All these women want for 2023 is peace
New year’s resolutions are not just goals scribbled or typed at the beginning of every year; they are prayers. Hope and faith, as well as growth and success for the new year, are inscribed in these words we write down and say aloud. For Christian women living in Northern Nigeria, a peaceful Arewa for Christian women tops the list; where they do not have to tiptoe around for their well-being.
2022 was very turbulent for women around the world. We witnessed the revolution in Iran, which was met with violence and human rights violations by the Iranian government after the death of Mahsa Amini on 16 September. Iranian women showed bravery by cutting their hair and removing their hijabs in defiance. Their revolt for women's rights grew into a nationwide movement against the regime in Tehran, with millions now demanding their freedom and an end to clerical rule.
In Palestine, the resistance to military violence is also female. Following the death of American-Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, who was killed while covering a raid by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) in the occupied West Bank in May, her niece Lina Abu Akleh is leading a campaign to hold those responsible accountable.
In Nigeria, economic hardships forced many female-owned businesses to shut down. Assassinations of female politicians and human rights violations from the government and citizens plagued the year. The country's worst flooding in decades saw women put their lives on hold as they scrambled to keep their heads, quite literally, above water.
This year, the murder of Deborah Samuel - a young student from Niger state, by her classmates rocked northern Nigeria. It sparked a series of conversations about the safety of Christian women in the North.
As we look to a safer and better year for women, Document Women spoke with Christian women to hear their thoughts on 2022 and their hopes and prayers for the region in 2023. Deborah’s murder was a pivotal moment for the five women we spoke with.
"Holy Ghost fire, nothing will happen to me. Is it by force you guys will be sending this religious stuff to the group? The group wasn't created for that, but rather as a notice for when there are tests, assignments, exams, etc, not these nonsense religious posts," Deborah had said in a voice note to her class group chat.
These words don't seem like they could stir up the violent death that Deborah was met with. But it did. Many of her classmates and other students in the school went into a violent rage and killed her. She was stoned and burnt to death by a mob, and the security post she fled to for shelter was taken down in the craze. One of her killers boldly flaunted the box of matches he used to set her dead body ablaze.
Deborah was not the first, just the latest. In 'Murdered in Whose name?', we explore a terrible pattern in these killings. Out of all the attacks, most of the victims are Christian women, and they have been killed because they were accused of committing blasphemous acts.
Jecinta, a mental health advocate, mentions that the death made her uneasy as a woman living in Northern Nigeria.
“Death and injustice should naturally affect anyone; as an empathetic person, it took many months to get the images and thoughts out of my head. I felt monitored and judged; I started tiptoeing and could feel my voice being suppressed.”
Mary*, a physiotherapist, was saddened by the event. “I was sad the day I heard about it. All I could think about was her family and how broken the world has become. It made me come closer to my family because it could be anyone, anywhere.”
For Glory, a law student, Deborah’s murder meant she had to observe her words when speaking on religious issues. It made her realize that even universities and places of higher learning are not safe enough to allow criticism of religious learning.
According to Glory;
“I cannot just say anything freely again; I am not free to make a mistake cause it could be considered blasphemy, and I would be killed for it. There’s no room for freedom of speech.”
Spiritual epiphanies, learning to let go of the past, being kind to self and keeping family and friends close are some of the lessons the women took away from 2022.
Jecinta describes 2022 as a cathartic journey; “2022; My year of transformation and depth.”
Freedom of speech, peace and security are embedded in the new year’s resolutions of these women. They all hope and pray for a Northern Nigeria where they can discuss religion without fear.
“I look forward to more interfaith conversations. I hope we become more tolerant of each other and have honest conversations that stir true understanding, not to attack or be defensive but to coexist.” Jecinta says.
Mary* hopes for the best version of Arewa in 2023, hoping that one day, she'll "walk the street without fear of being harmed in any way.”