CEC Journal: Issue 3

Understanding Gender Roles in Northern Nigeria

Understanding Gender Roles, Pre- Conflict/Conflict Escalations and Conflict De-escalations as Gendered in Northern Nigeria
Nigeria, like most countries, in Africa has experienced conflicts that have caused a lot of divisions along the lines of religion, ethnic and regional issues. According to Maier (2002), cited in Okpanachi (2012:2), “From its inception as a colonial state, Nigeria has faced a perennial crisis of territorial or state legitimacy, which has often challenged its efforts at national cohesion, democratization, stability and economic transformation”. From Kano, Kaduna, Kebbi, Bauchi, Taraba, Plateau, Nasarawa, Benue, Kwara and Maiduguri states etc which form the Northern states, there has been various and sometimes rapid spate of conflicts or crises in the last decade, representing one of the most turbulent in its history. “Therefore, breakdown, breakaway, civil strife, civil war, minority nervousness, and violent clashes, all of which would typically be regarded unusual in normal states are common forces or actual occurrences…” (Osaghae and Suberu 2005:4).

Technological advancement in the last century has opened up avenues for information to reach people from all walks of life and in different locations rapidly. Often times and particularly during conflicts, access to information is slow or lacking. More so, the roles assigned to men and women during conflict defer. For instance, as a gender role women engage in petty trading more than men. Therefore women are expected to use their proceeds from such trades in some local communities to contribute to assisting men. By this specialized arrangement, pre-conflict escalation becomes gendered. Here, information dissemination by the media becomes crucial in order to track early conflict escalation.

At the same time because women are expected to cook for the men who go out to fight and take care of the children, women remain largely ignorant of the extent of escalation or de-escalation of conflicts. At times during conflicts proper, women are used to fight the enemy, either by carrying fetish items on the head, or walking naked before the enemy (Udom, 2000: 3) According to (Byrne, 1995), “The holding up of women as symbolic bearers of caste, ethnic or national identity can expose them to the risk of attack”. It is noteworthy that in Nigeria, the likes of Queen Amina of Zazzau, Princess Inikpi of Idah and Princess Emotan of Benin kingdom all contributed to conflicts at different levels in the history of Nigerian conflicts and wars.

Therefore the media can contribute by providing an understanding to people on how women are involved in traditional methods of fighting the enemy, which can likely influence or potentially escalate or de-escalate conflicts. This example also shows that women play a significant role in conflicts as men, but tend to receive little or no mention in media dissemination of information about conflict as it escalates or de-escalate. Udom, (2000), Nzomo, (1993), Mazurana & Proctor, (2013) all talked about the role women play during conflicts, either as active combatants or to de-escalate the conflicts. According to these scholars, the actions of women are not reported especially when there is a ceasefire.
Conceptual Clarifications
  • Gender- A term used to refer to the socialization of men and women as constructed by the responsibilities assigned to them at different stages of conflicts.
  • Conflict- Disagreements that are can erupt in violence or create confusion.
  • Information- activities and actions that are made available to people to create awareness or understanding during conflicts.
  • Media- Social institution saddled with the responsibility of disseminating information in the form of pictures, sound and print reports on conflicts and individuals involved. 
This study adopts qualitative methods and uses two focus group discussions as the technique to gather data. The focus group discussions comprises of 4 women affected by conflicts in Gwoza, Borno State, North East Nigeria and 4 journalists. Purposive sampling is adopted as sampling technique and discourse analysis is used to analyze the data from the focus group discussions.
Theoretical Orientation
The Symbolic Interactionist Theory was coined by Herbert Blumer (1969), based on the ideas of by George H. Mead (1934), Charles H. Cooley (1902), W. I. Thomas (1931). The central theme of symbolic interactionism is that human life is lived in the symbolic domain. Symbols are culturally derived social objects having shared meanings that are created and maintained in social interaction. Through language and communication, symbols provide the means by which reality is constructed. (Encyclopledia.com) Blumer (1969), premised his definition on the meanings human beings have given to objects and other people. For instance when a woman is mentioned, what comes to mind is a mother, caregiver, housewife and so on. He also premised the meanings of things derive from social interaction; and these meanings are dependent on or interpreted by people who interact with one another.

