UN Women Country Representative Dr. Grace Ongile having an interactive session with women at a camp for internally displaced persons in Adamawa State, Nigeria. Photo: UN Women/Ikechukwu Attah.
Preventing and responding to terror
Capture and repeated rape by Boko Haram terrorists left 17-year-old Zeingo (not her real name) pregnant with a child she never wanted to carry. She survived and fled her tormentors, but the trauma of the tortuous ordeal cuts deep. Until her mother brought her to a UN Women social cohesion centre in a camp for displaced people in the Diffa region of Niger, she could not eat or sleep, or interact with other people because of shame over her pregnancy. Through the centre’s expert health care and psychosocial support, she is slowly beginning the long road to recovery. Zeingo’s steps forward are small but important. Short conversations with other women at the centre. Enrolment in a skills development programme to keep a focus on the future. Horror is gradually ceding to hope.
The terror of the extremist Boko Haram sect began in Nigeria, but has spread across the Lake Chad Basin. The Diffa region of Niger now shelters more than 300,000 people driven from their homes by looting, massacres, abduction and rape. Social cohesion centres established by UN Women are a lifeline for 3,700 women and young people, like Zeingo, who need a broad set of services in the aftermath of their ordeal. Other assistance has helped improve health services and policing capacities across the region to meet the specific needs of survivors.
The arc of violent extremism is increasingly long, stretching from the Sahel region in Africa, through North Africa and the Arab States, and into some Asian countries. The programme in Niger is just one part of UN Women’s expanding efforts to draw global attention to gender as an essential dimension of preventing and responding to extremist violence.
Building on over 15 years of experience in successfully leading the drive to put women at the centre of peace and security concerns, a global programme active in 27 countries is developing cutting-edge evidence defining the impacts of terrorism on women, which include a wide range of sexual and gender-based crimes, as well as less visible elements such as recruitment strategies aimed at them. Other efforts promote the integration of gender in counter-terrorism policy and support women as leaders of prevention efforts, including through the identification of and response to early warning signs.