32nd Human Rights Council meeting

On 13 June, International Alert discussed the impact of our work with women and girls abducted by Nigeria’s insurgency group Boko Haram at a side event at the 32nd Human Rights Council session at the Palais des Nations in Geneva, Switzerland.

The event, hosted by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), was designed to address the continuing challenges faced by the women and girls and their children born of sexual violence in northeast Nigeria and followed on from the first ever joint visit by three special rapporteurs to Nigeria in January 2016.

The side event launched the findings and recommendations for addressing rehabilitation and reintegration programmes to ensure the physical and psychological recovery and social reintegration of victims affected by violent extremism.

International Alert, in partnership with UNICEF Nigeria, have been working to address the stigma and negative perceptions associated with women and girls who have escaped Boko Haram, as well as their children born out of conflict-related sexual violence, in Borno state in northeastern Nigeria.

On returning home, the victims now face suspicion, rejection and even violence by their families and communities. Children born out of the sexual violence face further stigma. Addressing the obstacles to women and children’s reintegration is therefore critical for their survival and long-term peace in the country.

Alert presented the findings from the current work, which has improved understanding of the challenges faced by women and children returning home by holding community workshops in internally displaced people’s (IDP) camps and broadcasting radio programmes on stigma and sexual violence. It will also improve the reintegration of women and children by supporting their referral to support services. In doing so, we will support their reintegration back into their home communities.

Estimates indicate that at least 2,000 women and girls, and many more boys have been kidnapped or held against their by Boko Haram will since 2009 - not only the 276 young girls from Chibok who captured international attention in April 2014.

Because of the depth of the problem, the panel stressed an urgent need to scale up this work and ensure continued support for victims and their communities.

Maud de Boer-Buquicchio, the UN Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, who chaired the discussion, said: “We (Special Rapporteurs) are concerned that the efforts are not sufficient to meet the needs of the victims… The measures [to help the victims] should go beyond the short term.”

For her part, Urmila Bhoola, UN Special Rapporteur on Contemporary forms of slavery, called for long-term and integrated programmes to assure the economic, social and peacebuilding needs of communities affected by Boko Haram are met.

Kimairis Toogood, Senior Peacebuilding Advisor at International Alert, said:

“Fear and stigma is presenting challenges to the integration of women and girls and thei children born out of sexual violence at the hands of Boko Haram. But programming implemented together with UNICEF and two local partners, Federation of Muslim Women's Associations in Nigeria (FOMWAN) and Herwa Community Development Initiative (HERWA), has suggested that through intra-community dialogue with community members, stigma against the women and girls can be reduced. Working with civil society organisations and religious leaders highlight the impact of our work, as attitudinal and behavioural change is happening.

"However, the needs are great and therefore, more resources and more coordination with all parties working on these issues is needed to make even more impact.”

Alert’s findings resonated with those of the joint visit by the special rapporteurs, and the findings from International Alert and UNICEF’s February 2016 report Bad blood.

These findings were integrated in the draft report presented to the 32nd session on Tuesday 14 June 2016 for adoption by the Council.