How Fatima Askira Is Rehabilitating And Bringing “Boko Haram Wives” Back To Their Families
Fatima Askira is the founder of Borno Women Development Initiative; an NGO for women and girls in northern Nigeria especially in Borno state.
Fatima started this initiative when she saw the sufferings women and children fleeing Boko Haram were going through as they arrived to camps with nothing more than the tattered clothes.
With no experience in dealing with victims of terrorism, the 26-year-old graduate of Botany decided to help by distributing donated cloths, food and toiletries to the displaced women.
Today, Fatima’s charity drive has grown to accommodate and reintegrate women who willingly joined or were forcibly recruited by Boko Haram.
In an interview with Women & Girls Hub, Fatima spoke about the challenges that arise when these women leave the extremist group and try to rejoin their old communities.
Below is an excerpt from the interview, you can read full interview on Women & Girls Hub
There are different kinds of women being rescued. The women who did not go into the bush but who were living under Boko Haram control because their villages were taken over by the group are the ones who can more easily reintegrate into the camps, because they were not really radicalized.
But some of the women have been wives to Boko Haram, and they were rescued by the Nigerian army and are now being kept in safe homes. Most of them were married to Boko Haram voluntarily and were not forced into it, because they married [the Boko Haram fighters] when they were still in our society. When their husbands were chased out of the communities, then the women followed them. Some of the women followed voluntarily, some were forced.
When I was speaking with one of the girls recently, I asked her what it was like to be living for so long with Boko Haram. I said, “Didn’t you feel like you wanted to come back to your family after all these years that you stayed with Boko Haram?” And she said, “Fatima, it’s not like I have a choice. He’s my husband and I married him because I love him and then this happened. And I thought of my parents for a while, and then I had to forget about them because life goes on.”
It’s not possible to integrate any of them quickly back into their families. They may be radicalized already, so they have to go through the de-radicalization process and learn countering narratives before we can integrate them back into their communities. And some of the parents say they won’t accept them immediately after they are rescued. You know how hard it is for them: Your daughter spent about four years with Boko Haram in a place like that, you don’t know who she is, you’ve forgotten what she looks like.
But from the other side, some of the women at the safe house don’t socialize, they don’t talk to you. It’s often easier for them to speak with each other because they are like a family now. Still, sometimes it’s possible to reach them. In one instance, we played them propaganda audio from an imam who split from Boko Haram earlier this year and then condemned the group for being too violent. He hadn’t left Boko Haram entirely, but there was some balance and sanity to what he said. They heard how violent it was and they heard from a person they trust that it is wrong.
They don’t even know the extent of the violence caused by their husbands, that’s the most amazing thing. When we played a video of a bomb blast and the destruction it caused to try to explain this to them, there was so much surprise on their faces. When they were with Boko Haram, they didn’t go out and they were kind of restricted in an area without access to news or information.