From Protectors To Perpetrators: Exploiting Females As the Sub-human Other -By Nabila Okino

Filed under: Global Issues |

Nabila Okino

In recent times, many countries across the world have experienced conflicts, whether caused by insurgency, terrorism, religious, ethnic or political strife. Irrespective of the cause(s) of these conflicts, the consequences are always the same. They range from internal displacement or forced migrations, indiscriminate abuse by both state and non-state actors, to issues like sexual abuse, increased poverty, lack of access to education and inadequate healthcare.

More often than not, women and girls are at the receiving end of every conflict. They are specifically targeted, abused – physically and sexually, forced to marry and bear children for enemy combatants, used as tools to weaken the resolve of men in their communities and essentially treated like second-class citizens. The tragedies women face in times of conflict occur because of the pre-existing challenges and systematic discrimination that they are ordinarily confronted with in peacetime. Thus, the culture of violence, discrimination and inequity that are infused in our day-to-day activities are most certainly exacerbated in times of conflict.

The internal displacement caused by the Boko Haram insurgency in Nigeria has put women and girls in precarious positions. First, they are the targets of the insurgent group; they are kidnapped, forced to marry and most times, abused. The girls are stripped of their childhood and forced to grow up fast, skipping all the stages a child should ordinarily go through and forced to take up the roles of wives and mothers.

As disheartening as that is, what is most heart-breaking is that women and girls who have found refuge in the Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps are also subjected to abuse. But this time, from their “protectors”. There have been numerous allegations by organisations like Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and other interest groups working in the North-East of Nigeria of rape, sexual abuse and transactional sex perpetrated by some members of the Nigeria military on IDPs. Basically, they demand for sex before women can have access to food and basic necessities for their families.

Last year, I attended the Presidential Investigation Panel on the Armed Forces Compliance with Human Right, Humanitarian Law and Rules of Engagement. During the hearings, allegations of sexual abuse and rape were brought against the Nigerian military and witnesses were present to testify regarding their experiences. Although the testimonies of the women were taken in camera, the thought of what they went through and probably are still going through left me with a sour taste in the mouth. The Nigerian military denied all the allegations levelled against them. My question however is: Is it possible that all the organisations and individuals who reported on this issue and all the women (most of whom were from different communities) who testified regarding the abuse they faced, conspired against the Nigerian military? Surely there must be some semblance of truth in all that they said!

This is not in any way an effort to vilify or malign the Nigerian Army. There is no doubt that some of them are doing exceptional work, leaving their families, being at the front-line, and protecting the nation from insurrection. But, there are bad eggs among them who are threatening the survival of our women and girls. Similar allegations have also been made against the United Nations peacekeepers – of rape, transactional sex, sodomising of young boys and other forms of abuse. What is it about the existence of a woman that makes her a target?

Is the Nigerian Army doing enough to protect these women against sexual abuse? I don’t think so. Is the Nigerian government doing enough to protect women against abuse and rehabilitate those who have been abused? I also don’t think so. Warts and all, it is still NGOs and international organisations that have shown interest in the plight of this group of women.

Besides creating policies and promoting national interventions that could curb the rise in sexual abuse in IDP camps, we as individuals need to play a very vital role in stopping these horrendous acts. The members of the Nigerian Army who allegedly abuse women are a product of our society, of our norms and ways of life. Nigeria is a society where a woman is still seen as inferior to men; and she is expected to be subservient, while her needs/wants are not as important as those of a man. This mindset, in turn, breeds men who think they have control over a woman’s body and who also think that they have certain rights over them. We need to dismantle the patriarchal structures that have tagged women as preys; structures that have instilled the idea that women are to be taken advantage of, discriminated against and treated like sub-humans!

The first step is to educate ourselves and others, speak up against injustice at all times, and most importantly, make sure we bring up conscious children who would take a different path.

Nabila Okino is a lawyer, rights advocate, development and social justice enthusiast.

 

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