The term examines gender stratification on the day-to-day level and how gender roles are internalized by the sexes. However, Symbolic interactionist is interested in gender inequality and emphasize that gender inequality is experienced as a constructed reality, only as the actors define and give meaning to what is been constructed.

“We live in a world that is constructed as we interpret our experience from the point of view of the symbols and meanings available to us” … (Hughes, et al, 1999:277-278).

If individuals interpret certain conflict related issues to gender issues and assign symbols and meanings to them, such conflict related gender issues become real in their outcomes. Gender inequality is not a product of biological inheritance, but it is socio-culturally constructed using symbols and meanings. These socially constructed symbols and meanings are not static, but are always changing therefore; people can intentionally change the structure of gender differentiation and inequality by changing symbols and meanings they had hitherto assigned to them. (Hughes, et al 1999:278) explains that:

When men define themselves in traditional masculinist terms, value male dominance, and view women primarily as objects of sexual pleasure, rape and sexual harassment are more likely to occur. When we replace these meanings with those that value gender equality and view women as complete human beings; the rates of rape and sexual harassment decline.

To the symbolic interactionists, in order to change the existing gender differentiation, there is need to change the symbols and meanings that are attached to them.
Objectives of the study
The objectives of this study are:
  1. To examine the roles women play during conflicts
  2. To examine how the media reinforces gender roles in conflict reports
  3. To determine the role the media plays in conflict de-escalation.
Research questions
  1. What roles do women play during conflicts?
  2. How do the media reinforce gender roles in conflict reports?
  3. What role do the media play in conflict de-escalation?           
Literature Review
Gender roles in conflict situations
When media reports consider gender, it narrows gender to women and girls as against women and men on the one hand, and boys and girls on the other hand (Mazurana & proctor, 2013). There is a gender socialization of culture in societies. In Nigeria for instance, as a gender role, women are engaged in petty trading more than men. Women use the proceeds to contribute money in some parts of Northern Nigeria to support the men during conflicts in buying foodstuff. By this specialized arrangements pre-conflict escalation becomes gendered as gender roles prepares or gather momentum for conflict escalation.

Women also play a key role in preserving order and normalcy in the midst of chaos and destruction. In times of conflict, when men engage in war and are killed, disappear or take refuge outside their country's borders, it is women who are left with the burden of ensuring family livelihood. Women struggle to protect their families health and safety—a task which rests on their ability to cope pragmatically with change and adversity. It is therefore not surprising that women are also a driving force for peace (Sorensen, 1998: iii).

This implies that women are seen as playing a significant role during conflicts, because they are providing a service for their children and husbands. (Nzomo 2002:6)

It is often argued that women are well positioned to play more critical roles in peacemaking in Africa because of their socially constructed functions as the custodians of family and community values, and as nurturers, care givers and mediators within the family.

During conflict, women cook for the men who go on the battle. Some argue that most wars have been fought with the acquiescence and support of women (Ferris, 1993).

The reasons women put forth for becoming combatants or giving support services, are similar to those of men and include forced recruitment, agreement with the war objectives, or economic necessity, which reminds us that women, like men, have many different social identities, which are culturally and socially constructed (Bennett et al 1995: 16).

In extreme cases, a woman is used as “charm” when she strips naked before an “enemy”. (Udom 2000: 3) and (Nzomo 1993) assert that:

…the use of traditional paraphernalia, with cultural connotations and believed to have mystical powers of imposing discipline, and certain taboo acts of protest by women, for example, stripping naked, that is believed to result in very serious consequences on the offenders. These means were used effectively to stop unacceptable behaviour of men. In Kenya, a group of women stripped naked in 1993, seeking public support and to pressurize the government to release political prisoners. The act certainly generated tremendous public support but did not immediately persuade the government to comply.

Other conflicts in Liberia, Somalia, Sierra-Leone, Bangui, Rwanda, and Burundi come to mind. The catalogue of ethno- religious crises in Nigeria left behind unprecedented distortions in social relations and exacerbated the already existing gender imbalances and inequalities. Turley cited in Lloyd and Howard (2004:19) opines that:

 The different experiences of women, the ways in which they live through conflict - as fighters, community leaders, social organizers, workers, farmers, traders and welfare workers - and their role once the violence has ended in peacekeeping and conflict resolution processes are not considered newsworthy. 

