Female Leadership in Conflict Zones

At Philia, we believe that empowerment comes by speaking up and speaking out. Therefore, it was clear to us that a talk on female leadership in conflict zones needs to include female speakers, who live in conflict and post-conflict zones.

On September 6th, 2017 we hosted a talk on this topic at the newly opened Mindspace co-working space at Krausenstrasse in Berlin. We invited Tania Arias Edries from Afghanistan and Marmee Yakubu from Northern Nigeria as guest speakers. Since neither of them was able to travel to Europe for the talk, we got creative and decided to phone them in via Skype. Apart from our general introduction of the topic, the two women provided first-hand insights on:

  • Living conditions for women in conflict zones,
  • The impact of culture and religion on female leadership,
  • Feminism and
  • Role models in Afghanistan and Northern Nigeria.

With regards to the living condition in conflict zones, we learned that both in Afghanistan and Northern Nigeria the conflict impacted women psychologically and drained the confidence of many. During times of conflict, there was little freedom of speech for women and in many cases, women didn’t have control over the income of the family or even their own income. Especially in Northern Nigeria, the death of family fathers and the increased poverty due to the conflict lead to an increase in prostitution and child marriage. What is more, since several suicide bombings in Nigeria were conducted by women wearing the hijab, the security checks of women in hijabs has increased. On the bright side, both Marmee and Tania agreed that women’s resilience increased due to the conflict.

Both Afghanistan and Northern Nigeria are predominantly Muslim countries. Tania from Afghanistan highlighted that she finds it problematic that people fail to differentiate between Afghan traditions and Muslim culture. She says that in many cases, people blame issues on Islam whereas, in fact, they are cultural and not religious aspects. She emphasised that Islam itself offers many rights for women which are denied to them due to Afghan culture. According to her, illiteracy is the main reason for these misinterpretations of Islam. Both Northern Nigeria and Afghanistan are said to be male-dominated cultures and there is a preference for male children. Women are not encouraged to say their opinion and neither are they expected to live by themselves.

When it comes to feminism, Marmee and Tania agree that it is a controversial topic which is often misunderstood. Therefore, both men and women need more education on what feminism and equal rights mean in practice. In Afghanistan, there are nowadays quite a lot of organisations that support feminism.

There has been progress on female empowerment in both countries. Afghanistan has a number of female MPs and ministers that lead the country and thousands of female entrepreneurs that make a change in their country. Also, Nigeria has seen an increase in women in parliament and has produced influential female figures such as writer Chimananda Achebe.

Altogether, the talk and discussion around were highly informative and we are looking forward to hosting many similar events in the future. A big thanks to Mindspace for their support with this amazing venue and of course to our fabulous speakers Tania and Marmee.