Niger's women and children starve as men hoard food

What happened to Noura at a village near Zinder is replicated through much of the stricken communities of Niger. In the midst of starvation and disease, many men in rural areas are determined to control the meagre supplies, seemingly oblivious to the suffering of their families.

So acute is the problem that Unicef and international charities have launched urgent projects focusing exclusively on women. It is, they say, a far more certain way of ensuring the children and the elderly - the most vulnerable - get at least the very minimum needed for survival.

This extraordinary situation appears to be peculiar to Niger. Neighbouring countries caught up in the crisis caused by droughts and plagues of locusts - Mali, Mauritania and Burkina - are also predominantly Muslim with patriarchal cultures. Yet there, aid workers say, women are not sidelined to anything like the same degree.

In some villages, men have stopped women from having contact with Unicef officials, insisting that only they were entitled to speak for the community. There have also been repeated cases of men selling food given as aid, or passing it on to male members of extended families.

"We have millet and sorghum at the back of our hut, but we are not allowed to get it," 33-year-old Noura said. "The room was bolted by my husband when he went to Nigeria to find a job and his father and brothers have the key. They say it is up to me to feed my children, but that is not easy. A lot of families round here are in the same situation. There is nothing we can do."

Khalida Habib, a neighbour in her mid-fifties, added: "The mothers share all that we have, but the men do not do this. We have no rights over the food. We have to do all the hard work, but the men think they should control the food given us by foreigners." The government says it is aware of the problem but it is proving difficult to change ingrained attitudes. Unicef, which has refused to deal with villages where it has not been allowed access to women, has set up ventures concentrating on females, from arranging microcredit to providing livestock. Men in the community benefiting from the scheme have to agree to contracts pledging that they will not appropriate the aid.

The loan system is open only to women, although some include a "token man" as years of official neglect of female education means there are difficulties in finding literate women in rural areas. Unicef and international charities say women are better credit risks.

Maman Abdou, the village chief of Sabonkasi, said: "Mothers are happy to give back what they are given. The women are afraid they will be ridiculed by their friends if they don't pay back. Men don't care what other people say."

The aid agency Care International says: "Women's savings groups are shielding whole communities from the full onslaught of the food crisis in Niger."

Unicef has provided 12,000 Chevrenouffe goats - which produce a richer milk and more offspring than other varieties - to women. The milk enriches the diet of children and cheese and meat can be sold at markets to supplement incomes. Kids from donated goats are handed to other women in the community.

Sabine Dolan, a communications officer with Unicef, said: "Women are unlikely to sell off aid, as some men have done. We don't know why this is the case in Niger with women. Neighbouring countries such as Mali are also Muslim but we don't have the same problem there. It appears to be a matter of local dynamics. In a few villages, the men have refused to co-operate and allow us access to the women, but the schemes are working pretty well and the women are into the decision-making process. We have contracts with the communities, mainly verbal in front of witnesses, that the men will not try to grab the aid."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
Bryan Cranston as Walter White, in the acclaimed series 'Breaking Bad'
news
News
There have been various incidents of social media users inadvertently flouting the law
news

Sport
footballChelsea 6 Maribor 0: Blues warm up for Premier League showdown with stroll in Champions League
Arts and Entertainment
Princess Olga in 'You Can't Get the Staff'
tvReview: The anachronistic aristocrats, it seemed, were just happy to have some attention
Life and Style
tech

Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift

News
Renee Zellweger as Bridget Jones
i100
News
Those who were encouraged to walk in a happy manner remembered less negative words
science
Life and Style
Stack ‘em high?: quantity doesn’t always trump quality, as Friends of the Earth can testify
techThe proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
News
Bourgogne wine maker Laboure-Roi vice president Thibault Garin (L) offers the company's 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau wine to the guest in the wine spa at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort facilities in Hakone town, Kanagawa prefecture, some 100-kilometre west of Tokyo
i100
Sport
CSKA Moscow celebrate after equalising with a late penalty
footballCSKA Moscow 2 Manchester City 2: Premier League champions let two goal lead slip in Russia
Environment
Sudan, the last male northern white rhino
environmentThe death of a white northern rhino in Kenya has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

IT Project Manager

Competitive: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsford a...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

IT Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

Day In a Page

Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth