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The power of women's voices in Chad

April 25, 2023

For years, Chad has had one of the highest levels of gender inequality in the world. Challenges in the Sahel region — such as climate change, food insecurity, poverty, political instability, violent extremism, and conflict — can exacerbate inequality. Globally, there was a 30% increase in gender-based violence reported during the COVID-19 pandemic, and Chad was among the countries that saw such increases.

In addition, “Chadian women are excluded from the peace and sustainable development process — not only at the higher levels but also at the grassroots level,” says Cheick Abdoul Kadri Dit Sékou Diakité, FHI 360 Chad country director. “Yet the participation of women in this process is crucial for peace and democracy in Chad.”

Many factors contribute to a person’s ability to live a full and healthy life, including safety, security and the ability to participate freely in society. When women feel free to speak up in their homes and communities, and in civic and political spaces, they are better able to create positive change for themselves, their families and their fellow citizens. So, through the Chad Civil Society Strengthening Activity, funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development, FHI 360 is working with two Chadian organizations to increase women’s involvement and participation in civil society and to prevent gender-based violence.

Combating a worsening situation for women

Things got worse for women in Chad during the pandemic. Diddy Kongobe, deputy chief of party for FHI 360’s civil society initiative in Chad, says, “Given the level of gender inequality before the pandemic, closing the gap has become an even greater challenge.”

Women are more likely to be in vulnerable employment, such as working in informal markets — jobs that lack social protection and safety nets. Many were disproportionately affected by pandemic-related restrictions, such as limited meeting size, and lost work. At the same time, women’s workload around the house increased. These shifts set the stage for a series of other plights: Women and girls became more likely to experience violence, sexual assault and early pregnancy; their chances of leaving school (and not returning) increased; and their access to health care services reduced.

The ripple effects of COVID-19 “brought violence back into households,” says Maimouna Abdelkerim Adam, president of Maison Nationale de la Femme (“National Women’s House”). In response, FHI 360 and Maison Nationale de la Femme worked together to raise awareness about gender-based violence during the pandemic. Abdelkerim Adam’s group produced and broadcast 72 radio programs in Arabic, French and Sara (languages mainly spoken in Chad) on topics such as early marriage, reproductive health, and different forms of violence and how to reduce them.

The radio programs “gave me the courage to move forward and deal with problems of inequality between women and men, which are very common in our country,” says one participant. “I learned how I can deal with GBV [gender-based violence] problems [when they arise] with my family and friends.”

Another participant says that the radio programs “brought a great change in my life with my husband,” noting that, after she listened to one, she and her husband began to talk about the benefits of family planning and committed to not allowing their children to marry before they turn 18.

Abdelkerim Adam says the programs brought about positive change in people’s behaviors. “This has convinced us that we have not been preaching in the wilderness.”

Breaking the vicious cycle of marginalization

In addition to experiencing inequality and violence at home, women in Chad can “struggle to achieve real political, economic and social empowerment,” says Mariam Mahamat Nour, president of the Conseil National des Femmes du Tchad (“National Council of Women Leaders of Chad”).

Girls in Chad are often married before the age of 18 and forced to leave school, and these trends were exacerbated during school closures related to COVID-19. Girls and women frequently lack knowledge about the democratic process; many are unaware of their rights, upcoming elections, and the institutions and laws that govern the country.

There are also few women in government, making it challenging for women’s voices to be represented in the places where decisions are made. “Their weak presence in decision-making bodies makes it difficult to break the vicious cycle of marginalization,” says Mahamat Nour.

Mahamat Nour’s group partnered with FHI 360 in 2022 to encourage women to speak out during the country’s political transition. In one workshop, FHI 360 and the Conseil National trained more than 100 female leaders from all of Chad’s provinces on the country’s legal framework, culminating in L’appel de Bongor (“the Bongor Appeal”), which is a plea for peace, social cohesion and reconciliation. Members of Conseil National then met with Chad’s transitional president, who voiced support for women’s roles in the political process.

This year, the group is planning an information campaign about peaceful coexistence that will run in the capital, N’Djamena, and all 23 provinces of Chad. “To claim their place and work to ensure that the political will displayed by the highest authorities is translated into action,” says Mahamat Nour, “women must mobilize within civil society.”