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Women’s Involvement in Grassroots Peacebuilding in Nigeria

Written by Oluwaseun KOLAWOLE, Director of Partnership, Building Blocks for Peace Foundation


All over the world, women and children take the brunt of the world’s conflicts and wars. During these conflicts, they are often exposed to unimaginable horrific atrocities: massacres, sexual assaults such as kidnapping and sexual slavery, forced marriage and mutilations (forced pregnancies and HIV /AIDS); rape is actually being used as a weapon of war. Although it is well known that the realities of women and girls vary from those of men and boys, in conflict management and peacebuilding initiatives and processes, women and girls are largely invisible. It is not because of any biological or structural reason that women or girls are unable to participate in violent confrontation, it’s because in their path, there are obstacles.

Unfortunately, women are often seen only as powerless victims of violent wars, rather than as agents of change whose ability can be exploited in peace processes. They are frequently confined to a passive role and their impacts are neglected in the reconstruction of peace, community rehabilitation and national reconciliation. (Development and Implementation of National Action Plans on UNSCR 1325 and Related Resolutions: The Guideline by WANEP, 2012). It is generally accepted that women are not the primary perpetrators of violence and, as such, are not significant in the discourse on peace and security. The contribution of women is therefore often restricted to trivial, cosmetic or logistical contributions, indicating their status as ‘wives and mothers’ rather than as active actors. The absence of women from structured conflict management and peacebuilding programs and processes in general represents their absence from public life.

Women’s advocates for peace and constitutional participation have long adopted a rights-based approach to the issue: women have the right, as half of the population of a society, in these decision-making processes that will influence their lives, to be represented. Since the adoption of its landmark Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace, and Security in 2000, the United Nations Security Council has also recognized the importance of increasing women’s participation in conflict resolution and peacebuilding processes, particularly at decision-making levels (O’Reily, Sulleabhain and Paffenholz, 2015).

Evidence shows that peacebuilding and reconciliation processes, when women are significantly involved, have higher rates of success and are more likely to last. An analysis of 40 peace processes in 35 countries over three decades found that an agreement was almost always achieved when women’s groups were able to effectively influence a peace process. In addition, a study of 182 peace agreements signed between 1989 and 2011 found that a peace agreement is 20% more likely to last for at least 2 years and 35% more likely to last for at least 15 years if meaningful representation is guaranteed for women

According to O’Reily, Sulleabhain and Paffenholz, (2015), to incorporate elements that lay the foundations for peace and shape the structures of society, peace processes increasingly go beyond outlining cease-fires and dividing territory. Yet, the participants who decide the former continue to decide the latter by and large. The inclusion of others has not kept pace; those who did not take up arms, those who worked for peace, or important parts of the population whose priorities for a peaceful society may differ. Peace processes, traditionally, have concentrated on bringing to the negotiating table the combatants, who are rarely women. While women have moved from the kitchen and bedroom to the boardroom table at a reasonable level, there has been only a slow progress in women’s participation in decision-making processes around the globe and in the context of this study, Nigeria.

The United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325

The United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325 is the first UN resolution that acknowledges the disproportionate effect of war and conflict on women, highlights the reality that women have traditionally been left out of peace processes and stabilization initiatives. The Resolution calls on the bodies of the United Nations and the Member States to pursue a variety of actions to increase women’s representation and engagement in conflict prevention, management and resolution, and to involve them in peace-making, peacekeeping and peace-building activities in the process. It also seeks to foster respect for and preservation of women’s rights, ensuring that women ‘s security is strengthened in situations of conflict and post-conflict. (UN Security Council, Security Council resolution 1325 (2000)

A woman greets Members of the Technical Committee of the peace, security and Cooperation Framework for the DRC and the region as the TSC conducts a field visit in Mugunga IDP camp near Goma, the 20th of May 2014. The Technical Support Committee of the peace, security and Cooperation Framework for the DRC and the region meets in Goma for its 7th session © MONUSCO/Sylvain Liechti

Participation, which is the first pillar of the UNSCR 1325 calls for increased participation of women at all levels of decision-making, including in national, regional, and international institutions; in conflict prevention, management and settlement mechanisms; in peace talks; in peace operations, as troops, police and civilians; and as Special Delegates of the U.N. Secretary-General. The Prevention pillar also calls for supporting local women’s peace initiatives and conflict resolution processes. (UN Security Council, Security Council Resolution 1325, 2000).

