In northeast Nigeria, sexual violence has been used on a mass scale during the ongoing insurgency. Women and girls have been abducted by fighters belonging to Boko Haram, forcibly married to their captors and in many cases have become pregnant as a result of rape. Women and girls who have escaped or have been released face marginalisation, discrimination and rejection by family and community members due to stigma, as well as fears that they may have been radicalised in captivity and are a danger to the community. Children who have been born of sexual violence are at even greater risk of rejection, abandonment and violence. Victims displaced in IDP camps in Nigeria’s northeast face a humanitarian crisis, with shortages of food, medical care and economic opportunity. Sexual exploitation within the camps is an ongoing danger, taking advantage of impunity and a context in which women are destitute and easy targets for sexual exploitation. In most cases, women and girls do not report sexual violence and do not trust formal authorities.
Sexual violence is the most underreported violent crime in Nigeria due to religious and social factors.
The Building Survivor Network draws its members from Borno, Adamawa, and Yobe, the three states most affected by the Boko Haram conflict. These survivors agree that their voices are systematically silenced. Many live in host communities or refugee camps, with little or no external support. Their movement is often restricted, affecting their ability to make an income, stigmatisation and isolation is widespread, and many survivors have been rejected by their families.
With the support of a local NGO, Grassroots Researchers Association, the Building Survivor Network provides these girls and women with the opportunity to listen to one another and speak about their experiences in a supportive space. Its focus is to build solidarity among survivors of sexual violence in Nigeria, to empower them to change their lives, and to listen to survivors’ voices for awareness and policy change. Although this network is newly formed, it has already taken essential steps to create a solid base for future work, building trust, solidarity and personal agency amongst the network’s leaders, and developing their skills and plans to undertake advocacy.