International Alert’s new project with UNICEF is helping transform the lives of women and girls returning from captivity by Nigeria's insurgency group Boko Haram.
The project was informed by our recent study which found the survivors, as well as their children born of sexual violence, often face rejection and stigma in their communities.
Together with our local partners, Federation of Muslim Women's Associations in Nigeria (FOMWAN) and Herwa Community Development Initiative, we are helping survivors move forward by running collective therapy sessions and dialogue clubs. We also help prepare communities for the return of survivors by fostering empathy and trust. This includes supporting religious and traditional leaders in promoting a culture of tolerance and forgiveness.
Our project is the first step in re-integrating these women and girls into society, and in healing communities affected by violent conflict.
Fati is 22 years old and is from a village in Gwoza in northeast Nigeria.
“I didn’t really have any job back home. I was a housewife. The day Boko Haram came in, our husbands ran. They found us women and took us to their village. They wanted to marry us, but we refused. ‘We would rather die than marry when we have husbands,’ we told them.
“They locked us in a house. We lived there for five months. The abuse was unbearable. They kept insisting on marriage. We all decided to run. Along the way, we found soldiers, who eventually brought us to a camp near Maiduguri.”
Fati joined a workshop run by Alert’s partner FOMWAN – a coalition of Muslim women’s organisations that brings together Boko Haram survivors in a safe and supportive environment, giving them an opportunity to express their feelings and learn about forgiveness and understanding through Islamic principles.
At last, Fati is able to start thinking about moving on from the pain of her ordeal.
It has been very difficult moving to this camp and the experience of being verbally abused is traumatic, but I have a friend now because of the workshop, so we sit a lot together. She talks more than I do and I am also learning to be less shy.
Impact and next steps
Just three months into the project, we have already conducted eight workshops, reaching 240 survivors. Due to the success noted by girls like Fati, we designed four additional workshops and will reach a total of 320 survivors by the end of April 2016.
But this is not sufficient for addressing the needs of the survivors in the displacement camps, in the host communities and in their home villages throughout northeast Nigeria.
We estimate that up to 2,000 women and girls, as well as many boys, have been abducted by Boko Haram since 2012, including more than 200 girls on 14 April 2014 from their school in Chibok.
With more victims returning from captivity, there is an urgent need to scale up this work to ensure survivors and communities can heal and move forward. In addition, these women also need better access to health services and job opportunities to support themselves and their children. This is important while they are in the displacement camps, but also after they leave the camps and return to their home villages.
According to Kimairis Toogood, Senior Peacebuilding Adviser for Nigeria at International Alert:
“As we are not sure of the exact numbers of those still held in captivity, the breadth and depth of this issue is not even fully understood – but we know it is great. We estimate that thousands of people will need our help – both survivors and communities where they live.
“So we must begin addressing this issue now, with all the necessary resources.”
- Find out more about the Reducing stigma against those affected by Boko Haram project
- Join the #FutureForOurGirls campaign.
Photo: Fati Abubakar/ International Alert/ UNICEF