by Matt Baldry

Saturday, March 8th is International Women’s Day. Over the last couple of decades the UN, who first officially observed this day in 1977, has promoted different themes each year. This year’s theme is ‘Inspiring Change.’ This theme can certainly be recognized in Niger, and it is only fitting to look at a Nigerien woman who embodies the truth of this statement. Hadijatou Mani Koraou is an inspiring Nigerien figure who managed to break free from the shackles of slavery and gain her independence, making a better life for herself and her family. Crucially, her case shows not just the importance of personal independence, but also the necessity of financial independence for women.

At the age of 12, Mani was sold into slavery for the equivalent of $500 and forced to “marry” her master. For the next nine years, Mani endured forced labor, physical abuse, and sexual assault at the hands of her master. A human rights organization helped Mani to get ‘Liberation Certificate’ in August 2005, but her former master still would not allow her to leave, claiming that she was his wife. When she managed to escape on the pretext of visiting her sick mother, she married a man of her choice.

Hadijatou Mani Koraou with one of her children

Mani came to international attention in 2008 when she successfully charged the Nigerien government with failing to follows its own laws and international obligations to protect her, and all citizens, from slavery. When the courts found in her favour, Mani was awarded 10m CFA francs, equal to $19,750 at 2008 exchange rates. With this money she was able to build a home and buy cows and goats, which provide an income for herself and her family. It also means her children will be able to go to school and get the education that she was denied. This money will obviously allow Mani to have a better life, but future generations will also feel the benefits of the ruling well into the future.

Although Mani’s situation is an extreme one, she has used her settlement to make her and her family financially independent. Her story helps to demonstrate the importance of financial independence for women in Nigerien communities. Wells Bring Hope has long recognized that financial independence for women is crucial to the wellbeing of all in the community. That is why, along with funding new wells, Wells Bring Hope has been providing microfinance education to women, which allows them to to start savings groups and ultimately begin their own business ventures. They can use skills they already have, such as raising chickens and goats as Mani has done with her settlement, to make extra money.

By encouraging these ventures, Wells Bring Hope is helping these women to become role models for their children and other villagers. Mani has shown that the idea of ‘equality for women is progress for all’ cannot be denied. With her freedom, she transformed not only her life, but the lives of her children as well. This is true for women across Niger and around the world, where economic equality and opportunity for women fosters progress for all.