"Exhibiting You" - Story

Cultural Change Taking Root with BAOBAB

Empowering Nigerian Women One Woman at a Time

Submitted: 02/12/2008

BAOBAB takes its name from the legendary African tree.  A single baobab tree can take care of every human need: It provides shelter, food, fuel and medicine, and its ability to endure harsh climates has made it a symbol of spiritual strength in distressing times.

BAOBAB, the organization, seeks to emulate the qualities of this tree--strength and perseverance--by reaching out to Nigerian women and providing them with skills they may use in their daily lives and in assisting others. Through programs such as leadership workshops and public awareness events, BAOBAB is bringing women together to create new perspectives on power in Nigeria.

Finding Power from the InsideBAOBAB inspires women who participate in its programs to think independently and organize collectively across generations. It supports and asserts women's human rights through activities such as consciousness raising, leadership training, publishing of women's stories, and fostering of networking amongst women to build strength in numbers.

At the core of these activities are creative and innovative uses of technology. BAOBAB considers technology neither good nor bad in and of itself, but rather poses questions about who controls technology, how it is harnessed, and what results from its usage. By simply providing access and training, BAOBAB enables women to harness the power of technology, such as copy machines to disseminate information, computers for typing and bookkeeping, and the Internet to initiate and deepen contact with like-minded groups.

For example, the simple act of sending an email, which has come to be taken for granted in many areas of the world, has created new possibilities for connecting women across Africa. BAOBAB's Email Solidarity Campaign began with approximately fifty women attending workshops on email and Internet usage. They came with the intention of strengthening campaigns for women's rights, and improving communications among English and French speaking groups throughout Africa.

What grew out of the meeting was a virtual communication network to exchange ideas, stay connected, and build off each other's successes. These women stay in touch and continue to share strategies. With their new or improved skills, women are now engaging in dialogue about their rights more consistently and effectively on a regional and international level.

Changing Power from the OutsideBAOBAB is not only challenging women to improve themselves and develop their skills, they are demanding that the Nigerian public, media, and government eliminate oppression facing women across the country.

BAOBAB saw that the widespread problem of violence against women was not given serious attention in the press, in the halls of government, or in law enforcement. They responded by organizing a series of "mock tribunals" where women and girls tell a distinguished panel of judges their individual stories of violent victimization.

The tribunals were the first major organized attempt in the country to break the public silence on violence against women. "As each woman finished her testimony-or the testimony of her sisters, for the woman who did not survive--the audience was often in tears," explained Senior Program Officer Mufuliat Fijabi about BAOBAB's first mock tribunal in 2001.

At the end of the mock tribunals, the judges deliberated and returned with a powerful set of recommendations for significant policy changes to protect Nigerian women from violence and human rights abuse.

The tribunals attracted a great deal of media and public attention, which helped move the problem of violence against women onto the public agenda. Since then, Nigerian states have passed laws against Female Genital Mutilation and other forms of violence against women.

BAOBAB has seen an increase in the number of cases reported to them by survivors who have been emboldened by the bravery of women testifying at the mock tribunals.

"Tribunals have helped to empower survivors and give them hope for the future," Ms. Fijabi says.

BAOBAB continues to foster the communication and conversations necessary for women to act collectively to make changes and be recognized in doing so.

To learn more about BAOBAB's leadership workshops for women of all ages and backgrounds, please view the video clip available in English.

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