Nigeria: The Plight Of Plateau Rural Woman As Attacks Rage On

Plateau Map

Map of Plateau State in North Central Nigeria


By Martha Agas, NAN

Mrs. Vou Dido, a 90-year-old grandmother from Gidan Akwati village in Barkin Ladi Local Government Area of Plateau, has formed a habit of talking to herself since she was taken to the camp sheltering displaced victims of the recent attacks that destroyed her village.

The attacks claimed the lives of her two granddaughters who had fled to a neighbour’s house when they heard persistent sounds of gunshots.

She had refused to leave the house, and did not even hide under the beds as others did. She just sat there, waiting for the worst.

As it turned out, no harm befell her. But the girls, who had fled, were burnt to death when the attackers set the neighbour’s house on fire.

“Life has no meaning to me. The children were left in my care when they lost their parents in an attack last year. They were all that I had. We were living as friends and sisters. Now they are gone.

“The children were my joy. I was very fond of them. I really cannot understand what is happening.’’

According to her colleagues at the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camp, Dido has not eaten much since she was brought to the camp.

They say that the nonagenarian spends most of the time staring into blank space and would, occasionally, shout, giggle or talk to no one in particular, as she struggles to come to terms with the reality.

Mrs. Martha Dauda, another displaced woman from Ganorop village, also in Barkin Ladi, appears to share similar fate with Dido. Except that Martha seems to understand her situation.

Martha, 42, says that she gave birth to 11 children, lost six at birth, while three have been killed by invading gunmen.

“The recent attack claimed my husband’s life and condemned me to total helplessness,’’ a sobbing Martha told newsmen.

“The attackers strangled him in my presence. He was one of the biggest farmers in our community and had often used proceeds from the farm business to sponsor his children and those of his relatives.’’

The woman says she is confused over where to start from. Aside the psychological trauma, she is at a loss as to where to acquire land for farming because her husband usually relied on the family land which would now be taken over by his brothers.  .

The situation of the two women only typifies the plight of women in the rural areas of Plateau that have suffered lots of attacks by unknown gunmen over the past few years.

Investigation has revealed that women have remained the worst victims of the violence as they are usually left to cater for their households after the deaths of their husbands.

The investigation further revealed that while it is possible and easy for men to disappear from their houses, the women, being wives and mothers, have always remained with the children no matter the situation.

Further checks have indeed shown that women hardly recover from the ordeals of these incidences, especially when they have to relocate to other communities as widows and start life all over again

A recent report by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), indicated that the women, after losing their husbands, shoulder the responsibilities of supporting their families, caring for the injured, orphaned and the elderly

“They are also faced with the risk of grave human rights violations and sexual and gender-based violence. They may also face lots of discrimination,’’ the report said.

According to the BBC report, sexual abuse, child marriage, prostitution and trafficking are linked to areas of violence and disasters, with young girls at the highest risk in such situations.

“Sexual and gender violence is also recorded the most after disasters in communities, with women in IDPs camps becoming very vulnerable,’’ it said. 

A Don, Oluwafunmilayo Para-Mallam, a Professor of Gender and Development Studies at the National Institute of Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS), Kuru in Jos, says that women suffer most during communal attacks because of their social position in the society.

“This situation is called structural violence because she is incapacitated by the system. She is forced into adopting survival tactics. We call sexual violence in IDPs batter sex.

“The hardship faced by victims of this sexual violence is called re-victimisation because the women are already victimised and thrown into the IDPs camps, only to experience another round of victimisation in the camps.

Women are victims of direct and indirect violence; they get sexually assaulted and exploited. Very often, they become sexual slaves in their quest for survival even at their `assumed refuge shelters’ which are the IDPs camps.

“We have conducted a study and found out that women are assaulted in communities hit by attacks, with widows forced to marry a family member of their late husbands or have sexual relations with their in-laws so as to be catered for, by the family.

“Batter sex is very prevalent in IDPs camps where women are coerced, through intimidation or starvation, to have sexual relations with camp officials just for meals,’’ she explained.

The Professor regretted the “pitiable’’ plight of women in crises-ridden areas, saying that they were often left to fend for their children, family members, care for the sick and elderly, with no support system.

She, however, blamed the situation on poor education and the lack of capacity, such as assets and cash, to take up such obligations.

“Sometimes, desperate mothers take their female children to brothels to sell their bodies for financial gratification in a bid to fight poverty. Very often, this becomes the dark and sad option when benefactors are killed, properties destroyed and survivors displaced.

“Women’s experience during armed conflict is multi-faceted; aside the physical separation from their homes, loss of relatives, physical and economic insecurity, there is also the exposure to health challenges like cholera, diarrhoea, vaginal infections, forced labour for the pregnant women, and even death,’’ she said.

Recent developments at some of the IDPs camps in Plateau, indeed confirm Para-Malam’s claims.

At the Riyom IDPs camp, for instance, nine children were recently delivered, but four died for lack of prompt medical attention, while those that survived were found to suffer respiratory tract infections.

According to a female social worker, who refused to disclose her name, emotional pains of the women were hardly noticed as the IDPs were always locked in the unending battles for food rations and medical supplies.

“Even when the National Association of Social Workers visited some of these camps, the women there were more interested in getting food items instead of `long talks’ with counsellors.

“The result is accumulated psychological trauma, which may eventually lead to their breakdown,’’ she said.

The social worker, who disclosed that Plateau recorded 430 cases of Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWGs), in 2016, expressed fear that the figure could quadruple with the rising spate of attacks on rural communities.

But, as the Plateau rural woman battles with her plight in the IDPs camp, analysts have noted that her situation is shared by all women in other crisis-ridden areas.

They particularly note the case of the Chibok girls that were abducted in 2014, and the Dapchi girls that were also abducted early this year, and say that the incidences were examples of the rising vulnerability of young girls.

They also note that such girls, after being released, struggle to re-integrate into the societies because they had been used as sex slaves, carriers of weapons and brainwashed with ideologies which they may never let go.

UN reports indicate that since 2014, at least 2,000 women and girls have been abducted by Boko Haram insurgents in north-eastern Nigeria, with many of them forced into sexual slavery.

The report also indicated that the persistent attacks by insurgents have huge economic, social and political implications for the Nigerian women.

The world body noted further: “the abducted women and girls are used as sex slaves and as political negotiating baits to satisfy the needs of their abductors’’.

“The mental stress, trauma, disruption of social life, health challenges and deepened margin of poverty keeps putting the woman at a great disadvantage in her development in the aftermath of attacks,’’ the report said.

But, in spite of the bleak situation, organisations like the International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA), the UN Women and other faith-based groups are optimistic that the protection of the rights of Plateau women would be more realisable with the gazetting of the Gender Equal Opportunity (GEO) law by the state government earlier in June this year.

The provisions of the law encompass penalties for infringement on the rights of women and children.

To make the law serve its purpose, Mrs. Mary Izam, FIDA chairperson in Plateau, has urged the state government to strengthen its agencies so as to ensure compliance with its provisions.

Analysts say that gazetting the law is indeed timely in view of the injustices the Plateau woman has suffered over the years, and urged stringent measures to protect this vulnerable specie from societal injustices that had remained her lot over the years.

They also urged those concerned to sincerely address issues responsible for the violence on the Plateau so as to restore permanent peace to the hitherto peaceful north-central state.

Martha Agas, is a Reporter with News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Jos, Plateau State

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