Poverty, prej­u­dice drive women to Boko Haram

Lesotho Times - - Africa -

DAKAR -- Fail­ing to im­prove the lives of girls and women trapped in poverty and do­mes­tic drudgery in north­east Nige­ria could drive them into the ranks of ex­trem­ist groups, an­a­lysts said on Mon­day.

Many girls and women have been ab­ducted by the ji­hadist group Boko Haram and used as cooks, sex slaves, and even sui­cide bombers, ac­cord­ing to rights groups in­clud­ing Amnesty In­ter­na­tional.

Yet some women in the mainly Mus­lim north­east, frustrated by poverty, gen­der dis­crim­i­na­tion and deep-rooted pa­tri­archy, have cho­sen to join Boko Haram vol­un­tar­ily in the hope of a bet­ter life, an In­ter­na­tional Cri­sis Group (ICG) re­port said.

“For some women trapped in do­mes­tic life, Boko Haram of­fers an es­cape,” Ri­naldo Depagne, West Africa project di­rec­tor for the ICG, told the Thom­son Reuters Foun­da­tion in Dakar, Sene­gal.

“But this re­flects a huge abyss of des­per­a­tion among women ... and a fail­ure of so­ci­ety in the north­east,” he added.

Rates of child mar­riage, school en­rol­ment and lit­er­acy among girls, and women in po­si­tions of power are far worse in the north of Nige­ria than the rest of the coun­try, ac­tivists say.

But women of­ten take se­nior po­si­tions in Boko Haram. Fe­male mem­bers are al­most as likely as men to be de­ployed as fight­ers, and may out­num­ber them in some roles such as re­cruiters and in­tel­li­gence op­er­a­tives, re­searchers said in a study pub­lished in Oc­to­ber.

Boko Haram mil­i­tants have killed about 15,000 peo­ple and dis­placed some 2.6 mil­lion in Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nige­ria dur­ing a seven-year cam­paign to carve out an Is­lamist caliphate.

The army has driven Boko Haram out of much of the ter­ri­tory it held in 2014, but the govern­ment and aid agen­cies must fo­cus on car­ing for and rein­te­grat­ing women af­fected by the in­sur­gency as the coun­try comes back un­der their con­trol, the ICG said.

Many women up­rooted by the con­flict and liv­ing in camps for the dis­placed have re­sorted to sell­ing sex in ex­change for food, while those who were mar­ried to or raped by the mil­i­tants are of­ten re­jected by their com­mu­ni­ties.

For those women who chose to join Boko Haram, the power and free­dom af­forded to them means they are far more dif­fi­cult than men to de-rad­i­calise and rein­te­grate into their com­mu­ni­ties, ac­cord­ing to Nige­rian psy­chol­o­gist Fa­tima Ak­ilu.

“Ex­clu­sion and abuse of women may un­der­mine mil­i­tary gains and mean that they have same kind of griev­ances that pushed many to join Boko Haram in the first place,” Depagne said.

“The state and civil so­ci­ety must im­prove the sit­u­a­tion for women af­fected by Boko Haram, both vic­tims and per­pe­tra­tors, and en­sure they play a role in re­build­ing the north­east,” he added.

— Reuters

Many girls and women have been ab­ducted by the ji­hadist group Boko Haram and used as cooks, sex slaves, and even sui­cide bombers.

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