The Role of Women in Countering Boko Haram
The Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP), popularly referred to as Boko Haram, has been waging a war against the Nigerian state for the past seven years. The insurgency has claimed over twenty thousand lives, displaced over two million people, and destroyed billions of dollars’ worth of personal and public property.
This insurgency and counter-insurgency (COIN) is being waged by three distinct actors: the government of Nigeria, Boko Haram, and the Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF). While many resources have been dedicated to Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) efforts, little attention has been paid to the role women play in promoting or participating in the insurgency and counterinsurgency.
Of the aforementioned organisations, only Boko Haram and the CJTF have integrated gender into their terrorism and counter-terrorism efforts. Boko Haram has played on the common perception of women as nonviolent to effortlessly mainstream women into their operations, using them to gather intelligence, as recruiters, and promoters of radical ideologies to indoctrinate abductees and other converts in Boko Haram enclaves. In fact, the sects have allegedly preyed on women’s grievances relating to marginalisation, inequality, and alienation to recruit more women into its folds. In other cases, women are unwilling perpetrators and are forced into becoming suicide bombers, sex slaves, and forced labourers.
There is a growing awareness on the significance of mainstreaming women into Prevention and Countering of violent extremism (P/CVE). The UN Security Council in several of its resolutions has affirmed the importance of including women in P/CVE processes and their implementation. For instance, Security Council resolution 2129 reaffirms the Council’s objective to “increase its attention to women, peace and security issues in all relevant thematic areas of work on its agenda, including in threats to international peace and security caused by terrorist acts.”
The importance of women in the P/CVE process cannot be overemphasised as women occupy several twinning roles within the community, and their perception and reaction differs. However, the counter insurgency strategy in Nigeria so far has not seized the opportunity of women’s unique roles and, importantly, their perspectives in the prevention and countering of violent extremism.
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