Obioma Uche - “If We Can Find Ways to Empower Women, They Will Not Fall Prey to the Ideology of Those Groups”

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Jun 04, 2018
by Carly Sikina and Mirva Villa
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Obioma Uche - “If We Can Find Ways to Empower Women, They Will Not Fall Prey to the Ideology of Those Groups”

When examining violent extremism, women are often left out of the narrative. And for professor and chemical engineer Obioma Uche this is extremely problematic. Providing girls with an education can help deter them from supporting extremist groups, says Nigerian professor Obioma Uche

Although she teaches petroleum chemistry at the American University of Nigeria, Uche is predominantly interested in the delivery of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education to students, particularly young girls. She believes this initiative can help solve local and regional problems. Moreover, she devotes her life to improving the educational infrastructure in Nigeria and supporting children’s education.

“There have been a few bombings in Yola [in the east of Nigeria, near the Cameroonian border]. Fortunately for us, things have quietened down in the past year. But in Maiduguri, there’s a bombing every other day, and what has struck me over the past year is that these bombings have been carried out by women,” she explains.

This realization of the increased participation of women in extremist groups, spurred Uche to become further involved in improving women’s education. Uche believes it is important to empower women, as extremist groups attempt to gain members by giving people hope and by convincing them the group’s beliefs are better than their own. “If we can find ways to empower women, they [will] not fall prey to the ideology of those groups.” This empowerment comes through education. “I think for many African countries, they do not understand that child and girl education is important.”

Uche understands challenging this common ideology will not be easy. She believes that it is one thing to create a law but another thing to put it into practice. “The law is on the book, but is the will to enforce it there?”

In addition to her teaching obligations, Uche is involved in a community scholarship fund. “[We] look for underprivileged children and we pay their tuition all the way through primary school, and for a select few, we also support them through secondary school.”

She continues, “Now, that might not seem like much, but for a lot of families in the region, when you are struggling to actually feed your family, having to spend a few extra naira on educating your daughter does not seem like a workable solution.”

In addition to supporting children throughout school, she explains the fund strives to improve the infrastructure in schools.

“If you go to some of these local schools, you’ll find they are pretty much husks, really. There are no windows, ceiling is in bad repair. So one of the initiatives … this semester has been to refurbish the staff support rooms, give them a facelift, put in a new ceiling and also provide tools that would enable the teachers to put together their lesson plans.”

When speaking about her time in Salzburg, Uche is very enthusiastic. “It’s been an eye-opening experience; I’ve learned quite a lot. I think it’s been interesting, being a scientist in a room of people in the arts, learning how they frame their discussions.”

“It’s a very educational experience, and I have been able to make a network of colleagues that I think will enable me to do a much better job of trying to improve the situation of the girls that I currently work with.”

Despite the obstacles, Uche remains hopeful. “Nigeria is a very patriarchal society and I feel that one of the ways in which I have been able to live a rather independent life for a woman in Nigeria is through education… And so I think, if I can at least be a part of having other women have access to that [same] opportunity, then that’s how we move Nigeria to a better place.”


Obioma Uche is a Fellow of the Holocaust Education and Genocide Prevention Program. This multi-year series is held in partnership with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and funded by the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office, with further support from Ronald D. Abramson, the Future Fund of the Republic of Austria, The Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation and the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung. More information is available here: holocaust.salzburgglobal.org