Over the years, the resolution has been a means to raise the voices and leadership of women, strengthening their involvement in peace processes and leadership in security structures, and taking peace-building grassroots initiatives to an international level. There is no doubt that UNSCR 1325 has been a major motivating factor for women to contribute and be ably represented in the decision-making levels, at the grassroot inclusive. It has also highlighted that a lot can be achieved when the society (especially women) is aware of their political, social, and economic rights and are able to pursue it accordingly. The presence of women at the grass roots will go a long way to help towards the political, social and economic stability of the nation.

Localizing the Implementation of UNSCR 1325 in Nigeria

The United Nations Security Council recognized that national implementation of UNSCR 1325 and related resolutions is an essential instrument for promoting the agenda for Women, Peace and Security. For this reason, the Presidential Statements of 2004/40 and 2005/52 called on Member States to adopt Resolution 1325, including the creation of National Action Plans (NAPs) or other national strategies. (NSRP, 2014).

Nigeria acknowledges the importance of Security Council Resolution 1325 in the implementation of peacekeeping and peace-building mandates and in conflict prevention efforts to give greater attention to gender perspectives. In response to this mandate, the Nigerian government developed an Action Plan that will contribute to the agenda for Women, Peace and Security. In this regard, the Nigerian National Action Plan promotes and strengthens women’s participation and representation in all peacekeeping activities, peace negotiations, peace-building and post-conflict activities, as well as in state decision-making processes. The State Action Plan (SAP Resolution 1325) in eight states and two Local Action Plans (LAPs) were also created to ensure state ownership and contextualization to state conflict dynamics. (NSRP, 2016).

Although much has been done since the start of the NAP in 2013, this has been primarily at the level of policy processes rather than impact. There have been challenges that have hindered the implementation of the UNSCR 1325 in Nigeria. They include:

  • Insufficient number of women in decision-making positions
  • Inadequate awareness of UNSCR 1325 and NAPs
  • Lack of coordination among stakeholders and lack of technical skills among the women (negotiation, mediation, advocacy, lobbying skills, etc.) required for active and strategic participation
  • NAP and SAP policies are not legal documents, meaning that officials are not mandated to implement them and there are no penalties for non-compliance. (NSRP, 2016)

There is a need for more action to increase women’s meaningful participation in decision-making.

Women and Peace Process in Nigeria

With devastating effects on the Nigerian economy as well as its people, especially women and children, conflicts have consistently been violent. In the past two decades, the Boko Haram uprising, ethnic-religious scuffles and violent clashes among nomadic pastoralists andsome agrarian communities have brought untold anguish and misery: mentally, emotionally and physically to many Nigerian women in Borno, Niger Delta, Yobe, Gombe, Plateau, Benue, Kaduna, Kano, Bauchi, etc. In the lives of women and children, the direct consequences and effects of these conflicts are most obvious, as they are the most vulnerable. When women suffer from conflict, it is essential that peace-building processes take into consideration this suffering in the construction of long – lasting settlements (Heldi, 2009). The international community as well as the Nigerian government have recognized this clarion call for the increased participation of women in all peace building processes.

Women in Peace Process is a concept that has only recently found popularity within the Nigerian environment. The discourse of female participation in peace processes is at its lowest in a country like Nigeria where patriarchy is deeply embedded, with most of the resolution mechanisms put in place by the government being predominantly male. It is essential and fundamental to change the attitude towards women’s empowerment and inclusion in these peace-building processes. Men and women should be seen to participate equally in the processes at various levels of the procedures. This is because conflict affects both men and women differently, and so their definition of protection will also vary. Therefore, it is very important to consider the perspective of women in peace building and it provides a more holistic approach to achieving a sustainable peace.

Women’s Involvement in Grassroots Peace Movement in Nigeria

Far from just being the victims of the damage caused by war, women in affected countries like Nigeria are assuming leadership roles and actively addressing the consequences and causes of protracted, violent conflict. The involvement of Nigerian women in peace building has been a very marginalized and unbalanced one since the rise of violent conflicts in Nigeria, one that shows women taking the peace-building initiative only within the non-formal sphere at the grassroots or community level. This is because this happens to be the only medium available to them through avenues such as non-governmental civil society groups, informal-female-based groups, etc., and very little or no representation in the governmental spheres.

Women work at all levels, from local to national and, in some cases, even international, to increase political participation and to meet the needs of their conflict-torn communities. Women’s responses take many forms, which include coordinating grass roots, building cross-community coalitions, and stepping forward as role models and mediators. They are developing mechanisms to improve the quality of life of their families, their neighbours and their societies. (Donna, 2000)

Grassroots efforts are often one of the main outlets of women’s peace activism, given the relative lack of presence of women in the formal political realm of many conflict-torn nations such as Nigeria. It is precisely those women who are excluded from formal conflict resolution efforts that are at the forefront of grassroots organizations that address the issues caused by prolonged violent conflict (Donna, 2000).

