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About the Author

Hanna Clarys
Student (Antwerp, Belgium)

Current Study: Political Sciences at Antwerp University. Likes: reading, writing and drawing. Activities: discovering the world step by step. Dream: becoming a war journalist somewhere in the distant future...


GIRLPOWER IN THE SAHARA: Nigeria’s desert women

Published 19th June 2010 - 7 comments - 4877 views -

Every year, the women of the Toubou tribe travel 1500 km across the desert to pick dates in the oases in the North of Nigeria’s Sahara. From what they earn selling the dates back in the South, they can feed their families for one year. The caravan is undertaken only by the women and their children, while their husbands stay at home to herd the camels.

The men accept their wives’ absence because the women’s earnings mean they will not be forced to sell their camels – and in the desert, camels are a possession prized above all else. Even people’s lives are measured in terms of camels: one man is worth 100 camels, for a woman you need only half of that amount.

Women don’t have much to say in Toubou society. Marriages are arranged by parents and only when they are divorced can women make their own decisions.The yearly caravan is the only means through which women nevertheless acquire a sense of pride and independence, and through which they can learn to defend themselves in a society where their value is half that of a man. It is one of the few freedoms they have.

For the sake of independence the women undertake a difficult journey; 4 months long, in the gruesome temperatures of 68 degrees in plain sun, the women and their children walk through 1500 km of desert. During this journey, the women share their fears and secrets, children are born, and dreams of modern life are being expressed.


Take a look at the new documentary from the Belgian director Nathalie Borgers, called “Winds of Sand, Women of Rock” to find out some personal stories, like these:


Amina Ahamed dreams of an easier life in the city, establishing her own business where she would sell perfume and beauty products. And 21-year-old Mariama Dadi would like to go back to school and become a doctor one day, but she’s stuck in her arranged marriage and her husband won’t permit it.


Interested? Take a look at the trailer:




Above all, women dream of freedom and financial independence. This gruelling journey provides the Toubou women self-respect and money, with which they themselves decide what to buy on the markets in stead of their husbands. Despite the severe climate and the dominant macho-culture, these women nevertheless manage to take control of at least a part of their life.


Category: Equality | Tags:


  • Iris Cecilia Gonzales on 19th June 2010:

    Thanks for this Hannah. Inspiring! Ah, the strength of women. 68 degrees, whew!

  • Giedre Steikunaite on 20th June 2010:

    Hanna, great story!

    What do you think, if the women,too, were worth 100 camels, would they still dream of selling perfume in a city?

    I mean, had there been equality in this tribe, the women wouldn’t want to leave. Culture saved, capitalism resisted… All we need is equality. wink

  • Andrea Arzaba on 20th June 2010:

    Now I really want to see this documentary smile

    Your post made me wonder. I always thought education was the key of equality…but in the case you present us it is not! or what do you think?

  • Luan Galani on 21st June 2010:

    Hanna, incredible! Thanks for it.
    It is so inspirational…a stirring read.
    Equality for all! =D

  • Hanna Clarys on 21st June 2010:

    Thanks everyone, it surely is a great story and a beautiful documentary.

    Andrea, I think education is in many cases the means to achieve equality. In this case it would be educating the men of the tribe. Educating the women is not that necessary in my opinion; they know how important they are grin
    In the trailer one of them said: the women here are starting to gain importance and power (couldn’t find the trailer with english subtitles).

    And Giedre, indeed if women were appreciated as much as men they probably didn’t want to go away so eagerly. However, I think that young women living in such a tribe, but knowing about the world outside of it, would still dream of an ‘easier’ life in that modern world. More opportunities and a fuller life will always attract young women.

    And I can’t imagine walking for days in 68 degrees either, Iris!

  • Iwona Frydryszak on 21st June 2010:

    MDG 3. beautiful photos.

  • Sylwia Presley on 03rd July 2010:

    It’s a very good documentary, I like when larger issues are told through smaller stories.

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