In April 2014, 276 young schoolchildren were kidnapped from the Chibok secondary school in Borno State in northern Nigeria. The hashtag #bringbackourgirls briefly brought to the world’s attention a region in northern Nigeria which has been marked by violence and instability for years. This is where the terrorist organisation commonly known by the name Boko Haram is active. Their strategy includes bombings, killings, disappearances and kidnappings, sexual violence and forced marriages. The security forces are combatting the terrorist group with great force, and as a result have been accused of severe human rights abuses. It is the local population who suffers. According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, by 2019 2.4 million people in northern Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and Niger had been forced to flee their homes due to Boko Haram, and more than 30,000 killed.
It is no coincidence that on the night of 14 April 2014 it was only young women who were kidnapped: animosity against women is a characteristic of the ideologies of many terrorist groups. Women’s rights and women’s mobility should be restricted, often with violence. Their economic and social independence is restricted. Many women are actively fighting against this: as peace activists, community speakers, in the context of their professional activities and within their families, they are fighting for everyday continuity, negotiating with terrorists and security forces about safe areas and humanitarian corridors and influencing the values of the community.
The organisation Borno Women Development Initiative (BOWDI), run by young women and based in Borno State, is supporting them in this endeavour. It strengthens women in their leadership roles and disseminates information about gender-equal approaches in order to strengthen extremism prevention and support sustainable peace initiatives in the federal states of Borno and Yobe. Communities are also provided with information about preventing and dealing with sexual and gender-based violence.
BOWDI carries out training sessions with multipliers, in particular young women, who share their knowledge about counter-extremism and prevention further. Through this network the young women remain in contact, share their experiences and expertise about programme planning and initiatives. The training sessions are aimed in particular at women and girls who are at great risk of being (forcibly) recruited or experiencing sexual or gender-based violence, including women and girls in camps for internally displaced people and women in the region. Men and boys are involved in activities to strengthen gender equality in community-level political and administrative decision-making.