his greeting! The gathering is quiet to know what the quarrel is about. Morrison believes the problem with the village is lack of fertilizer. He hinges his argument on the fact that if you have enough food, you will have energy to climb out of the village. But Jenks argues that once there is road, every other thing falls into place.

The argument was turned over to the community and the men promptly supported Jenks who is interested in the road. But the women agree with Morrison who favours the availability of fertilizer. The stalemate in the drama breaks through fiction to reality! Hear the opposing sides:
Women: Put a trailer load of fertilizer on the hill up there and we will bring them down the valley. Don’t worry about the road; just give us the fertilizer!
Men: We are the ones who carry you up the hill to Jos when you are ill. We face the crisis of safeguarding health. But from now on you are on your own!

In this community where the daily climb in and out of the valley with heavy load by women causes back problems, chest and waist pains and delivery problems for women, why would they reject road? And are the men right by insisting on road when they say it would ease the women’s burden? The women rejected the road as a priority because they argued that it would open up the village and the men would sell land thereby compromising everyone’s livelihood. Our role was to mediate and not force any decision. Before we left the village, the greatest achievement was opening dialogue between men and women as had not happened before. Both men and women were happy that this had taken place and that they would keep the momentum of discussion so that the village is land is preserved as they also look for improvements. Circa 2017, twenty-four years down the line, the road has reached Mazah and the women’s fears have become reality!

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Comment by Rituu B. Nanda on February 28, 2017 at 6:05pm

Thanks Steve for sharing this experience of initiating dialogue between men and women. Did it lead to any other subsequent action (apart from the road)?

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