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Boko Haram: Redefining The Role of Northern Women

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Years after the insurgents struck in the Northern part of Nigeria, stories emanating from there have continued to be that of woes and hopelessness. But Chika Mefor in this story tells of something different

Even, when everything seems to be calm, bomb blasts are recorded at intervals, silent killings and abduction keep going.

The insurgents’ actions and activities had led to enormous loss of lives and properties in the country, particularly in the Northeast.

Millions of people had been displaced from their homes as they sought shelter in Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camps while many others have to flee the country into neighboring countries of Cameroon, Chad and Niger.

Though the activities of the insurgents have recently been reduced to sporadic bomb blast with the federal government working towards the reconstruction of the areas affected, there is still palpable fear among the residents.

Last year, the Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo revealed that the reconstruction agenda for Northeast destroyed by Boko Haram insurgency had begun.

According to the plan, the reconstruction was to kick-start in Bama Local Government Area of Borno State, involving the construction of 3,000 housing units, 10 police stations, 18 primary and secondary schools, health centres, creation of Special Bama Squad for security operations and the recruitment of 1,500 local hunters to be known as Agro Rangers, among others.

Under the arrangement, the federal government would contribute 67 per cent of the funds while Borno State would provide the balance of 33 per cent.

Around June this year, six years after residents were forced to flee their homes by Boko Haram, many internally displaced persons from northern part of Borno State were encouraged to return to their communities.

Many of them had been guests of the IDPs camps in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State after they fled their communities.

The IDPs numbering about 2,043 individuals, making up 378 households constituted the first batch of IDPs who willingly expressed the desire to return to their communities to resettle and resume their traditional occupation of farming and fishing, as well as other socio-economic activities. It hasn’t been easy for these IDPs to settle down to their normal life after the trauma they had witnessed.

Many of the displaced persons had however picked up their lives especially the women who had taken a stand not let the challenge pull them down.

Amidst the stories of woes and trials, emerged the story of strong women who were determined not to let their challenges overwhelmed them. It is the story of the recovery process of the Boko Haram victims especially the women in the Northeast.

These unheard of story was captured in a documentary by an NGO, the Paged Initiative called the Uprooted.  The story featured four women; Halima Bukar, Ruth Stevens, Hadiza Mustafa and Hadiza Hamidu who defied all odds to make ends meet for themselves and their families.

Stevens while describing her experience, spoke on how she had finished her secondary school education and had gotten married, without going further and how the activities of the insurgents had cut short her aspirations. She had lost her relations and properties. But she knew she had to brace up to the challenges ahead.

Stevens, little by little started a business as street food vendor, frying bean cakes, yam, and potatoes which she sometimes realize a daily gain of N2,000 to N5,000 which had enabled her to support her family.

Bukar, another character in the documentary, described how she had started a thriving petty trade, selling kolanut and charcoal, which had helped sustain her family.

The story of Mustapha, is also the story of determination. Though she lamented over not furthering her education, she had not let that stop her. She is currently working as a volunteer with an NGO where she help take care of children, mostly who had lost their parents to the activities of the insurgents.

Hamidu, now one of the most revered female civilian JTF members, like other women, did not find life easy. She had seen death and had fought alongside other JTF members in hope of protecting her people from the onslaught of the insurgents. Hamidu who is also known as Mama Gwoza, lost her husband to the fight but that didn’t deter her and she promised to continue to fight to defend her people.

With complete fortitude and resilience, these women subdued the trauma and grief and had worked towards a future not dictated by the insurgents. They took up work to fend for their families, something they would not have done before the insurgents struck. That is another side of the conflict in the Northeast and a true and worthy side to it.

Most women in the North are always relegated to the background.

However, from the conflict and trauma, came new norms where husbands now look beyond their wives’ genders. They took up roles they had earlier ascribed for women alone. For example, Stevens’ husband, Andrauos Stevens, confessed he happily did chores like sweeping the house, cooking and taking care of the children, chores he had thought were strictly for women. This new era finds husbands supporting their wives.

Many women, like Hamidu in the Northeast who had lost their husbands to the activities of the sect had risen to the occasion to cater for their families.

‘Uprooted’ which is directed by Ummi Bukar, Ilse Van Lamoen Isoun, edited by Ummi Yakubu and supported by the Embassy of Netherlands is set to be used for sensitization and advocacy purposes across Nigeria, to build awareness and promote acceptance of women’s changing roles among a variety of audiences.

‘Uprooted’ significantly shows trauma healing. It is intended to give conflict survivors hope.

Speaking to LEADERSHIP Weekend on the documentary, the director, Ummi Bukar stated that it was made so as to bring about another angle in the story of the Boko Haram conflict which portrays how conflict had sprung up social cohesion, love, understanding, unity and respect among family members.

She further stated that most stories that come out of the region were sad stories of hopelessness adding that the documentary was meant to reveal that the Boko Haram conflict had taught women to break the gender norms where men are treated as superior.

“There are so many negative stories in the Northeast,” she said. “So we decided to change the narrative. We wanted to go into it, the human angle part, looking into the changing gender role and how women are doing a lot of things they were not doing before, we want to bring the story out. We want to portray the positive side to this sad story. This is to encourage others who had not found a way to come out of this trauma do so. You find out that the women who gave their stories value themselves more.  They feel good about themselves, and this is what we want for every woman.”

Reacting to the issues brought up in the documentary, a Woman advocate, Mercy Igwu stated that although women faced a lot in the Boko Haram conflict, they remained a strong force that will bring about total healing in the region.

“There have been untold stories on how the women had helped in the fight against the insurgency,” Igwu said. “Even in the recovery process, their strength are always present. This shows why women should be involved especially in policy making. It is high time, they are not relegated to the background.”



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