ANSWER: Several factors may be responsible for the change, but women are now more aware and better informed about the issues. The violence has also moved from the creeks to their doorsteps, as was the case in Odi. They cannot but be involved.
Q2: The women in their new activist role have employed principally non-violent methods, and many women’s human rights groups have suggested that they have achieved more by these methods than the direct action methods favoured by the male-dominated leadership of the Niger-Delta struggle. Are we witnessing in this an incipient strategic return from violence to non-violence in that struggle or is this women’s non-violent approach only one strand in a complex of diverse strategies called forth by the concrete conditions of the struggle?
A: History shows that women are essentially pacifists. They are too keenly aware of the repercussions of armed conflicts to encourage it. From times as far back as those depicted in Aristophanes’ Lysistrata – which is based on ancient Greece – women have always sought alternatives to armed conflicts.
Q3: It appears that government forces in the Niger-Delta have generally been more restrained in the use of deadly violence against women demonstrators. Yet there has been frequent use of rape and similar forms of violence against women in the region that humiliate the victims and create in their own sight and that of their community the perception of these women as having been desecrated. How have women responded to this type of violence?
A: The use of rape to subdue women is a form of violence that has grown to alarming proportions. We learned a lot from the revelations about Odi during the Oputa Panel hearings. For such cases, it is important that the victims overcome the fear of stigmatization and come out openly to seek redress. These heinous acts are being perpetrated by men of our own forces; they should be fished out, exposed and punished, and the women must be compensated. This can be achieved by following due process of law. There are numerous NGOs that can give the victims moral and technical support to seek redress. Rather than see the women as desecrated, their communities ought to regard them as heroines of their struggle.
Q4: The state murder of Ken Saro-Wiwa by the regime of General Sani Abacha marked a watershed in the Niger-Delta struggle, in the sense that the militants drew from it the conclusion that the peaceful approach he championed was futile in opposition to interests resolved to keep the region in subjugation by any means. This was what caused them to resort to the Kalashnikov when they returned to the struggle after Saro-Wiwa’s death. The presence of Operation Restore Hope as a permanent army of occupation suggests that the government and the transnational companies have not abandoned their strategy of violent repression. What hope does the women’s non-violent method have of winning justice for the Niger-Delta peoples in light of these facts?
A: The point to note about armed conflict is that it has never decided any issue; issues are resolved at the negotiation table. One party may feel that they have an upper hand because of superior force, but issues not settled justly come back to haunt all concerned. The women’s approach is more sensible, more scientific, and supported by evidence.
Q5: It is a canon of human rights orthodoxy today that women bear a heavier burden than men do in conflict situations. Is this just an ideological device to justify the demands of the women’s human rights movement or does it express reality? How does it apply in the Niger-Delta, in what concrete ways do women bear a heavier burden than men do in that conflict?
A: Yes, women bear a heavier burden in conflict situations. Men take up arms and chances are that they get killed. Women are at the rear; chances also are that they get killed, because in today’s conflicts there are rarely clear-cut battle-lines demarcating front from rear.
In addition to the risks of being killed in the “cross fire”, women carry the extra burden of looking after the home front, they deal with the anguish caused by the conflict, they have to manage the collateral damage to livelihoods, psyches and even infra- structure. Rape is the icing on the cake, a permanent damage.
Q6: History shows in examples from such countries as China, Vietnam, Algeria, Mozambique, and Angola that even where women have played a leading and decisive role in liberation struggles they soon revert after victory is won to their subor- dinate position to men. The structures and ideologies of patriarchy re-assert themselves and men regain their social dominance over women. Today, patriarchy remains very strong in the Niger-Delta and the traditional organisations of women in Niger-Delta communities remain under the ideological dominance of men. What prospects are there in these circumstances that the