TARGETTING WOMEN: Abduction & Rape in the North-East of Nigeria
As we have entered second quartet of the year, there is need for reflection on certain happenings in Nigeria – focusing on the ‘vulnerable’ in our society – Women and the Girl/Boy Child. So many heinous actions by the Insurgents in the North East has given us cause for concern – not focused on one event but a totality.
On the 25th February, we woke up to the news of the slaughter of 40+ boys in Buni Yadi, Bornu State, and abduction of 20+ girls between the ages of 12 and 14. ACTS Generation convened a ‘peaceful’ simultaneously rally of Women in 9 States of Nigeria and the UK – themed ‘Nigerian Women Mourn, Walk of 6th March’ – a ‘first’ simultaneous rally of its kind.
This move of Women broke through the barrier of ‘silence’ about Boko Haram and people became more vocal. Also, there was a renewed aggressive action by our military – possibly due to fact that they knew that women were in sync with their efforts.
Then on the 14th of April, we woke up again to learn that 200+ young girls were abducted by the militants, Boko Haram, from their Secondary School in Chibok, Bornu State. Again ACTS Generation gave a call to action with a group of women who had been a part of the 6th March Walk…thereafter, with inputs from other concerned women, the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls was adopted and two first rallies were held in Abuja and Lagos. Thereafter, these groups took on a life of its own with continued pressure to locate and bring back the abducted girls of Chibok. To date, 10th December – Human Rights Day – majority of the girls abducted are still missing.
We need to realize, however, that after the abduction of the Chibok girls, close unto 100+ girls of varying ages have been abducted to date. So it’s not just about the girls abducted from Chibok – it’s about close unto 400+ women and girls who are still missing. Is this action of the militants, Boko Haram, new? Human rights advocates respond that this type of violence against women and young girls is nothing new.
In fact, kidnapping/abduction is one of the many forms of violence regularly practiced against women and young girls in developing countries. Other abuses include rape, sex trafficking, child marriages and child prostitution. This formed the theme of a recently concluded Conference by ACTS Generation on the 27thof November, 2014 – IC-DVSAT – International Conference on Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault & Trafficking “Emerging Issues and plausible solutions”. A document has come out of this conference, which will be circulated to Agencies and Stakeholders. There is a need to work in a focused manner to address the issues prevalent.
“The abduction of girls, use, misuse, abuse, selling of girls is a fairly wide practice,” said Michele Rickett, founder and chief executive officer of “She is Safe,” an organization that rescues and rehabilitates women and girls who are victims of abuse. “And, it’s only exacerbated under conflict, as in the case of the Boko Haram.”
“Often, when soldiers or terrorists of any kind go through a village, they will torch the village, take the boys and train them to kill, but take the girls and use them to do their cooking and cleaning, and for sex as well. So, that’s a pretty common practice wherever you see conflict in the world,” said Michele Rickett.
In the case of the abducted 200+ girls from Chibok, it was not conflict-as-usual attitude of mistreating women. Coming on the heels of the Walk of 6th of March and the subsequent rallies about the kidnap of the Chibok girls, the voices of human rights activists, political figures, celebrities and voices of the mothers of the abducted girls, resounded around the world and focus was brought to bear on Nigeria. The response showed that people all over the world care about what is happening to women and girls in developing countries and conflict regions.
Nonetheless, we believe there was lost advantage of recovering the Chibok girls because it took the government two weeks to respond to the outcry to locate and bring back the abducted girls. The more time was wasted the more the fate of the girls were sealed. Various reasons have been given as to the continued delay in ‘storming’ and rescuing the girls. BUT, are they still in Sambissa Forest? Are we to forget the girls? No, but there is a need to re-strategize in a broader holistic manner
For the past few decades girls have become unwilling sex partners or warriors or sex partners for militants and soldiers throughout the world. According to a January 2013 World Bank briefing entitled Children in Emergency and Crisis Situations, “The use of girls has been confirmed in Colombia, DRC [The Democratic Republic of Congo], Timor-Leste, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Uganda Sierra-Leone, Cote d’Ivoire and now Nigeria.
Some of the girls who are abducted are forced to participate in combat operations and also subjected to sexual exploitation and abuse. As a result of this they often acquire sexually transmitted infections, including HIV/AIDS. Some girls will voluntarily take part in combat because it will give them a sense of power and control that they may not otherwise experience living in a relatively conservative society. Probably also an alignment with the ‘cause’ of their abductors referred to as ‘The Stockholm Syndrome”!
The continued focus on #BringBackOurGirls Campaign is excellent BUT, one must take into cognizance that these are not the only girls and women missing. We need to make it a more robust cry to protect the women and girls in the North-East of Nigeria from the raids/abduction by Boko Haram.
Where are all the Chibok girls? Where are the other women, girls and boys who have been taken by force? Realistic imaginary – pregnant, married off, sold, murdered, brainwashed to be suicide bombers, the list is endless of the savagery and inhuman approach of militants like Boko Haram.
Our focus, I believe, should be a unified cry to: #ProtectOurWomenAndGirls in the North-East, and #RespectWomen. I think this is the clue to keeping these issues alive – to find a lasting solution to the activities of Boko Haram in the conflict areas of North-East of Nigeria. That is the passion that will raise awareness to the urgency of breaking the cycle of violence, abuse and human rights violation.
So what do we do? What can the government do to assist? Survivors of such raids, abductions/kidnappings are often sigmatised and abandoned by partners or families if they return back home – condemned to extreme poverty, often with dependent children – whilst the perpetrators of these crimes may never be brought to justice.
I outline below several recommendations aimed at eliminating sexual violence against women and girls in the North-East:
- all stakeholders in the fight against violence, including the international community should continue to condemn violence against women and girls in any circumstances and involve women fully in any peace processes and reconstruction programmes
- the government must provide immediate and effective assistance to victims of violence against women and take steps to prevent future violations against women – to also put in place a ‘Survivors Fund’ for rehabilitation of survivors of violence and abuse.
- it must commit to taking concrete measures to end impunity for violence against women and ensure that human rights defenders can carry out their legitimate human rights work without fear of retaliation or punishment; to pass the ‘Violence Against Women’ bill; also domestication of the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against women – CEDAW which was ratified in 1985.
- it must support efforts to agree an international arms trade treaty to help stop the proliferation of weapons used to commit violence against women and other human rights violations
- there is need to have more programs to help women and girls to cope with the mental and emotional trauma that comes with being repeatedly abused. Some girls abducted – both from Chibok and other areas – have found their way back. What is really on ground to assist them past just ‘talk’? What about the reverse offshoot of parents who now decide that it is better to ‘marry’ off their girls rather than run the risk of abduction. But is this really the answer? In a country like Nigeria? We are not in the dark ages!!
The post- traumatic stress on these girls really does call for a concerted effort for after-care — to get them into a safe and predictable location where they can receive physical nourishment, emotional nourishment. And for their broken spirits to be healed as well.
Laila St. Matthew-Daniel
Visionary – ACTS Generation