Women’s participation is often seen in their use of informal networks and organizations, such as loan committees, mother groups or neighbourhood alliances, to speak out about conflicts, to resolve conflicts non-violently or to influence the conduct of more formal mechanisms, particularly in situations where women are systematically silenced and made invisible in the formal, public domain. This is not to say that ‘participation behind the scenes’ is adequate, but to state that it is often necessary to look beyond the formal and open to the roles that women play in communities in order to identify and promote the active role of women in peace building.

It is not only through a top-down peace process that the end of prolonged conflicts can be established, with only armed actors at the negotiating table. It has been asserted that conflict can only be truly resolved through the bottom-up approach of the grassroots. It requires a more inclusive process, one that involves women playing more crucial roles in building peace from the bottom up and from the top down, involving multiple stakeholders. (Heidi, 2009).

For centuries, women in Nigeria have played important roles in peace and war situations, mainly as traditional peace-makers, as priestesses who confer with gods to determine whether or not it was right to go to war, as singers of praise for men during battles as a boost to guarantee their victory. Examples are: Examples include: Queen Amina of Zaria, who led the victory of her people, Queen Moremi of Ife, who rescued her people by negotiating with the opposing side, Efunsetan Aniwura, a fierce female general in Egbaland.(Olaitan, 2018).

In Plateau State, Nigeria, where at least 4,000 people have been killed in recurring community violence since 2001, UN Women established a women-led peace network under the European Union-funded programme to help promote women’s engagement in Northern Nigeria’s peace and security efforts. This has helped to strengthen women’s leadership, promote gender equality and improve the protection of women and children in grassroots conflict settings.

In Borno, women have organized and participated in numerous marches, rallies, campaigns and demonstrations to raise awareness of abuses, to call for participation and to take action for peace. Within local vigilante units, such as Kungiyar marhaba (hunters’ association) some women fight against Boko Haram and especially the Borno State-based Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF). Women’s organizations also mediate and support returned abductees who are pregnant / have children whose fathers are / were in Boko Haram by building community support. This is a major obstacle to community life reintegration; which women are actively working to change.

The state of Borno was also the first to develop a State Action Plan for implementation of UNSCR 1325 to ensure the participation of women in peacekeeping. All of these women in the North East (as elsewhere in Nigeria) have come together to defend and promote women’s rights across religious and other lines of identity. (Imam, Biu and Yahi, 2020)

In Nigeria, women in the Niger Delta area are not unlike women in other parts of Africa. Traditional patriarchal cultures are bound by them. They are forced to submit by these cultures to men. Women in the Niger Delta face unimaginable human rights abuses for which redress is unattainable because the government agents who commit such abuses are invincible and cannot be subject to the rule of law. Traditionally, women are mostly the ones called upon to initiate a truce in a situation of conflict between men and ethnic groups. Therefore, the role of women from the time immoral in the region had been peace-making. (Osah and Odedina, 2017).

Consequently, many women’s groups have emerged and empowered themselves to educate women at the grassroots level and to defend their fundamental human rights. In the bleak situation of the Niger Delta, those women and their groups are the unsung heroes. Women rise to the occasion, according to Ekiyor & Gbowe (2005). They have been involved in a number of regional peace-building initiatives. The women’s group has often taken the lead in calling for interventions in the region.

The Kebetkache Women Development, for instance, is a non-governmental organization for women’s advocacy and education that has worked with women to build their capacity and facilitate their participation in community affairs and advocacy in more than 15 oil-impacted communities, towns and villages in the Niger Delta. They have organized protests independently, recognized the interests of women and their desire to act; they have started training in conflict management and peace building. (Osah and Odedina, 2017).

A community-based organization, the Tere-Ama Women’s Association, took direct action to persuade young men in the creeks of Okrika to prevent them from participating in armed violence in the run-up to the 2007 general election. The women resolved a land ownership dispute that threatened the main community market and livelihoods by calling the traditional leader to a meeting to avoid bloodshed. The market remains a major source of income for the community of Tere-Ama.

Another example of women’s involvement in Peace Movement at the grassroot is the women’s non-violent protest against Chevron in Escravos (Delta State), in 2002, for destroying the environment and livelihoods of many local villages. The angry women held Chevron in captivity for ten days. While the negotiations were going on, all operations had to be put off and the firm was forced to declare “force majeure”. The resolution involved the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the women (Iruloh and Uche, 2017).

More women are aware of their importance in the political and peacebuilding spheres, more than ever before. Women-led Non-Governmental Organizations are gaining momentum and not only advocating for gender equality but also educating and equipping women and girls with skills on how to speak for their rights, prevent violent extremism and build peace within their various communities.

