As Boko Haram escalated its insurgency in Nigeria in 2014, the conflict scattered families across borders and from bordering towns, killing thousands of civilians and soldiers, and placing incredible economic strain on the communities of the Far North. Half of the refugees and internally displaced in the area are women and girls—mothers who are supporting entire households, wives who have seen their husbands slaughtered, girls who have been married off even though they are too young to wed, and sisters who have been raped.
Join us for a journey into the Far North Region to meet five women who have traversed immense tragedies and emerged as resilient leaders, survivors and entrepreneurs.
Ramata fled with her older son, two years old at the time. She was pregnant with her second child.
“We slept in the bushes for days and then walked towards Mora.”
Initially, Ramata found shelter with another woman who put her up in a spare room. She worked in a small restaurant and earned 250 CFA (less than a dollar) per day. It was too little money to afford rent and food.
“I heard about an empty hut that was damaged, so I repaired the hut, I fixed the roof, and that’s where I still live. I gave birth to my second son in the hut, without any medical help.”
For many refugees and displaced women who live in the host communities in the Far North Region, access to health care and affording rent are their biggest challenge.
As she struggled to provide for herself and her sons, Ramata didn’t get any help to tackle the trauma she had endured, until she found the women’s empowerment centre in Mora.
The community worker
Fanta had fled her village and come to Mora four years ago. It was the seventh time that Boko Haram had attacked her village, killed and pilfered, and set homes on fire.
“We were afraid to sleep in our homes at night. We would do all the work during the day and by 3 p.m., we would go into the bush to sleep. We would dig holes into the ground and put mosquito nets over them to keep the babies warm and safe.”
Fanta fled with her four children. Her husband had died before the attacks.
In Mora, she tried to build a new life with a new partner and had a child with him. But then, he started beating her and eventually abandoned her.
Fanta received counselling and other services from the women’s centre supported by UN Women. And slowly, her self-confidence was restored. Her own attitudes about what is expected from girls and women also changed.
“At one time, I was frustrated with five children that I had to look after by myself, and I had decided to marry off my first daughter,” she remembers. “But the centre advised me against it, and now I see the benefit of keeping her in school. I tell other women in the community to keep their daughters in school.”
“I’ve told my daughter to take her studies seriously, and she does. Where I came from, people didn’t know the value of daughters going to school. But now many of us see that every child has value.”
As more women gain independence and become aware of their rights, they are raising a new generation of children with more equality, potential and dreams.
Today, Fanta works at the women’s centre as a community worker. “I visit women in their homes if they are having problems and I feel relieved when I can restore peace between the couple. The social workers visit the husbands to counsel them as well.”
“I lost my husband in Maiduguri, Nigeria. They beheaded my husband right in front of me. I lost my sight temporarily from the shock… I couldn’t see.”
The Boko Haram militants then came back for her. “I left my village with only one of my boys, he was four years old at the time,” she recalls.
“They made the women cover themselves in burqa and read the Quran. They lined up a group of men and then the women would be asked to choose a man to marry. They would give us three chances to make a choice. If a woman didn’t pick a man by the third time, they would slaughter her.”
She refused twice. On the third time, she accepted to marry.
Bage escaped Boko Haram when the army raided the house. The army brought her to the Minawao refugee camp in Cameroon, where she was reunited with her other children. With assistance from the women’s empowerment centre, Bage slowly nurtured her small tailoring business.
“The centre helped me get a birth certificate and a national id card. I received training in tailoring, and the centre provided me with a tailoring machine. That’s how I started making some money and left the refugee camp and rented a little home for me and my children.”
Life is still hard for Bage, but she lives with dignity. “I hope the UN continues to help so that more women like me can take care of ourselves,” she says. “And, if you can construct houses for us, that would be very good… rent is not cheap here.”
The social worker
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