The kidnapping by Boko Haram of over 200 school girls in Northern Nigeria is an act of gender based violence for which not only Boko Haram is responsible, but also the Nigerian government. Indeed the militant group has carried out atrocities against boys and men that are equally deplorable, however, in this instance it is not by chance that Boko Haram kidnapped girls. They were targeted because they are girls.
The leader of Boko Haram said in a video shortly after the kidnapping that he would sell the girls in the market. His statement is reflective of an exceptional disdain for girls, which did not exist in isolation, but within a patriarchal society where harmful stereotypes perpetuate girls’ inferiority and enable violence against women to be an accepted norm. Amnesty International has reported that up to two thirds of Nigerian women may have experienced violence in the home by an intimate partner. While domestic violence differs in nature from the kidnapping of over 200 school girls, the common thread is the context within which the acts occur; in a society which does not accord women equal value and provides the structural conditions whereby a girl or woman can be abused in the home or kidnapped and threatened to be sold in the market.
Since 2009, most parts of northern Nigeria, particularly the north-east zone, have been enveloped in a climate of fear and insecurity. This is largely due to the activities of the group Jamā’atu Ahlis Sunnah Lādda’awatih wal-Jihad (People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad), popularly known as “Boko Haram”. What began as a religious movement in 2002 has since grown into a full blown insurgence. The extra-judicial killing of its founder, Yusuf Mohammed, by the police in 2009, perhaps, served as a critical factor. The perennial failure of governance, porous borders with volatile neighbouring countries, high levels of illiteracy, poverty and unemployment, and more recently, the hard-handedness of the government’s military response, have also made mobilisation of support and radicalization a lot easier for the group.
The protracted security crisis has now led to a human rights and humanitarian crisis in those parts. Government interventions, for a long time, proved inadequate and failed to contain the crisis. Instead, several human rights violations were reported from the activities of both the government’s military Joint Task Force and Boko Haram. According to Amnesty International, people living in that part of the country are precariously trapped in a vicious cycle of violence. Lives and limbs have been lost, properties destroyed and people displaced. There is no consensus about the exact casualty figures. Nonetheless, there is no argument that it is well in the thousands now.