The post-conflict period has also been characterized by women taking on non-traditional roles such as managing financial resources, and renovating houses and roads as a significant shift of gender roles in post conflict periods.
Role of the media in conflict escalation
 Conflict escalation is usually characterized by rumours. Generally, but one thing becomes certain that there are gender identity switch roles as more women become widows in post conflict era and women assume the responsibilities of men most of the time, which some scholars state is hardly captured by the media.
Kvinna (2013:3) attests that:

Despite the fact that conflicts affect whole popula­tions, women are almost invisible in the reports. If they are present at all, they are often seen crying in the background and are talked about – rather than listened to. Men are often asked to explain and interpret the conflict in many different roles; as combatants, war­lords, experts and politicians. Women, on the other hand, are rarely asked about their opinions regarding the conflict in general, and if they are, it is usually from a woman’s or the victim’s perspective.

Again, Ross cited in Pate and Oso (2017: 208) notes on the status of women and the media that “…the impact of conflict on women, and the role of women in peace building, is rarely given prominent coverage in reporting conflict”. Omenugha (2001) cited in Pate and Oso (2017) also opines that the Nigerian media should realize that the exclusion of women implies an exclusion of majority of Nigerian. Again, Turley (2004:19), advancing the issue of gender equality introduced at the Beijing Platform for Action at the United Nations’ Fourth World Conference on Women (1995), observed that:

reporting on women continued to be simplistic, especially in conflict situations. It was obvious that much of the mainstream media was incapable of adjusting its gender-blind focus in this regard.  However, pressure intensified for more realistic perspectives on women and conflict, and in October 2000 the United Nations Security Council unanimously passed Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security.

 Changes in gender roles can be spontaneous such that, it has to be the media that would sense these changes and make others respond to these changes as fast as possible.
Revisiting the former, it is a gender role in Nigeria that women gossip more than men. And to some extent, this role is reinforced by the media. For example, the “dem say” “dem say” (a jingle in Nigeria media Plateau Radio Television Corporation –PRTVC, meaning “they said the attackers are coming again” creating panic). As captured by Kvinna (2013:11)

Sometimes women are used in the warmongering. The ultimate case of misogyny propagated by the media occurred prior to the Rwandan genocide, when hate campaigns against a particular ethnic group carried out in the media often focused on women.

Media jingle aimed at deescalating conflict and peace building, reinforce gender roles which also reinforces the earlier claim that, Gender as against sex role differentiation is an apparent phenomenon in the Nigerian social relations. Men tend to be the primary soldiers/combatants yet, in various conflicts, women have made up significant numbers of combatants without media knowledge.

In a study conducted by Bloom and Matfess (2016:2)), while underscoring the role of women as symbols and swords in Boko Haram’s terror, state that:

Unfortunately, while the focus on the victimized girls helped garner international support, the effort overlooked the role that women and girls play in the insurgency’s operations and ideology, depriving analysts of critical insights about the functioning of the group.

They added that women “are playing an increasingly important role in the tactical operations of terrorist groups and insurgencies”. Bloom and Matfess (2016:4).

Women and girls are often victims of sexual violence (including rape, sexual conquest, violent genital mutilation, coarse sex and other forms of sexual humiliation) Nzomo (1993). Ibrahim cited in Pate and Oso (2017: 230) opines that:

The media can play a significant role in alleviating the plight of internally displaced women by beaming its searchlights on these women. The media can expose images of victims of civil wars and other violence against the population and play a basic role in giving publicity to human suffering. Therefore, the media have a very significant role in rehabilitation of women who are victims of the various conflicts in the country.

The plight of women in conflict in a democratic society like Nigeria puts the mass media in the forefront of providing indispensable information, to manage and resolve conflicts. McQuail (2010) asserts that the media could be a potent force for public enlightenment through spreading information.
Women’s role as provider of the everyday needs of the family may mean increased stress and work as basic goods are more difficult to locate. Girls may also face an increased workload. Non-combatant men may also experience stress related to their domestic gender roles, if they are expected but unable to provide for their families.

In such situations, journalists must demonstrate a very high capacity in locating the role gender plays and the role of women in all stages of conflict. This is because, practical and strategic gender needs and also coping mechanisms differ greatly, between men and women for in periods of conflict.
Every conflict the media reporter covers has antecedents which when sensitively monitored in all stages of conflict, would have been successful in mitigating conflict in the first place.

