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."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Assistant

£17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are a leading company in the field ...

Recruitment Genius: DBA Developer - SQL Server

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

£26041 - £34876 per annum: Recruitment Genius: There has never been a more exc...

Recruitment Genius: Travel Customer Service and Experience Manager

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing travel comp...

Day In a Page

Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen
RuPaul interview: The drag star on being inspired by Bowie, never fitting in, and saying the first thing that comes into your head

RuPaul interview

The drag star on being inspired by Bowie, never fitting in, and saying the first thing that comes into your head
Secrets of comedy couples: What's it like when both you and your partner are stand-ups?

Secrets of comedy couples

What's it like when both you and your partner are stand-ups?
Satya Nadella: As Windows 10 is launched can he return Microsoft to its former glory?

Satya Nadella: The man to clean up for Windows?

While Microsoft's founders spend their billions, the once-invincible tech company's new boss is trying to save it
The best swimwear for men: From trunks to shorts, make a splash this summer

The best swimwear for men

From trunks to shorts, make a splash this summer
Mark Hix recipes: Our chef tries his hand at a spot of summer foraging

Mark Hix goes summer foraging

 A dinner party doesn't have to mean a trip to the supermarket
Ashes 2015: With an audacious flourish, home hero Ian Bell ends all debate

With an audacious flourish, the home hero ends all debate

Ian Bell advances to Trent Bridge next week almost as undroppable as Alastair Cook and Joe Root, a cornerstone of England's new thinking, says Kevin Garside
Aaron Ramsey interview: Wales midfielder determined to be centre of attention for Arsenal this season

Aaron Ramsey interview

Wales midfielder determined to be centre of attention for Arsenal this season
Community Shield: Arsene Wenger needs to strike first blow in rivalry with Jose Mourinho

Community Shield gives Wenger chance to strike first blow in rivalry with Mourinho

As long as the Arsenal manager's run of games without a win over his Chelsea counterpart continues it will continue to dominate the narrative around the two men
The unlikely rise of AFC Bournemouth - and what it says about English life

Unlikely rise of AFC Bournemouth

Bournemouth’s elevation to football’s top tier is one of the most improbable of recent times. But it’s illustrative of deeper and wider changes in English life