Female Boko Haram Survivors Tell Stories of Stigmatization, Resilience and Hope

Having lost almost everything, including their sons and spouses, the women narrate harrowing tales of attacks by the terrorists, and how they were able to find safety in safer environments, like Mora in Cameroon’s Far North Region.

But even here, they are stigmatized as wives or apologists of the terrorists from whom they escaped in the first place.

Under the sweltering heat of Mora, a border locality in Cameroon’s Far North region, HADJA BINTOU crushes stones. It is hard, exhausting work. But she hasn’t got a choice.

“I am struggling for the future of my children”, she tells Timescape Magazine, wiping off the sweat that trickles down her brow.

“I go up the hill, I collect stones, I bring them down to the valley and I crush them. It’s hard work, but I have to do this to provide for my children…I want to live the life I led before, to eat three times a day and enable my children go to school.”

Those good old days were when Bintou lived happily with her family in Amchide, a border locality with Nigeria. Then one day in 2014, the terrorist group Boko Haram struck. It changed everything.

“We witnessed terrible scenes,” she says, her eyes looking vacantly into the distance in efforts to recollect that horrible scene.

“Before our very eyes, they killed our brothers and sisters. They kidnapped our daughters and sons. Girls as young as 13 or 14 years were taken to become wives to Boko Haram insurgents, and the boys were forcefully recruited into the group. Our husbands were killed, leaving us with the little children to look after.”

Bintou who now must take care of seven children, is not alone. Mme. Yessa who fled the border locality of Limani says the terrorists struck on a Sunday night, taking her co-wives and herself to their camp. Their husband escaped, but she doesn’t know whether he is still alive. He has never been seen ever since.

 “They gave us one week to produce our husband or we would be beheaded. When I escaped from the camp on November 30, 2014, I went straight to my mother’s village, but that night, they attacked there too. They slaughtered two people. My mother was killed.”

Today, Yessa like other Boko Haram survivors face new challenges in their host communities. In Mora where she now lives, she is frequently seen as an accomplice to Boko Haram.

“When we got to Mora, our friends abandoned us. All trust was gone. People ran away from us thinking that we could be carrying explosives, or that we could bring out a knife. People tell their kids not to play with our children for the same reasons. When you get to the water point to fetch water, you wait until every other person is through, even if you were the first to get there. We are being stigmatized.”

 

Wise Nzikie Ngasa, Country Director for Equal Access

 

In all of this suffering, the women have developed a sense of resilience. It is that inner strength that they showcased in Mora, in an event organized by Equal Access, the International Nongovernmental organization that uses communication for social change.

“These women are showing a lot of resilience, and today is a day to shine a light on the strength of a woman, to show the resilience of these women in very difficult circumstances, and to be inspired by their stories, and that together, we can continue to promote peace across Cameroon,” Wise Ngasa, the Country Director for Equal Access told Timescape Magazine.

Boko Haram that started its murderous campaign in Nigeria in 2009 had since exported its terrorist activities to neighboring Cameroon, Chad, and Niger.