The Plight of Internally Displaced women and girls in Nigeria

Since the beginning of the Boko Haram insurgency in 2009, Nigeria has an estimated 3.8 million internally displaced persons, out of which 53% are females. The quality of life of internally displaced people in Nigeria is disturbing. Female IDPs are mainly vulnerable and defenseless, due to the trauma they have experienced and having lost the male members of their families to the violence that displaced them in most cases. They largely live on the goodwill of charitable individuals, faith-based and non-governmental organizations; and government aid for supply of food items, nutritional supplements for malnourished children, clothes, health care services, hygiene supplies and protection services.  Listening to the women was terrifying as they recounted their experiences of living in the same village with terrorists for days or weeks seeing people butchered; children and relatives lost. These women are from the most affected states of Yobe, Borno, Adamawa and Zamfara States.

Responding to questions about their livelihood and integration into their host communities, it was gathered that the women have limited or no access to reproductive health facilities, quality education, decent jobs  and economic empowerment. They also suffer from different degrees of violence.

The displacement has caused the women who were hitherto engaged in some form of productive activities to be without any source of livelihood. Although NGOs visit IDP camps to train the women in vocational skill acquisition and entrepreneurship to enable them start up business which can be used to cater for their families, the effect is almost unnoticed as each organisation can only afford to train a few women. More so, the camps keep receiving more people as fresh attacks are launched on the affected areas.

Young girls who were in school before being displaced have not been able to continue their education because there are neither schools nor libraries in these camps. In a few cases, the camps have make-shift schools run  by NGOs; mostly local. These organisations are usually constrained by funds to keep the programs running, hence, they suffer some setback. This portends great danger in the nearest future because the girls are idle and that provides an opportunity for them to be engaged in unwholesome activities, very susceptible to being recruited by terrorists with a little amount of money.

With little or no access to sexual and reproductive healthcare, internally displaced women face greater risks during pregnancy and childbirth as a result of limited access to reproductive health facilities. There have been increased cases of pregnancy and labour complications sometimes leading to the death of mother, child or both. At the Karmajiji IDP Camp in Abuja, the women have limited information on their reproductive health despite being pregnant or nursing mothers because there is no health facility within the camp. The camp relies on the services of the chairman who owns a pharmacy and traditional birth attendants who usually do not have the experience to handle childbirth- related complications.

As a result of malnourishment, severe deprivation and lack of education, decent work and social protection, internally displaced women and girls can be easily brainwashed and indoctrinated into the Boko Haram sect with the promise of a better standard of living, security and the hope of paradise after death in line with the Boko Haram doctrine.

displaced by boko haram
Maryam, a 25-year old displaced pregnant woman during a women’s entrepreneurship development programme held at the Karmajiji IDP camp in Abuja. Photo Credit: Ajibola Oladejo/Purple Pearls Empowerment Foundation

These women, once recruited into the insurgency group begin to witness various forms of violence against women ranging from forced labour and rape to being used as instruments of reproduction to increase the population of the insurgents, female fighters, suicide bombers and being gifted to male insurgents as a reward for their steadfastness to the sect. They are also forcefully married off to members of the sect and in times of negotiation with the government used as instruments to exchange for the release of their members in police custody.

Occasionally, some of the women who escape from the Boko Haram camp during the attacks on the insurgents by the Nigerian army try to reunite with their families after being rehabilitated but they are met with hostile treatment because no one would want to associate with them; not even their family members. This discrimination, stigmatization and rejection which is another form of violence against women causes some form of depression for the returnees; inhibiting the efforts some of them are making to be financially independent and re-integrate into society.

Amidst all these, there is hope.

Local and international NGOs are still working assiduously to protect, empower and build the resilience of internally displaced women and girls through interventions focused on economic empowerment and self-esteem to transform them into distinctive individuals who are not afraid to create positive social change in their communities despite their experiences.

 The economic empowerment of female IDPs should be prioritized by aid agencies and government. If economically empowered, the women will be able to take care of their households and become less vulnerable to gender-based violence while helping them re-integrate into their host communities.

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