When she was only 14 years old, Aisha, a resident of Borno, a state in northeast Nigeria, was kidnapped by Boko Haram members and taken into the forest. She was beaten for trying to escape days into her capture and forcefully married off to one of the insurgents.
“He forced himself into me almost on a daily basis,” she recounted.
“A few weeks later, I started to feel nauseous. I had met an elderly woman who had become like a mother to me. She told me I was pregnant. She took delivery of my baby when I was due. There was no medical support. No food. She gave me only warm water.”
By the time her son was seven months old, Aisha attempted to escape a second time and succeeded. She reunited with her sister, who had also managed to escape from captivity. But her experience of repeated rape and sexual violence while in the terrorist cell still haunts her. She is starting to get better now that she is with friends and has more access to food. But, she says, whenever she closes her eyes, she gets flashbacks that renew her trauma.
Aisha is one of hundreds of women in Borno State who have been victims of sexual and gender-based violence and are receiving help from Milestone Rehabilitation Foundation. The non-profit is currently implementing a project to get survivors healed and reintegrated with support from the African Transitional Justice Legacy Fund (ATJLF).
“Through these projects, we are ushering in a process that will ultimately reactivate survivor agency, while contributing to rebuilding communities affected by conflicts and dictatorships in the continent, starting with West Africa,” said Makmid Kamara, Director of ATJLF.
The Legacy Fund is an Accra-based public charity that supports organisations in rebuilding communities affected by conflict and aiding transitional justice processes such as accountability, truth-seeking, and reconciliation.
Under the partnership, Milestone Rehabilitation Foundation is expected to provide a platform for displaced women and girls who have suffered sexual violence and exploitation as a result of the Boko Haram insurgency to share their experiences. The women, about 500 IDPs, will also receive psychosocial support to set them on a path to long-term recovery.
Ten displacement camps in Maiduguri, Borno state capital, were selected by the non-profit for this project: Bakassi Camp 1, Bakassi Camp 2, Bakassi Camp 3, Bakassi Camp 4, Dalori Camp 1, Dalori Camp 2, EYN Camp, Farm Centre Camp, NYSC Camp, and Teachers Village Camp.
To get the support of local authorities and stakeholders, the Foundation carried out advocacy visits to different groups, including the Federal Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital in Maiduguri, State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA), State Primary Health Care Development Agency, State Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development, Nigerian Army Corps, and various IDP camp officials.
The Federal Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital provided trainers who joined the Project Working Team by virtue of their vast experience in dealing with violence-related trauma.
Between November 30 and December 2, a training session was held for 20 volunteers to educate them on transitional justice, the dynamics of sexual violence in conflict areas, ethics and safety during field work, and the Survivor-Focused Intervention Approach.
The trained volunteers, in turn, carried out focus group discussions with 100 displaced girls and women, 10 from each of the selected camps. The discussions fostered understanding of what life is like for women at the camps, incidents of gender-based violence, as well as the availability and effectiveness of measures to address them.
“All the participants reported having experienced some form of Gender Based Violence prior to and during their stay in the IDP Camp,” Milestones noted.
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