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Changing constraining gender norms in northern Nigeria

GALS training in northern Nigeria


In Bauchi state, northeastern Nigeria, some businesswomen operate their small businesses in an environment where social and gender norms value domestic and care work for women over business activities.


This means that alongside the more well-known obstacles for women-owned businesses such as access to finance and financial support and other business supports, that these businesswomen have restricted public relations, limited access to market information and constrained mobility. The result is an overall lack of family support for their businesses and they are required to operate through proxies, including their sons and daughters or “intermediaries to market their products, purchase raw materials or find inputs.


Women in Gender Action Learning System or GALS for short is an empowerment tool to address women’s rights and gender equality. It is a community-led and household methodology that aims to give women and men more control over their personal, household and community development.


Man and women in northern Nigeria working through gender training exercises


The Nigeria WAY project in northern Nigeria and two partners - Federation of Muslim Women Associations in Nigeria (FOMWAN) and Fahimta Women and Youth Development Initiative (FAWYODI) - use GALS to support businesswomen and their families to address some of the social and gender constraints which are hampering women’s businesses. GALS stimulates more collaborative planning and supports more equitable intra household decision-making in businesswomen’s families as a means to strengthen their capacity to conduct their businesses.

The GALS methodology is new to FOMWAN and FAWOYDI and to most businesswomen and their families in Bauchi. It uses role playing and visual tools to help individuals and couples reflect and gain insights into their lives and businesses. It makes visible how social and gender norms are embedded in stereotypes, relationships driving household behaviours such as women spending all their time on domestic work or needing permission for every business decision that might be hampering women’s capacity to conduct their business. It introduces a more collaborative mode of household decision-making and often results in increased agency on the part of the women including more time and family support engendering more harmonious family relationships and strengthened capacity for business.

Ten GALS champions from the WAY project were selected by FOMWAN and FAWOYDI to explain the impact of GALS to a visiting delegation from a new project in Northern Nigeria called Climate Change Adaptation and Agribusiness Support Program (CASP). The ten presenters who are community members who have been trained in GALS methods explained various GALS tools illustrating how they are used and explaining the impact they themselves had experienced using this tool.

The delegation found it quite unimaginable that a husband was proudly speaking out in public about helping his wife with household chores, or that families were sitting together in the community setting as traditionally, these are not the way things have been done. The WAY GALS champions had the opportunity to tell the delegation what they were doing such as joint planning and joint budgeting for the household and why they were doing this. The results they spoke about was how it had helped with harmonious family relations, more collaborative decision making in the home and better use of resources.

Peer education and learning such as GALS uses is a powerful tool of empowerment for community development and in the private sector for business development. While many training methodologies rely on expert technical advice, often learning from a colleague who has experienced and understood the impact of an activity can add to people’s knowledge in a way that is easier to adopt particularly around the gender-specific considerations which hamper women’s business, more than more technical expert advice.

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