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Dapchi 110: Gender inequality and the challenge of GBV

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LET us state this clearly from the outset:  nothing justifies terrorism. No cause and no resentment could rationalise terrorism or any of its manifestations. Nothing can ever excuse the indiscriminate and heterogeneous targeting of people, the wanton destruction of lives and livelihoods, and the creation of panic and anxiety amongst people for its own sake. However, the events of the past few weeks — the horrendous adoption of about 110 Dapchi girls from their place of learning in Yobe State, an incident that occurred four years after the abduction of over 200 Chibok girls in Borno State and the various responses to it by governments and the entire society — challenge one to think again about what it really means to be a female in this part of the world where the advance of terrorism has been coupled with nefarious attacks on women and girls and their rights.

It is also true that irrespective of the interplay of religion and the dogma of the sects responsible for the spate of terrorism and violence, one thing that seems a common element of their agenda is the suppression and subjugation of women and girls. It seems that they have overtime made it a building block in their dockets to place limits on women and girls’ access to education and other social amenities, disrupting and interrupting their life’s rhythm, and restricting their autonomy and enforcing the restrictions through terrifying violence. And they don’t simply do this by abducting and assaulting women and girls—they also recruit, employ, and extort them, exploiting existing inequalities and biased norms against women and girls in the society,  to advance extremist causes. At worst, these girls are forced to convert to another religion, repeatedly raped and forcibly married to sect members offering them the chance to father a new cadre of militants while some others are compelled to be suicide bombers or sold into s3xual slavery to finance terrorist causes as we garnered from the hellish narrations of survivals and escapees from their callous nest.

‘Gender discrimination is the harsh reality of many women’s lives’

Simply put, women and girls continue to be most vulnerable to s3xual and gender-based violence (GBV) in a society enshrined in gender stereotypes and inequality— a society that perceives and treats women as being weak, dependent and exploitable. Paradoxically, even the islamist extremist groups are aware of this notorious reality, hence their penchant for taking advantage of the accompanying vulnerability and oppression. Otherwise, how would one explain the fact that, out of the ample number of schools with boys and girls, the terrorists are always eager, and continually so,  to prey on and attack only or mostly the girls? And, pray, what does this tell us as a nation? Evidently that the women and the girls constitute the weakest and most vulnerable link in our society because of the way we have always treated them with disdain and oppression.

Yet, it has to be stated that it would be a mistake to assume that military operations alone will eradicate the gender-based terrorism the country is experiencing because, despite the brutal and well-known crimes committed against women by the Islamic State, teenage girls are reportedly continuing to run away from their homes to join it. Instead of concentrating only on military reaction, therefore, achieving gender equality through empowering women and girls should be one of the ways to deal with the abduction and recruitment of women and girls by violent extremist groups. Overwhelming evidence from around the world shows that women’s empowerment is a powerful force for economic growth, social and political stability, and sustainable peace. Perhaps, it is time, as such, for our government to act on this insight. Investing in women and girls through education and training, supporting them as agents in determining the course of their own lives, and tackling biased norms in the society can help change the views that foster unhealthy practices against women and girls, as it is no coincidence that in societies and communities where gender equality indicators are higher, women are less vulnerable to the impact of violent extremism.

Furthermore, whilst a large number of women and girls kidnapped by and  into extremist groups have no choice in the matter at all as they are often young and taken at gunpoint, a prior and dedicated attempt at securing their physical safety by the appropriate authorities could and would reduce their vulnerability to this continuous process of abduction and recruitment. It is no longer news that women living in regions torn by Boko Haram insurgency face daily threats to their security, including harassment and rape. Which is why It is mind-boggling to read about the withdrawal of the armed special forces sent to secure the high- risk areas of Yobe State prior to the abduction of the Dapchi girls: an issue that has triggered a shameful back and forth argument between the Yobe State government and the military over the lapses on the part of the security forces.

We could be sure that this tragic abduction of the girls would become  a rationale for other parents to simply withdraw their girls from school or not send them at all due to the perceived and glaring inability of the government to protect them and instead, marry them off to any available suitor—[as it seems a better option than forcibly marrying a fighter in an unknown forest]— further contributing to the already high level of illiteracy and girl-child marriage and abuse in the country. In addition, the opportunity to build an idealized world today attracts many young women who feel marginalised. Research has it that young women have for centuries joined armed groups as a means of challenging oppressive, biased norms that restrict women from taking full participation in the public and private spheres in their communities, with the illusional hope of building new societies that promise them lives of meaning, value, and dignity.

  • Yakubu is of the Department of Mass Communication, Kogi State University, Anyigba.





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