There is no doubt that journalists have a crucial role to play in the escalation or de-escalation of crisis through the slant of their stories. It is important for journalists to appreciate their responsibility to work for the well being of the society. Apart from handling reports of crisis in a manner that would not escalate the crisis, they can also serve as whistle blowers when crisis is brewing. That way, attention is drawn to a potential crisis and where possible nips it in the bud. Journalists also have a role to play in post conflict situations by focusing on issues that will consolidate the peace process. They can equally draw attention of government and nongovernmental organizations to areas that need attention to forestall further crisis or improve on the situation on ground. (Obateru, 2013) Journalist and lecturer, University of Jos, Department of Mass Communication)

A particular media programme for instance, may focus on vulnerability of women from a past conflict. It might not actually address gender, and the role gender plays in that particular conflict from its formative stage, to a full blown stage as it were with conflict de-escalation. This is because the role gender plays is quite different. Lynch cited in (Kvinna 2013:7) argues that female reporters for instance, “… may have a different social repertoire and be familiar with the world-views of a wider range of people than their male counterparts. When men are discussing the war, they often miss women’s perspective.”
At some other times, both media programmes and news reports covering conflicts are narrowed on women work conditions and challenges for example. These situations are in turn exteriorized in the formation of associations like the National Association of Women Journalists (NAWOJ) in Nigeria and, Women in Media (WIM) on a global scale. These associations are not gender sensitive like women media organizations like the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ) Nigerian Institute of Journalism, and Nigeria Guild of Editors (NGE) which have women and men leadership/membership structures in Nigeria. These obviously take a lead from institutions like the International Institute of Journalists in the United Kingdom.
Relationship between men and women in conflicts
The power dynamics in social relations between women and men at all stages of conflict are supposed to be the mainstay of sensitive media practice. Unfortunately in Nigeria today, women issues inform media institutional structures, which in turn inform the basic core of reporting on gender issues. In such a situation, good preparation, research, and a clear understanding of women, gender diversity and gender issues are essential.

The researcher observed that it was a gender and not a woman issue that preceded the conflict that escalated in Jos, Nigeria in 2001 yet most media reportage showed a woman issue. In the same vein, the Malala/ Taliban incident was not a gender issue but a woman issue that set the stage as a pre-conflict specific event in Afghanistan. Priest (2012:2) recounts:

Fazlullah began planning the execution of 14-year-old Malala Yousafzai. She had once made the case for more security in girls' schools… Fazlullah formed an alliance with other Taliban factions, and together they laid siege to the Swat Valley between 2007 and 2009. His fighters blew up hundreds of schools, beheaded villagers, flogged women…

Girl child education is not a socially constructed reality but a woman issue, yet the issue was reported as a gender issue. Women issues are subjective while gender issues are objective even though media is supposed to treat its audience as its subjects.
Analysis of Focus Group Discussions
 Two focus discussions held in Jos Plateau State; one comprising 4 women displaced by conflicts in North East Nigeria and the second comprising 4 people from media. The Focus group discussions are analyzed from the objectives of this study. Respondents in the first focus group discussion had women from conflict areas in Gwoza and are coded as R1, R2, R3, and R4. While respondents in the second FGD from the media and coded as MP1, MP2, MP3 and MP4
Research Objective one: What roles do women play during conflicts de-escalation?

RP 1: We used to keep our money… that was what we removed and paid for transportation for ourselves, husbands and children as we were running from our villages”.

RP 2: “When we are hiding along with our husbands in the mountains we used to come down in the night to get food, take it up and prepare for our families”

RP 1: “We live in different villages… those of us from Gwoza have been hearing rumors about people coming to take over our villages and killing us”. “We stared hearing that they were coming to kill us…it was from fellow women we heard…” We heard that someone had been killed in front of the church”. “Before and when conflicts escalate no one tells women…”

RP 3:  “We had to dress men in women clothes to hide them from terrorists and stop them from being killed…”

RP 4: “if it was not for the women, men and children would have been killed.

These statements support the point also that gender roles are switched during conflicts. The data shows that women participate in these conflicts ‘voluntarily’ especially when survival is the overriding rule for women (and men) in times of conflict. As they get involved, the nature of their participation is switched to breadwinners of their families. This also makes them vulnerable and specific attacks especially in armed conflicts. As published in Insight Direct by Peace Direct (n.d) titled Peace building, gender/women “they tend to shoulder an additional burden assigned by traditional gender roles which dictate primary responsibility for the maintenance of the family and community during war, as well as throughout the long, slow process of rebuilding the peace”.

