As we come together to celebrate International Women’s Day, we are reminded there are still many areas of the world where women and children face violence and insecurity. In Nigeria, sexual abuse and violence perpetrated against women and children remains prevalent in communities throughout the country. The Fund For Peace’s (FFP) Violence Affecting Women and Girls (VAWG) initiative, implemented in partnership with the Nigeria Stability and Reconciliation Programme (NSRP), aims to break the culture of silence around gender-based violence. Through improving incident reporting and combining local knowledge with cutting edge technology to better understand patterns and trends in VAWG throughout Nigeria, the program aims to foster early response and preventative action. We work closely with civil society organizations on the ground in the North, North Central, Middle Belt, and Niger Delta regions of Nigeria to track the main threats to women and children in five key states. The following reports summarize these findings and propose practical steps that could be taken to help end the abuse and ensure the safety and security of women and children throughout the country.
Women and girls are often the targets — either directly or caught in the crossfire — of this inter-communal conflict. They also bear the brunt of economic pressures through displacement, livelihood and property destruction, or loss of household breadwinners as a result of the violence. In their daily lives women and girls also encounter frequent interpersonal abuse and sexual violence, which is prevalent in family, community and school settings – but remains under-reported. This brief will explore the key themes in Violence Affecting Women and Girls (VAWG) in Kaduna state, drawing from quantitative data from the Nigeria Stability and Reconciliation Programme (NSRP) Observa-tory platform, as well as information gathered during a July 2016 workshop convened by NSRP, Education as a Vaccine (EVA) and the Kaduna Observatory Steering Committee (OBSTEC).
Although the number of reported conflict fatalities in Plateau state has fallen in 2016, the effects of displacement and violence continue to reverberate in the lives of women and girls. Continuing to monitor trends and incidents of VAWG, and how they are interrelated to other conflict drivers, is critical to understanding the effects of violence on the lives of women and girls and to better inform prevention and response efforts. Domestic abuse, rape and sexual assault accounted for most of the reported incidents of violence against women and girls in Plateau state between January 2015 and September 2016. This included domestic and sexual abuse by male family members – fathers, husbands, cousins and uncles – as well as by trusted authority figures, such as pastors and members of the security forces.
Comparatively, Kano is one of the more prosperous states in Northern Nigeria. However, the distribution of wealth is uneven. It has also faced a major uptick in insecurity since 2012, as a result of the Jama’atu Ahli Sunnah Lidda’awati Wal-Jihad (JAS) insurgency. Gender roles within the state also remain unequal, with a report on women’s rights detailing that women, particularly in rural areas, are often precluded from participating in economic decision making, employment outside the home, political engagement, and access to the same level of education as boys. Within the context of both the heightened levels of violence and insecurity in the state, as well as the pervasive norms surrounding the role of women in many communities, the vulnerability of young girls and women to violence and abuse in Kano state remains high.
Rivers State has experienced higher levels of violence and conflict-related fatalities in the past six months than at any time since the end of the militant insurgency in 2009. This rise in violence – predominately due to the new wave of militancy, political violence, criminality and cult violence – has been well documented in the media and international spheres. What is not getting reported are the impacts this is having on women and girls. Incidents of sexual assault, targeted criminality against vulnerable groups including girls and pregnant women), and domestic abuse are all major contributors to Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) in the state. May 2016 had one of the highest numbers of VAWG-related incidents reported from the Nigeria Stability and Reconciliation Programme (NSRP) Rivers State Observatory since its inception.
In the early morning hours of February 9, 2016, in a sprawling camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Maiduguri, the capital of Nigeria’s Borno State, three young girls thought to be looking for shelter, were welcomed inside. What the guards who admitted them didn’t know, however, was that each was wearing an improvised explosive device strapped to her body. Minutes later, two of those girls were dead and, with them, an estimated 58 other victims, including many families seeking shelter from a raging insurgency that had driven them from their homes. An additional 80 people were badly wounded. Attacks like this have come to characterize the insurgency that has raged in northern Nigeria since 2009. Recently, however, data and research by The Fund for Peace (FFP), a Washington, D.C.-based NGO, indicates that Boko Haram has fundamentally shifted its tactics and its targets.
The use of women and children as weapons of war in northern Nigeria and in neighboring countries is undoubtedly horrific, there is often the tendency to paint the phenomenon with a broad brush that identifies the bombers as victims without agency, or the right of choice, in their fate. To the extent that this assumption has implications for response, it should be acknowledged that the question of agency is inevitably much more complex and uncomfortable. Certainly, no ten-year-old child can be said to be of a mental and emotional maturity to make such a fatal choice. However, the assumption that the women and children who have carried out these attacks are all abductees is false.