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Nigerian women artists unite at UN to change perceptions of women and Africa

Teenage girls at a displacement camp in Gwoca LGA, Borno State, Nigeria.
OCHA/Yasmina Guerda
Teenage girls at a displacement camp in Gwoca LGA, Borno State, Nigeria.

Nigerian women artists unite at UN to change perceptions of women and Africa


Three Nigerian women will spotlight themes such as human trafficking, suicide bombing, and sexism and sexual harassment at the United Nations, showing the strength of women as agents of change in African societies often dominated by men.

“We have to see ourselves as part of the solution, not just as women reserved for sex or for the kitchen,” author and Queen Blessing Itua told UN News ahead of a special event planned for this Sunday in the UN General Assembly Hall.

“Unity in Diversity: An Evening of Art and Hope with Nigerian Women” will feature excerpts from Ms. Itua’s book “We Are the Blessings of Africa,” as well as monologues from Ifeoma Fafunwa’s HEAR WORD! and Nadine Ibrahim’s films “Tolu” and “Through Her Eyes.” 

The event is organized by UN Women, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) and the Nigerian Mission to the UN, with other partners.

“Africa is a diverse continent, rich with different countries and different cultures and natural resources. Africa has the talent – men and women,” said Ms. Itua. Men and women alike, she said, must understand that  women can be powerful agents of development.

“If women understand that they have a critical role to play, they do not see themselves as just wives or women at home, they also raise up into mental engagement with the men, Ms. Itua said, “and hopefully strategize about developing our Mother Land.”

Born in Nigeria and living in the United States, Ms. Itua said she wants to create awareness and give voice to women who do not have a platform to speak out about social ills, particularly rural women.

Her latest film, Mrs. Adams, – which will premiere during the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) next week – follows human trafficking routes in Nigeria and Europe. It is meant to be a statement not just about brutalization of women and sexual violence, but also highlight the economic reasons that people choose to migrate in the first place. It also hopes to raise awareness  about the exploitative work practices, forced labour and smuggling that are rife in human trafficking.

The issue is personal, Ms. Itua said. She hails from Edo state, which recently inaugurated a migration resource centre, and which has been cast in the spotlight after reports of Nigerians from that area being sold in modern slave markets in Libya.  

“As an African woman, I believe that my goal is to work with other women in creating awareness. Together we are stronger. Working together to be stronger to change the narrative coming out of Africa,” Ms. Itua said.

She will be joined on Sunday by 24-year-old Nadine Ibrahim, whose film Through Her Eyes follows the internal struggle of a 12-year-old female suicide bomber in northern Nigeria.

Ms. Ibrahim, who is a Muslim, says that she wants people to understand the rich and beautiful culture surrounding women, Islam and north-eastern Nigeria.

The film was filmed on location with security, and after the original actress’s mother pulled the daughter out of the film for fear of safety.

The Sunday night event will also feature Ifeoma Fafunwa, whose stage play “HEAR WORD! Naija Women Talk True” is a collection of monologues based on true-life stories of Nigerian women challenging social, cultural and political norms in the country.

A line from the play declares: “I have a vital contribution to my nation’s transformation. I am a force, a tidal wave, and I won’t hide. My destiny is not for you to decide.”

Speaking to UN News from the airport enroute to New York, Ms. Fafunwa said it was incredibly relevant for HEAR WORD! to be showcased at the UN.

“Gender parity is top of mind and women around the world are collaborating more than ever on change,” she said. ” It is wonderful for Nigerian women to play a role in highlighting these issues” at the annual UN session, she said, “where persons who can affect policy from all over the world will convene.”

The award-winning playwright added that the timing is particularly relevant given that Nigerians are grappling with the abduction of another 100 girls by Boko Haram.

“It is important that we join in initiating these discussions. It also presents an opportunity to shift perceptions about what is possible for Nigeria and Nigerian women,” Ms. Fafunwa added.

Cognizant of the many young women who will be looking at the UN during the coming two weeks of the commission sessions, Ms. Fafunwa reflected on the possibilities that youth hold.

“I think young women have the biggest potential to create the change the world needs now – on every front.“ she said. “They are closest to the media and have the tools to be empowered, to connect and communicate. This is their time and as agreed, the time is now!”

“When I was younger, I felt disempowered and disconnected from leadership,” she said. “That is not where we should be now.”