Research Objective two: How do the media reinforce gender roles in conflict reports?
The respondents opined that it is important to reinforce gender roles before, during and after conflicts.

MP1: The media can do so through relevant information such as jingles to “direct women on what to do, how to think and also know where their children in particular are. They should speak to their children because in times of crisis the husbands and children are the ones that go out”.

MP 2: Media jingles can direct the women to “support by performing their function of cooking, or joining the Red Cross to dress the wounds of the victims”.

MP 3:” the media can spot gender roles in the face of conflicts when they keep to the ethics of their profession knowing that gender roles are entrenched in our culture”.

MP 4: “issues such as stereotypes do not encourage balanced discussion of issues. The media should set the agenda for men and women to take up their roles in the face of conflict” This supports the point that perspectives of both men and women should be disseminated by the media before, during and after conflicts.

Research Objective three: What role do the media play in conflict escalation?  

MP 1: “That conflict escalates when the media jingles are not “balanced” or contain “emotional content” or “hate speech”. The media can provide public service information because the role of the media is agenda setting; once it sets the agenda then different people will take up their role in the face of conflict”

MP 2: “The media has the responsibility of to avoid being stereotypical about issues. The media should try and get to the root of every matter and encourage dialogue and peace”.

MP 3: “The media could do that by getting and presenting balanced reportage not siding one against the other”. “The journalist in the face of conflict must not delve into judgments in his presentation. He must try not to apportion blames but try to douse tension and promote peace”.

MP4: “By getting to the root of issues. Once issues are researched dispassionately irrespective of whose ox is gored. Just focus on the core of the issue with the mind of encouraging peace. That will help”.

This supports the argument for journalists to avoid spreading rumors in the formative stages of conflict and as Pate cited in Pate and Oso (2017: 104) states “discriminatory reporting, out of context reporting, imbalance report, making generalized and unsubstantiated claim, spreading rumor, use of hate language…” are certain noticeable characteristics from media coverage of conflicts and violence.
From the research conducted through the focus group discussions it is evident that the media needs to specialize on issues that bother on the role that gender plays during conflicts. The media also should identify gender role in Pre- Conflict/Conflict Escalations and Conflict De-escalations so as to establish early warning signs directorate to tackle sensitive gender roles in communication. For instance, prepare a report to signal or indicate that a conflict situation is building up and the journalist to continuously monitor and report the development or process of potentially violent conflicts. The report could also be an unbiased source of information which can basically introduce information, regarding conflict into the public domain to encourage discussion and awareness.

The starting point for exhibiting sensitivity in reporting conflicts before they erupt, is to identify gender roles and how they are likely to impact on crisis. Gender and gender issues are increasing. The media is also an integral part of the environment from which these gender issues developed. If the media is viewed as a part of the society, there is the likelihood of treating conflict and issues of gender passively. In other words, the media impacts on the manner in which gender is represented during conflicts.

Lack of information particularly provided for women is responsible for the escalation of conflicts because the only source of information about conflicts comes, not from the men but fellow women and others who pass on rumors.

Women are as active participants of a conflict as their male counterparts. This study reveals that women assist the men in several ways. One of which is contributing money to transport their families and source for food as well. This is a gender role which the media does not in most cases present.
It is wise to develop a systematic way of addressing conflicts at all times. Ensuring that the journalist devises ways to present a wider scope of any given situation, like in a documentary rather than a few minutes report, opens up platforms for audience involvement and engagement easily, including those responsible or affected by crisis. Know too that asking conflict and conflict related questions could arouse suspicion, so sometimes it is not advisable to be too direct. Rather talk about them than ask questions. Sensitive questions raise sensitive answers to the person the question is directed at. Nonetheless caution still needs to be exercised to avoid prejudices.

Every conflict the reporter covers has antecedents which when sensitively monitored, at all stages of conflict would have been successful, in mitigating conflict in the first place. A particular media programme may focus on vulnerability of women or at most the vulnerability of gender diversity of past conflict, without actually addressing gender and the role gender plays in that particular conflict; from its formative stage to a full blown stage as it were with conflict de-escalation. This is because the role gender plays as against gender role is quite different. These are issues reporters must consider.
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