The latest CREID Podcast highlights how violence against women and girls in northern Nigeria is endemic and is fuelled by conflict, poverty and a patriarchal society. In this interview with Fatima Suleiman, Executive Director of the Islamic Counselling Initiative in Northern Nigeria describes gender-based violence against women and girls, which included rape, abductions, sex slavery, sex trafficking, domestic violence and forced involvement in terror activities, and how this increased during Covid-19. She also discusses her recent research which looks in particular at the situation of marginalised women from the Izala religious minority.
Incidents of violence against women and girls in northern Nigeria have received significant international attention such as Boko Haram’s kidnapping of the 276 Chibok school girls (which sparked the Bring Back Our Girls campaign) or the abduction of 110 schoolgirls abducted from their school in Dapchi, including Leah Sharibu who is still in captivity for refusing to renounce her Christian faith. Now, new research supported by the Coalition for Religious Equality and Inclusive Development (CREID) explores the situation of another group of women affected by violence, poverty and a patriarchal ideology, the Izalas.
Conflict, ideology, poverty and Covid-19 fuels violence against women
In this interview for the CREID Podcast, Fatima Suleiman, the Executive Director of the Islamic Counselling Initiative in Northern Nigeria (ICN) which monitors conflict trends, speaks about the situation of minority poor women and girls in the north of the country.
Hajiya Fatima begins by describing the high rate of gender-based violence against women and girls in northern Nigeria which includes rape, abductions, sex slavery, sex trafficking, domestic violence and also forced involvement in terrorist activities, whilst their children are sold into modern day slavery. Over the past three months, at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, over 3,000 cases of rape were reported in the northeast. Poor women are especially affected, with their situation compounded by lack of education and little knowledge about their rights and what services, such as health, are available to them.
Education is empowerment
Fatima then discusses her research which has focused around the situation of the Izala women, members of another formerly insurgent Salafist (Muslim) group in northern Nigeria but now allied to the Government.
Izala women do not have access to a livelihood, are denied formal education, and even association with other women who are not family members. This makes them highly isolated, hard to reach, and as such, it’s extremely difficult to provide them with assistance. They are also particularly vulnerable to violence, especially domestic violence, which is seen as acceptable marital behaviour. Their situation is a result of the deeply anchored patriarchal culture.
ICN responds to the issue with several projects which provide these women with safe houses, education and development, and trauma assistance. The organisation also teaches women about self-esteem and helps them to know their rights.
Fatima’s research will be published by CREID in a forthcoming collection of papers on the experiences of women and the intersection of marginalisation, poverty and belonging to a non-majority religious community.