I recently moved from Ireland to Nigeria to take up a new role within Plan International as the Regional Lake Chad Programme Manager. I brought my bicycle with me, thinking that perhaps I could use it to get around, maybe cycle to work. In Dublin I used to cycle to work a few times a week. It is good for the environment, good for your health and more or less free once you buy your bike, except for basic maintenance costs.
On arrival in Abuja, the capital of Nigeria, I felt very proud of myself as I reassembled it after the journey in the plane. I made a few sorties on my bike at the weekend as I thought the roads would be quieter… The good news is that the roads were quieter, but unfortunately, I can’t say I felt safe. There is a lack of safe and comfortable public transport in Abuja, which makes car ownership the ultimate goal, ensuring that there is no safe space for cyclists and other vulnerable road users. On top of that, I received regular catcalls from passing cars, close passing from drivers in a rush and my favourite “Calm down Ma, it is Sunday!” from a nearby pedestrian after almost getting hit trying to cross the road.
I was prompted to write this piece as a result of two events happening now which are both extremely timely.
Every year, the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence Campaign (from 25 November) focuses on a particular area of gender inequality and while I appreciate that there are worse offences than catcalling, it highlights for me the challenges that women face as we negotiate our daily lives. When women and girls can’t move around freely, attend schools or work because of threats of violence, society suffers.
On 2 December, Plan International Nigeria marched in a rally as part of the 16 Days of Activism in Abuja. We walked to end gender-based violence in Abuja and everywhere in the world.
The other event that is happening at the moment is the climate change conference – COP25 in Madrid. Plan International is part of Joining Forces Child Rights Now!, the alliance of the 6 largest child-focused international NGOs, and has released a policy brief about the climate crisis. Climate change arguably poses the single greatest challenge to the realisation of children’s rights.
“Drought, flooding, extreme weather events, rising temperatures, and desertification directly undermine a broad spectrum of children’s rights, from access to food and safe water, to housing, education, freedom from exploitation, violence and abuse, and – too frequently – their right to survive and thrive,” says The Global Climate Crisis: A Child Rights Crisis.
Last week in Rann, in the North-East of Nigeria, there were reports of flooding with an unreported number of people affected. This happened in November, a time when the rainy season should have been finished. Across the Lake Chad Basin, a multi-faceted crisis (security, ecological and humanitarian) has resulted in 4.7m people being food insecure and 9.9m people in need. I don’t know how much that reliance on private vehicles, poor public transport in Abuja and subsidised fuel are contributing to climate change, but here in Nigeria, as elsewhere in the world, we need to find better alternatives, in order to give children a chance.
The Paris Agreement in 2015 highlighted that we need to address climate change, at the same time as gender equality, empowerment of women and intergenerational equity.
The time to act is now!