Iyaji Shehu has never been to school; she is unsure of her age, but estimates she is about 50 years old. In early 2019, The mother of 10 was nominated by the Bauchi State house of representatives to serve as the Women Leader for her Ward ( group of communities) and represent them during State level meetings; this was a dream she never thought could be actualised.
Before 2006, Kwagal community was operating a patriarchal system. The village council was all male-member group, headed by the village chief making decisions for the community. Education for the girl-child was not popular and children only went to school when they wanted; the community school was dilapidated and it was just assumed government will do the renovation when they are ready. Engagement with the government was only during elections and the people voted the preferred candidate of the village council.
Iyaji’s quest for leadership and promoting the rights of women and girls began in 2006 when ActionAid Nigeria and partner FAHIMTA commence the implementation of the Local Rights Programme in Kwagal. The trainings and sensitisations enlightened her on rights, accountable governance and it increased her resolve to fight for the rights of women and children.
At one of the sensitisation meetings, the community nominated her to lead the School-Based Management Committee (SBMC). “We had just one goal, to increase children’s enrolment and retention in school. Overtime, we added advocacy to the state and local government to get the school renovated and the school enrolment drive was a huge success.”
Over the years, Iyaji consistently remained a voice for women in her community, and when the state of the community became worsened in 2018, Iyaji led a team of 3 women and took a call for renovation of schools’ campaign to the senatorial district representative. In 2019 the community school was renovated, new roofs and windows fixed, desks and chairs replaced, building repainted and a perimeter fencing constructed for the health centre in Kwagal.
Another giant stride in Kwagal is the inclusion of women in the village council. There are now 2 women, including Iyaji amongst the 6 members of the village council “Our opinions at the village council meetings count because they know we are passionate about community development. I have had other communities like Tubule, Lomin Fulani, Sindigau, Dakwa seeking experience sharing with me on how to engage duty bearers”.
Beyond serving as a women leader, Iyaji aspires for more. As 2023 elections draw nearer Iyaji plans to continue lobbying duty bearers, mobilising people in the community especially women, to leverage their voting power to demand the needs of the community. In the nearest future, she will explore the possibility of vying for a Councilor.
“90% of men in the community have now embraced that women and girls have rights. Kwagal is no longer a patriarchal community but a community that recognises and respects women and girls’ rights. I am truly grateful to ActionAid Nigeria and partner, FAHIMTA for empowering me, women in the community, and the community at large. We now know our rights, how to advocate, lobby and we will continue to hold the government accountable. When women lead, patriarchy ends” Iyaji quips in Hausa.