|dc.description.abstract||Since 2009, the Nigerian state, has been under intense attack by an Islamic extremist group popularly known as Boko Haram. As a result of the insurgency, over two million persons have been internally displaced, 53% of whom are women. Previous studies on the insurgency have focused on the insurgents, and their abduction and use of women as sexual objects and suicide bombers, but none of those studies explored the perspectives of the women who were affected by the insurgency. In addition, women’s experiences with displacement have been neglected whether or not they were abducted by Boko Haram at any time during the conflict. Previous scholarly literature on women in conflict and displacement settings have given much attention to women’s experiences of sexual violence in conflict while neglecting other forms of suffering and hardship that women endure in such settings. This thesis utilizes a hermeneutic phenomenological approach located within the constructionist paradigm to explore the lived experiences of women who were displaced by Boko Haram insurgency. This approach allowed me to explore women’s perspectives of their experiences, both with Boko Haram and with displacement, and the historical, socio-cultural and structural factors that have underpinned those experiences and how they interpret them.
I used semi-structured interviews and focus group discussions to generate data with 52 women who had been internally displaced for an average of three years. The participants were recruited from camps and host communities in Jos and Abuja, Northcentral Nigeria. A critical thematic analysis of the participants’ accounts was done using relevant literature and theoretical concepts from both continental African women’s thinking and United States Black women’s thinking as interpretive tools. Foucault’s ideas on power were also used to make sense of some aspects of the data.
The study reveals that Boko Haram insurgency and displacement created an arena for different forms of gender-based violence against women and their families. It also shows that the participants in this study were exposed to serious situations of insecurity, suffering and struggle for survival. The women’s suffering was compounded by a weakened socio-political system in Nigeria, and lack of tangible support from the government. While their experiences are similar to those of other internally displaced women and refugees in other settings, their living conditions were no different from those of the poorest Nigerian citizens. In-depth analysis reveals that the women’s suffering in displacement was part of a cycle of violence arising from culturally informed gender inequality, poverty and social inequalities, as well as structural violence at different levels.
Rather than cast the internally displaced women as helpless and powerless victims, this study foregrounds the women’s strength and resilience, and projects them as the heroines of the Boko Haram insurgency. The study shows the women’s commitment and determined effort to ensure the survival of their male partners, their children and their communities. Survival for the women in this study demanded a process of continuous negotiation with both humans and supernatural beings. They drew on their knowledge of their indigenous cultures, which includes African traditional religious beliefs, their Christian and Islamic religions and their personal spirituality, to resist different forms of oppression while they pragmatically supported their men in their struggles. Their culture, religion and spirituality also provided a framework for interpreting their experiences of violence, including sexual violence, and gave them the impetus for selfless service towards their collective survival as internally displaced persons.
The findings of this study suggest that in the midst of all the suffering and struggle of internally displaced women in Nigeria, religion and religious leaders are very relevant as sources of support. Yet, their problems can only be effectively addressed if there is renewed political will to address widespread poverty, social inequities and gender inequality. This will involve creating an enabling environment with appropriate infrastructure to support economic growth and creating equal educational and economic opportunities for men and women. It will also involve efforts to promote cultural reorientation towards cultures that recognize, appreciate and encourage the contributions of both men and women in family, community and nation building.||