London/ Abuja/ Maiduguri, 13 April 2017: Women and girls escaping Nigeria's insurgency group Boko Haram are rejected by their families or communities, says peacebuilding charity International Alert. More help must be given to stigmatised survivors to find acceptance at home.
The 276 schoolgirls in Chibok, northeast Nigeria, whose kidnap on 14 April 2014 sparked the global #BringBackOurGirls campaign, represent just a fraction of the estimated 8,000 women and girls who have been held by the insurgency group since 2009.
While most remain in captivity, hundreds have escaped or have been rescued.
Girls escaping often report physical, emotional and sexual abuse, and forced marriage at the hands of Boko Haram, and are typically highly traumatised.
Meanwhile, their families and communities fear the girls may have been radicalised in captivity. This makes it difficult for returnees to rebuild their lives.
Since December 2015, International Alert, together with UNICEF Nigeria and local partners, have been providing support for hundreds of girls and women returning from Boko Haram. They have also organised workshops to support the process of long-term reintegration. This includes working with communities and family members to foster empathy and reduce stigma.
The programme is supported by the government of the UK (UKAID) and the government of Sweden (Sida).
Kimairis Toogood, Peacebuilding Advisor for International Alert in Nigeria, said:
“Tragically, communities, families and husbands don’t always welcome returning women and girls with open arms, for a fear they may have been radicalised in captivity. This problem is fuelled by a culture of stigma around sexual violence - especially if the girls return with a baby. These girls may struggle to integrate back into their communities, and face a life of isolation and poverty.”
Jummai*, a young woman who escaped Boko Haram and is now taking part in the reintegration programme, said:
“The issue of being raped and carrying a baby from sexual violence, the stigma, the isolation from suspicious people in the [displacement] camp was emotionally overwhelming. The [dialogue] sessions have been crucial in my moving on in my life. They have helped me cope with the loss of my husband and the impact of rape.”
Find out more: www.intalert.org/FutureForOurGirls