At the age of just 13, Bouba survived child marriage and became a woman’s rights activist for indigenous communities in Cameroon. She is just one of the first few educated Mbororo pastoralist women for gender education and is a Senior Social Welfare Officer. With an extensive background in indigenous peoples' rights and environmental protection, and experience in strategies and advocacy for the empowerment of adolescent girls so they can stand up for themselves and become champions of their future. She was an Indigenous fellow at the United Nation High Commissioner for Human Right (OHCHR) in Geneva in 2011 and at the United Nations Center for Human Rights and Democracy in Central Africa 2012.
Bouba is an expert in psycho-social care of indigenous women and girls and dedicates herself to promoting the identity of indigenous women, and the preservation of their culture and positive traditions. She is currently the Executive Director of the Cameroon Indigenous Women Forum (Forum des Femmes Autochthones du Cameroun – FFAC), a community-based organisation that fights against the marginalisation and discrimination of indigenous women who suffer from harmful traditional and cultural practices, such as early and forced marriages as well as the unwritten rules of the general policy to address specific needs to protect women.
Rita Otu is an international award-winning agriculturalist, who has an in-depth understanding of food security issues in Nigeria. She is the CEO of Beau Haven Farms, a social enterprise which trains women and girls on safe and productive farming in Nigeria. Rita has won many awards for supporting women to develop agri-technology programmes and is now a member of UN Networks Campaign Working Groups. She holds a Master’s degree in International Development from the University of Manchester and a Bachelor's degree in Agricultural Economics and Extension from the University of Calabar, Nigeria.
Rita and Bouba are participants of the Thomson Reuter Foundation's changemakers programme open to frontline activists and advocates from around the world. The fully funded five week learning programme builds the capacity of activists in areas of grant and proposal writing, communications skills, and much more.
ECLT has been supporting the Thomson Reuters changemakers programme for a few years now, and this year’s contributions has gone towards bridging the digital divide so that changemakers can continue to participate in the training and conference even throughout COVID-19.
Ahead of the Trust Conference this week, we spoke to two changemakers, Bouba and Rita, to hear their thoughts on rural development, the role of women in building exclusive economies and what the changemakers programme means to them. To hear Bouba and Rita, tune in to the Trust Conference by registering here.
1. What makes you a changemaker?
Rita: I am a changemaker because I create action to solve a problem. Being able to solve societal needs is critical. After studying I thought to myself how can I create impact, real impact. In Nigeria, hunger is a big problem, so to improve nutrition for farming communities I created Beau Haven Farms. One system of programmes to tackle root causes of hunger we call it RISE!
- R for reducing poverty through crop diversification and financial training
- I for improved nutrition through more nutritious meals and school feeding programmes
- S for skills training by teaching rural communities of safer and better agricultural methods, particularly women and girls
- E for empowerment and education. School plays a critical role in breaking the cycle of poverty and helping girls and women access decent work as an adult.
Bouba: I am a changemaker because of the risks I have taken in my community to empower rural women and girls and to challenge harmful traditions. I escaped child marriage, I know first-hand how difficult it is to confront tradition and culture. Now, I am here to rescue girls so that they have someone to talk to, to support them, to receive medical assistance for those who are victims of gender-based violence, and to empower women and girls to get back into education. I also work with religious leaders to break taboos and challenge harmful traditional practices.
People are finally coming to terms that we need to now empower women and girls so that one day they can become changemakers themselves.
2. What drew you to the programme? What are the highlights for you?
Rita: The changemakers presents a unique opportunity to learn new skills, to learn from impact investors, journalists and other activists from the ground. I have also learnt a lot about the impact of climate change and how to reflect this in the work I do.
Bouba: I am speaking for women and the programme is helping our voice to be heard at the international level, and now we can share what we are doing, especially as indigenous women. We feel we need to be recognised to be able to continue our work and network. The changemakers’ programme is one of the best trainings is one of the best trainings I have ever done. I have learned how to share my story in a better way to engage the public to gain interest and potential funding. With the other changemakers, we are all learning from each other and discussing how we can come together and support each other’s work.
3. What do you look forward to at the Trust Conference?
Rita: I can’t wait to meet with likeminded people but also to hear from thought leaders such as Professor Jeffrey D. Sachs, and Nobel Peace Prize winner Maria Ressa. I will also be exposed to the work of other activists and see what we are doing together.
Bouba: I will be listening to different thematic areas and different issues including the climate change conference, I look forward to learning more about that. I am expecting to listen and learn from the journalists because we have worked with different journalists before and to hear how they are using their platform to communicate on important issues such as human rights. There will be more than 6000 delegates, telling stories that people don’t know and that people do something about it.
4. What does this mean for the work you do?
Rita: Thanks to the Trust Conference, my work will be on a global platform, and I can tell the world about the work I am doing with women and girls in rural areas. It will give me the opportunity to involve others in that we do. Most of all I will have to opportunity to advocate that children’s rights are human rights and women’s rights are fundamental rights.
Bouba: I am excited to talk about early and child marriage, people need to know about this. 12 million girls get married before their 18th birthday. Hopefully networking at the conference will help us to channel more funding to programmes that are going to eradicate and child marriage and will put pressure on Governments. The Government needs to take action as they have the responsibility to protect human and child rights by establishing good laws to punish perpetuators and by providing programmes to support victims.
5. Why are women so important to rural development? What crucial roles can they play?
Rita: Women have so many roles to play in the household, in a family, and in rural communities. When we train women, we are in fact training an entire society. Empowering women tackles hunger, improves household income, meaning more children can attend school, and this benefits the whole community.
Bouba: There is no development without women. They should be at the table for decision making, their opinion’s matter .
6. In your opinion, how can we support children and the younger generations to access better opportunities and the future they want?
Rita: First thing first, if we want to change the world, we need to get children into education. In good schools in good learning. They must have access to food, we need to find solutions to sustainably eradicating poverty. One this is clear, when we give mothers the opportunity to earn more, we can improve education, nutrition, health, and fight child labour. This year on October 16th, the International Day of Rural Women, we went to rural areas to gather and speak with rural women about why they should be empowered to get involved with farming. We celebrated good agricultural practices. This was the first time anything like this had taken place in the communities.
Bouba: We should give children the best education possible so that they can become successful and contribute to development. We need to protect children from violence to make sure that they go to school, they are the future of tomorrow. Children also need to be part of the decision making to contribute to creating better solutions that will impact on them.
I want to thank TR for choosing me as an indigenous woman as we don’t have much space to speak about this. It is going to motivate me to continue what I am doing in a better and more skilled way.