Women's role in the Boko Haram Conflict

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2016
21 Pages, Grade: 1,3



1. Introduction

2. Historical Background
2.1 Islamic Movements in Nigeria's History
2.1.1 Boko Haram
2.1.2 Boko Haram's Ideology
2.2 Feminist Movements in Nigeria's History

3. Women at crossroads
3.1 Counterterrorism
3.1.1 '#BringOurGirlsBack'
3.1.2 BAOBAB for Women's Human Rights
3.1.3 Women WithoutWalls Initiative
3.1.4 Women's involvement in Vigilante groups
3.2 Women involved in Boko Haram Activities
3.3 Consequence s

4. Conclusion

5. Bibliography

1. Introduction

OF ALL the evils for which man has made himself responsible, none is so degrading, so shocking orso brutal as his abuse of the better half of humanity to me, the female sex, not the weaker sex. It is the nobler of the two, for it is even today the embodiment of sacrifice, silent suffering, humility, faith and knowledge.[1]

The Boko Haram insurgency has claimed a great number of victims since its violent rise in 2 010. Among them especially women and children have had to suffer a great deal. The infamous abduction of more than 200 girls from a school in Chibok, Borno State, caused an outrage both nationally and internationally. In the light of the event, Nigeria has seen the emergence of a new women's movement called #BringBackOurGirls supported by mothers and female rights groups who have rallied to protest for the release of the girls.

Since pre-colonial times Islamic movements and women have played a very strong role compared to their European counterparts. That is why in order to understand the broader picture of today's events, we will make a detour to their history up to this day. The first will include an analysis on Islamic ideology as to better comprehend women's position within Islam as well as of non­Muslim women.

The second step will comprise an analysis of how women are involved in today's conflict and what the consequences are. We will conclude with an evaluation of our findings.

The research is mainly based on media reports by Nigerian and international newspapers. As far as Islamic and women's movements in the area go I was could rely on works by Comolli[2] and Falola[3].

2. Historical Background

As mentioned above neither the phenomenon of women's resistance against unjustified treatment nor of violent Islamic insurgencies is new. In fact they can be traced back to pre-colonial times. In the following I will outline their evolution in order to have a better understanding of today's occurrences.

2.1 Islamic Movements in Nigeria's History

In the 14th century Northern Nigeria was comprised of a number of independent kingdoms. Traders and missionaries from the Kingdom of Mali and from Songhay in Sudan were the first to introduce Islam in the Hausalands and Borno. But it took several centuries until it became a religion of the common people who held on to their pagan beliefs. Only the royalty among them converted to Islam since they believed it would earn them more political power by establishing tighter relationships which would connect them economically and politically to the rest of the Islamic world.[4]

In the 18th century a Fulani preacher, called Usman Dan Fodio, started preaching in the North. He was particularly popular because he criticized the political establishment reproaching them for high taxation, corruption and promoting an unholy lifestyle. King Yunfa of the Gibir Kingdom, a former student, attempted to weaken his position and kill him. As a result of that Fodio gathered his followers and established a base in Gudo in 1802. Two years later he called for jihad against Yunfa. By 1809 he had taken Gibir's capital, Alkalawa, and founded a new empire, the Sokoto Caliphate. The Sokoto Caliphate exists up to this day but its ruler is only a nominal head.[5]

At the beginning of the 20th century the British arrived in Northern Nigeria. Due to prior experiences with colonies ruled by Muslims, they left the political system intact and prohibited Christian missionaries from entering this region.

Thus, the region remained quite isolated until the independence in I960. The new government was mainly made up of Christian southerners, because unlike their countrymen in the north they had attended British schools and universities and had the necessary education.[6]

In the 1960s several overthrows initiated by northerners and southerners peaked in a civil war when Eastern Nigeria tried to secede itself from the rest. These hostilities were mainly caused due to ethnic reasons as well the fear of domination by other states.[7] Although Comolli states that already religious elements had played a role[8]

In later years tensions rose again when the North demanded Sharia law to be implemented at the federal level in 1978. Though it was not the first Islamic movement, it was one of the more prominent ones. It was the Maitatsine founded by Mohammed Marwa in 1980. It attracted many followers, though it is not evident whether it was due to the economic decline at the time or due to religious or social reasons. The government suspected it to smuggle arms into Nigeria and attempted to drive out its members. This led to violent riots in the course of which several churches were destroyed. The Government responded by initiating a military operation in which more than 5000 people died including its leader. Eventually it took the administration well into the 1980s to finally eliminate this threat.[9]

2.1.1 Boko Haram

There are a number of theories regarding the emergence of Boko Haram. Its initial appearance is either thought to be as early as the mid 90s under different leaders or in 2002 in Maigaduri. From 2002 to 2004 several incidents occurred such as attacks on policemen, police stations and government buildings as well as the establishment of a base outside of Kanama. It appears that there were several groups with similar ideologies which launched these assaults. In June of 2004 one of them attacked a police station in Kanama and Damaturo which resulted in the death of most of its member and the arrest of a number of them. At the same time another group attacked the police headquarters in Bama, Borno state. The government responded with a military operation killing many of their members. From then on there were no major incidents recorded anymore.

