Since 2009, the Boko Haram insurgency and subsequent responses have ravaged northeast Nigeria and the border regions of Cameroon, Chad and Niger.
Experiences of the conflict have differed along gendered lines. Men, particularly young men, have been disproportionately conscripted, killed and detained by Boko Haram and the Nigerian security forces, but men also possess greater resources and opportunities to flee the violence. As a result, women from the conflict-affected communities form the majority of the vulnerable internally displaced people in the northeast, with many women now solely responsible for their families’ protection and economic wellbeing.
Historic power dynamics in the northeast have frequently excluded and marginalised women from political, social and economic spheres. Not only has this made some women more vulnerable to recruitment by Boko Haram, but it has largely excluded women from local efforts to tackle the insurgency and strengthen community security.
Working with women from some of the most conflict-affected communities in Borno and Yobe state we aim to empower women with the confidence, skills and space to articulate their stories and engage with authorities to advocate for security responses that are considerate of women’s needs. Alongside our local partners - Hope Interactive and University of Maiduguri Muslim Women's Association - we are creating opportunities for young women’s voices to be heard.
Women-only story-telling spaces
In twelve communities across Borno and Yobe states, we are working with our partners to create women-only spaces which have already given hundreds of women the opportunity to share their stories of conflict. For many, it has been the first time they have shared their stories with anyone outside of their closest family. It is a critical step in building their confidence to articulate their stories and challenge the stigma associated with many of the women’s experiences. For many women too, the act of listening to others’ experience helps them to begin to overcome feelings of isolation and generate a local support network to help them process their trauma.
Identifying women’s needs and concerns
Through the project, women are also able to come together to discuss their needs and concerns and work together to advocate for solutions within their communities. Space for women to discuss common problems and identify strategies to resolve them does not usually exist within the traditional confines of women’s social interactions. Through providing the space and the tools to develop a united voice, feel heard and validated in their concerns, women are able to shape decision making and advocate for their own needs.
“These women, despite their trauma, have developed resilience to the impacts of conflict and have built their life skills, developing confidence, self-worth and self-esteem. Without proper and appropriate communication skills you cannot succeed.” Hajiya Hassana Ibrahim Waziri, President of the University of Maiduguri Muslim Women's Association
This project runs alongside Conciliation Resources’ youth empowerment activities in northeast Nigeria and is made possible thanks to the National Endowment for Democracy.