The role of these NGOs in peacebuilding in a country like Nigeria cannot be overemphasized. This is because humanitarian, developmental, human rights, and conflict resolution activities are carried out by NGOs that strengthen the peace building process. These NGOs are doing even more peace building activities than any official governmental agencies. (Uzuegbunam, 2013)

An example of a woman-led Non-Governmental Organisation that advocates for peace is Galaxy4Peace, founded by Precious Ajunwa to sustain an environment branded by peaceful co-existence among tribes, communities, states and country by increasing the general population’s responsiveness to peacebuilding and conflict management initiatives aimed at the ultimate objective of building lasting peace in Nigeria. The NGO does this through creating awareness and sensitizing the general populace through capacity building, advocacy, and innovative interventions targeted at peace culture promotion.

Another example is ElectHer, a non-partisan political advancement organization co-founded by two Nigerian women, Ibijoke Faborode and Abosede Alimi, that aims to bridge inequality gaps in Nigerian politics by addressing the under-representation of Nigerian women in elective office by behavioural change communications; skills growth, mobilization of human capital and campaign financing, with a final aim to allow capable women to vote, run and win elections competitively. ElectHer is on a mission to support 1000 women to run for office in 2023.

The Women for Peace & Gender Equality Initiative (formerly the commonwealth Women’s Organisation Nigeria) is also an example of a women led non-governmental organization that is committed to empowering girls and women through equitable gender equality with the potential to foster sustainable peace. They also aim to ensure the active involvement of women from the grass roots to the national level in Nigeria in the peacebuilding and policy making process.

Impact of women involvement on the peacebuilding in Nigeria

Building peace is challenging. It’s tougher for women peace-builders. They do not only seek to transform the conflicts plaguing their communities; they are doing so in the face of bigotry, injustice, silence, and physical violence.

Women have had a tremendous beneficial impact on the individual, family, community, national, and international levels throughout history. Women like Queen Amina of Zaria, Moreme, and Mrs Ransom Kuti have contributed in various ways since historic times. Women play a key role in leading their families, strengthening communities and building a world that is peaceful, positive and sustainable, sometimes even in the most difficult times.

It is worth noting that because of the patriarchal aspect of culture that is inherent in Nigeria, women are still marginalized in the sphere of affairs in the country and this is reflected in various sectors of the country, especially the public sector. Women’s low participation in education is also part of the shortcomings. Since women are grossly excluded, even on the peace table, where their own concept of security should be heard in order to achieve a more durable approach to building lasting peace, they are in turn not adequately represented, being that they constitute a large portion of the population and the most affected during the conflict. (Garba, 2015).

Regardless of their relegation, in the history of Nigeria, women have tried in different ways to avert, monitor and avoid otherwise threatening situations of peace and stability. Women’s activism and advocacy, women’s education, successive governments’ positivity towards women’s empowerment, and women’s interest in participating in politics are gaining a great deal of positive energy. This is an indication that there is a bright future for the participation of women in peace and decision-making processes. (NSRP, 2013).

Women peacebuilders have largely impacted peacebuilding in Nigeria by pursuing democracy and human rights. As peacekeepers and aid workers, women contribute to the reduction of direct abuse. Women have worked to transform partnerships and resolve the causes of violence as mediators, trauma recovery counsellors, and politicians. Women have also contributed to building the capacity of their societies and nations to deter violent conflict, by acting as educators and participants in the development process. With a considerable level of inclusion of women in peacebuilding and decision making in Nigeria, there has been an opportunity to amplify the voices of women and girls.


Nigeria’s patriarchal context places restrictions on the mobility of women and plays on conservative ideologies of gender. This complicates peacebuilding and the inclusion of women as full actors in peacebuilding in particular. While women are largely seen as victims in need of protection, they engage in informal peacebuilding and demonstrate their organization and advocacy for a better future through this. In order for sustainable peace to be achieved in Nigeria, it is necessary to pursue the full inclusion of women in all peace processes and, more importantly, to remove barriers to the full inclusion and participation of Nigerian women in peace-building by developing their capabilities.

Inclusion is not only about promoting women’s participation in formal environments, but also recognizing where they have the greatest influence. Many instances of gender inclusivity have resulted from informal structures, such as the influence women have within their families, which often goes unrecognized. Men and boys in every society in Nigeria should be allies of women in building peace. Women need to be integrated into all levels of governance and decision-making in order to ensure the active participation of women in peace-making and peace-building, so that they can participate and have their voices heard in decision-making and peace processes and as such help build a more sustainable world at large.


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