Braram* was 11 years old when Boko Haram invaded her home in Bama town, Nigeria. They abducted her along with many other women and girls. They also killed a lot of people and destroyed many properties.
For three years, she suffered sexual and domestic violence at the hands of the insurgents who held her captive until she was rescued by government forces during a major military offensive. Braram survived her captivity, but was left with psychological scars and health issues.
Weeks after undergoing compulsory procedures for reintegration, as administered by the Army, Braram returned home to Bama with hopes of a better life. However, her father and brother rejected her once she returned home, which encouraged further stigmatisation by the community towards her.
"When my father and brother threw me out of the house and refused to accept me back, I became hopeless and helpless. I just felt life was worthless for me, and it made me really sad," said Braram.
Psychosocial support sessions
Braram managed to find shelter at the internally displaced persons (IDP) camp in Bama and was encouraged to participate in the psychosocial support sessions for women and girls who are survivors of sexual and gender-based violence, along with their families. The sessions were activities implemented by International Alert with Centre for Social Cohesion, Peace and Empowerment to reinforce the reintegration and reconciliation of conflict affected women and girls and to support community peacebuilding.
Psychosocial support sessions for women and girls are where survivors of abduction meet in peer groups to share their experiences, pour out their shared pain and find commonality in their plight. This helps them to reduce their feeling hopelessness, and the assumptions that they are suffering alone. When these survivors begin to heal and regain their self-esteem, they begin the family support sessions where they make contact with their family and start the process of reintegration.
"I was screened by one of Alert’s psychosocial advisers and told I could participate in the support sessions to help with my anxiety, feelings of worthlessness and depression."
With the support of community leaders, who had been trained by Alert to facilitate peer-to-peer and family support sessions to address the challenges of stigmatisation and rejection, Braram began therapy to manage her post-traumatic stress disorder.
During the initial family support sessions Braram’s brother, Ba’ana Kura, rejected the idea of reintegrating Braram back into the family and community. Other family members supported Ba’ana Kura and refused to speak to Braram during the sessions.
Alert’s psychosocial support curriculum encourages participants to speak up and express their emotions, fears and concerns regards reintegration. In many cases, it takes a while before survivors and their families break the shock and can speak up to each other. Ba’ana Kura eventually opened up and shared his fear of being stigmatised by the community if he accepted Braram, as a major reason for rejecting her.
"I lost my sister the day insurgents took her away from us, and I feel she is lost forever," Ba’ana Kura tells us.
During the last family support session her family was touched by the sermon and appeal of community leaders, who used teachings from the Qur’an to appeal to the family to view her as a sheep that was lost from the flock, and has now been found. Her father, Modu Moduye broke down in tears and expressed regret for rejectining and stigmatising his own daughter. There was a flow of emotions on that day, as Braram's family members asked her to forgive them one after the other for rejecting her for so long and were now welcoming her back at home.
Braram and her family left the venue of the session very thankful to the community and religious leaders who facilitated the reunion.
This project aims to reduce the stigma against the women and children associated with Boko Haram, equip community and religious leaders with skills to help them to understand and address challenges to reintegration, and help community members to work collaboratively to identify and resolve conflict related to reintegration. International Alert and its partners, continue to work in camps across Borno State, supporting the reintegration and building the resilience of women and girls affected by sexual and gender-based violence and abduction by Boko Haram, thanks to the funding support of the UK Government through the Confict, Stability and Security Fund (CSSF).
* Name changed for protection concerns.
Alert works on this project with the following local partners, Centre for Social Cohesion, Peace and Empowerment (CENSCOPE) and Gender Equality, Peace and Development Centre (GEPaDC).