Read caption Rahila Ishaya provides for her family with chickens supplied by the NRC. Photo: Chima Onwe/NRC

Chicken and eggs help Nigeria's displaced women take on untraditional roles

Chima Onwe|Published 07. Mar 2018
Rahila Ishaya is 50 years old. Two years ago, she began her own poultry business, starting with five chicks. Today, with the support of the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), she has more than 100 birds, provides for her family and supplies eggs to her community.

Rahila Ishaya, 50, is a retired firefighter with Nigeria’s Fire Service. She recalls how good life was when she was a young girl living in her serene village, Shafa, in Borno state, north-east Nigeria.

“I remember how my mother prepared different delicious meals using chicken and turkey during festive seasons while my father talked and laughed with guests in his living room. We have a tradition to share our meals and drinks with the guests. I miss those days.”

When a group of non-state armed men attacked her village, she had no choice but to flee with her husband and five children. Ishaya’s family lost all they had including their thriving livestock business that night. Eventually, they found safety in the town of Maiduguri, north-east Nigeria.  Though she and her family are safe, it has been difficult for them to live without a means of livelihood.

“I knew I had to do something because we could not keep living from hand to mouth. Working with poultry was the best idea I could think of because I had some experience in the business. Yet, there was the challenge of where to get the capital from to start,” she recalled.

Neighbours told Ishaya how NRC’s training programme provided grants to displaced people affected by the conflict. This is when she decided to join the programme.

“I am glad I did because there I learned how I could grow my business,” she said.

Since 2016, our support of over 5,000 displaced families, including about 3,000 women and teenage girls in Borno State, has enabled them to start and expand their small businesses. The programme – funded by the European Union – aims to reduce poverty, help communities heal and build resilience. By focusing on the strengthening of income generating capacity for households, families can regain a sense of normalcy and become less dependent on aid. 

The breadwinner

 After the training was completed, Ishaya received a grant of 43,000 Naira (USD $119) to launch her poultry business.

“Today, I have over 100 birds in my farm. I yield about 15 crates of eggs daily. My family eat some of the eggs and I sell the remaining ones. I am able to save 750 Naira (USD $2) every day from the sales,” she said.

With the income she generates, Ishaya’s family has been able to build their own home in Maiduguri.

 “It is also thanks to the money generated by the poultry’s sales that I am able to pay the school fees of my three children who are currently attending university.”

Changing roles

As more men have been killed, detained or forced to flee from violence, women now bear the responsibility of feeding, clothing, sheltering and educating their families in a traditionally patriarchal society. 

Women now constitute the majority of the adult population in many areas for these reasons, according to a gender assessment study published in 2017. Additionally, even if husbands and fathers are present, men are no longer able to provide for families, forcing women to find new ways of earning incomes, including, unfortunately, the sex trade, in some cases.

“It was difficult for my husband to accept that our roles have changed, especially with him being unemployed and no longer able to farm,” Ishaya said.

Ishaya’s husband, Ali, acquiesced. “I had to accept the fact that my wife was now the breadwinner for the family,” he said.