What is known for a fact is that eventually all these groups came under the leadership of Mohammed Yusuf.[10] From 2004 until 2008 they remained relatively quiet. It is said that in this time they tried to get funding and to recruit new members. Some members are said to have gone to Afghanistan to receive special training. Their leader Yusuf even sat for some time in the Committee of Islamic affairs but resigned when his aim of implementing Sharia law was not successful.[11]

The actual emergence of Boko Haram occurred in 2009. Members of the group were driving motorcycles on a procession to bury one of their members. The police stopped them on the grounds of a new law on wearing helmets that had just been introduced. Apparently some shots were fired, some were wounded, some were even reported to have died. This was followed by an announcement from Yusuf in which he basically declared war on the state saying that there were ready to die together. Then Boko Haram launched several attacks on government building. Eventually the government send troops which killed about 700-800 members including Yusuf.[12] Later on his deputy Abubakar Shekau took over. Since 2 010 there have been several military confrontations with government troops, abductions of women and children and the killing of people[13]

2.1.2 Boko Haram's Ideology

The name Boko Haram is a moniker given by the local Hausa speaking population and roughly translated means “western education is a sin”. Its actual name is “Jama'atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda'awati wal-Jihad” which means "People of the Sunnah for Preaching and Jihad Group".[14] Their ideology is based on salafism, while there are many salafi movements, one more or less radical than the other, Boko Haram is said to belong to the ultra-salafi radical wing. It is opposed to the Nigerian state because it's the only reason that keeps it from achieving its goal of the creation of an Islamic state with Sharia rule. One of the key principles of conservative Islamic doctrines is that women's sexuality is a threat to society. In Northern Nigeria women are generally treated rather badly but especially Christian women have had to suffer more since they are considered infidels and amongst them the weakest. With the rise of Boko Haram this has increased. Apart from ideological reasons, a more personal reason may have attributed to that. In 2 012 Nigerian troops arrested the wives and children of Boko Haram's members.[15] Also the movement is in need of women as a means for ensuring its future by reproduction.[16]

2.2 Feminist Movements in Nigeria's History

Feminist movements or women exercising political power in West Africa can be traced back to pre-colonial times. Before Islam had completely spread through Northern Nigeria Queen Amina of Zazzu became ruler of the Hausa city of Zazzu. Also the Igala kingdom is supposed to have been founded by a woman called Ebele Ejaunu.[17]

Generally women among the royal family had political influence to some extent. It was usually exercised by the Queen Mother, who belonged to the generation senior to the ruler, which was legitimated by the concept of “mothering“.[18] In most societies this institution was the only means for women to be politically involved. Especially among the Onitsha-Igbo people women enjoyed significant economical and political power. Members of the royal family could be given the title of “Omu” which allowed them to handle their own affairs as well as controlling market places.[19]


[1] cf. “The Voice of Truth : Complete Book Online,” accessed February 19, 2016, http://www.mkgandhi.org/voiceoftruth/woman.htm.

[2] Virginia Comolli, Boko Haram : Nigeria’s Islamic Insurgency (London: Hurst, 2 015).

[3] Toyin Falola, A History of Nigeria (Cambridge: Cambrdge UnivPress, 2008); Toyin Falola and Adam Paddock, The Women’s War of 1929 : A History of Anti-Colonial Resistance in Eastern Nigeria (Durham, NC: Carolina AcadPress, 2 011).

[4] cf. Toyin Falola, A History of Nigeria (Cambridge: Cambrdge UnivPress, 2008), 29-30.

[5] cf. Virginia Comolli, Boko Haram: Nigeria’s Islamic Insurgency (London: Hurst, 2 015), 13-15.

[6] cf. Comolli, Boko Haram, 17-18.

[7] cf. Falola, A History of Nigeria, 159-160.

[8] cf. Comolli, Boko Haram, 19.

[9] cf. Falola, A History of Nigeria, 205-206.

[10] cf. Comolli, Boko Haram, 46-49.

[11] cf. ibid., 51-52.

[12] cf. ibid., 53-57.

[13] cf. “Abducted Nigerian Schoolgirls: A Timeline,” AfricanDevJobs, July 21,2 014, http://africandevjobs.com/devstories/abducted-nigerian-schoolgirls-timeline- events/

[14] cf. Farouk Chothia BBC Africa, “Who Are Nigeria’s Boko Haram Islamists?,” BBC News, accessed February 19, 2 016, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa- 13809501

[15] cf. Benjamin Gudaku Atta Barkindo, “Our Bodies, Their Battle Ground Boko Haram and Gender Based Violence Against Christian Women and Children in North¬Eastern Nigeria Since 1999,” 2 013, 17-18, doi:10.13140/RG.2.1.3930.3847.

[16] cf. “Sexual Violence against Women in Conflict: An Extreme Manifestation of Violence and a Weapon of War,” ACUNS, accessed February 2, 2 016, http://acuns.org/sexual-violence-against-women-in-conflict-an-extreme- manifestation-of-violence-and-a-weapon-of-war/; Adam Nossiter, “Boko Haram Militants Raped Hundreds of Female Captives in Nigeria,” The New York Times, May 18, 2 015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/19/world/africa/boko-haram- militants-raped-hundreds-of-female-captives-in-nigeria.html.

[17] cf. Mariam Marwa Abdul et al., “ANALYSIS OF THE HISTORY, ORGANISATIONS AND CHALLENGES OF FEMINISM IN NIGERIA,” February 19, 2016, 6-7, http://www.nawey.net/wp-content/uploads/downloadsZ2012/05/Feminism-in- Nigeria.pdf

[18] cf. Falola and Paddock, The Women’s War of 1929, 2.

[19] cf. ibid., 219.

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Women's role in the Boko Haram Conflict
University of Dusseldorf "Heinrich Heine"
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Boko Haram, Frauen, Feminismus, Islam, Protest, Terror, #bringourgirlsback
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Oliver Blau (Author), 2016, Women's role in the Boko Haram Conflict, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/355683


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