By Maggie Jeffries, April 19, 2017 —

In March, at the Commission on the Status of Women, after months of coordinating, I was excited to meet, listen, and learn from our Alliance members from Nigeria who had come to present their work on the implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 5 (SDG5). They were not just presenting their work, but how they do it and why it is different. Both of the presenters, Sybil Nmezi with Generation Initiative for Women and Youth Network (GIWYN) and Morenike Omaiboje from Women’s Consortium of Nigeria (WOCON), identify as feminists and “do” development in a feminist way.

During the event, their statements to the audience were clear: civil society organizations (CSOs) must collaborate to be more impactful. This approach offered a feminist lens to development: incorporate the best practices from grassroots organizations and steer away from the “business as usual” development, which has been leaving them out for decades.

Understanding that Nigeria is a strongly patriarchal society, I was curious how it has fostered a rich tradition of feminist groups, like GIWYN and WOCON. As Morenike told me in her “Meet the Members” video, “NGOs shouldn’t be in competition; it is about collaboration.” In the currently dominant patriarchal system, there is no incentive to collaborate because the only way to get ahead is through proving your product, method, or organization is better than other options. As a result, there are many organizations around the world working on SDG5, but there is often little or no collaboration amongst them; instead of joining together, they are forced to compete for the very limited resources that have been allocated for gender equality. The best way to challenge this harmful development model is by learning how to create coalitions.

Morenike’s feminist approach to development echoes the Nigerian feminist from the late 1940s, Funmilayo Ransome Kuti, whose focus on collaborations and partnerships are evident today in Nigerian feminist development approaches. Ransome Kutit founded the Abeokuta women’s union which subsequently formed an alliance with the Women’s International Democratic Federation. Together, these two organizations campaigned against the government when it tried to impose taxes on women, who did not yet have the right to vote. This alliance is a good early example of Nigerian partnerships advocating their government for gender equality.

At Women Thrive Alliance, 16 of the over 260 members are from Nigeria, 13 of them self-identify as feminist. This identity is significant and can influence how practitioners do development, especially around SDG5. The grassroots organizations in Nigeria working for gender equality (like WOCON and GIWYN) are working with feminist ideals and structures rather than paternalistic ones: they work at the community level with women and girls in their country, where they have a chance to make the most impact from day-to-day. As a result, with the facilitation of Women Thrive, our members in Nigeria have started creating a coalition of gender equality CSOs to work on the implementation of SDG5.

Our Nigerian members and their feminist approaches to development have known for some time that coalitions truly strengthen campaigns for gender equality. They know it is essential for CSOs to learn to come together and to recreate the spaces that they are being pushed out of at the national and international levels of decision-making. Through our #AchieveSDG5 initiative, Women Thrive is pleased to facilitate the coalition building process and continue Nigerian feminist development. The less that organizations compete, the more we can collaborate, and the more organizations collaborate, the faster we can achieve gender equality!