Nigeria: Women In Conflict

Laying down arms (file photo).
13 July 2020
Nextier SPD (Abuja)

Abuja — Nigeria's commitment to offering amnesty to low-risk repentant ex-Boko Haram fighters is no longer news. About 893 ex-insurgents have been rehabilitated since 2016. The Federal government, through the Defense Headquarters, inaugurated the Operation Safe Corridor (OSC) as part of the state responses to the insurgency. However, the programme appears male-focused and the processes for females with links to Boko Haram are not clear. Violent conflict affects women differently; as victims, accessories or perpetrators. Since 2009, hundreds of women and girls have been abducted, sexually abused and forced into marriages to jihadist fighters.  The trauma of losing spouses and children to the conflict further leaves unforgettable memories for some of these women. The travails of women in the Boko Haram conflict both as victims and as perpetrators are uniquely different and must be addressed with women-tailored solutions.

Debatably, the efforts of the amnesty programme for repentant Boko Haram insurgents may not have duly considered women in the conflict. According to a study by the Institute for Security Studies, many women released by the military claim they didn't participate in the rehabilitation and reintegration programmes at Borno State-run Bulumkutu Rehabilitation Centre for women and children. Some also claim they went through the process for a maximum of three months while others maintain that they were released directly to communities or camps for internally displaced people. The amnesty programme must be accompanied by an approach that specifically caters for the needs of women in the programme. The Operation Safe Corridor must adequately provide for psychosocial support for women that are among the repentant insurgents.

It is usually assumed that men are more violent than women and that women are more inclined to be supportive of peace. At the same time, though, there is growing evidence and recognition that women, as well as men, are actively involved in the armed conflict.  Therefore in line with the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 and various conventions on gender mainstreaming such as Namibia Plan of Action, CEDAW, gender lens must be applied and should be an integral part of the planning and implementation of amnesty programme for equal representation of both men and women and towards actualising sustainable peace and development in the region.

Life is as twice as hard for women due to systemic marginalisation, ethnoreligious limitations, and social deprivations. The chances of survival for women with links to Boko Haram will be worse even as they are reportedly released into communities without adequate psychosocial support and empowerment. In some communities, these women are ostracised by the community. With no means of livelihood or support, the chances of them returning to the insurgents remain high. Hence, government should work with civic groups in the region to access the best approach to address the challenges facing the resettlement of both ex-insurgents and displaced population. It is either a separate programme is created for women or the current amnesty programme is reformed to enable it to cater to the needs of women in the conflict.

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