Improving peace and security for women in areas affected by Boko Haram: lessons from Nigeria’s Stability and Reconciliation Programme

by Dr Eleanor Ann Nwadinobi

Women and girls in Nigeria suffer sexual violence and exploitation at the hands of armed groups, vigilante and community self-help groups and the security forces. Their access to services, freedom of movement and physical security is curtailed, with women and girls afraid to go out alone or at night. Abductions and forced marriage to fighters from Jama’atu Ahlis Sunnah Lida’awati wal Jihad (JAS), commonly known as Boko Haram, has been a feature of the conflict in the north-east of the country, with at least 2,000 women and girls kidnapped between January 2014 and April 2015 alone. Women and girls have also contributed to the conflict as combatants, and more recently as suicide bombers. Women also act as informal peace-builders.

Beginning in 2012, the five-year Nigeria Stability and Reconciliation Programme (NSRP) was designed to address the key elements of conflict in areas of Nigeria affected by Boko Haram. It did so through four main streams: by providing an inclusive dialogue platform; addressing drivers of conflict such as youth unemployment, tensions over land and resources and the consequences of oil spills; providing an enabling environment for women and girls to participate in and influence peacebuilding and reduce violence against them; and using research for conflict-sensitive communication and advocacy for change. The NSRP was funded by the Department for International Development (DFID), with the participation of the British Council, International Alert and Social Development Direct. It was the first initiative of its kind in Nigeria, and the first time these partners had worked together in a consortium anywhere.

The programme design was ambitious, as the scope was broad and there were very few examples of best practice to look to. Two key principles informed all NRSP interventions: ‘do no harm’ and allowing flexibility, without compromising high standards of accountability and transparency. In terms of improving peace and security for women and girls in conflict-affected areas, the NSRP considered the vulnerabilities of women and girls as victims of sexual violence in warfare, children bearing children, female-headed households and ‘layered widows’: women who had lost their husbands to Boko Haram, who were then forcibly abducted and ‘married’ by Boko Haram fighters, only to lose their Boko Haram ‘husband’, with the additional stigma of being labelled as a Boko Haram ‘wife’. The NSRP had two main objectives in this area: the increased and more influential participation of women and girls in peacebuilding institutions and initiatives by supporting safe spaces for girls and women and building a constituency of support amongst leaders, men and male youth; and improved policies and practices for the reduction of violence against women and girls.

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