Women in Boko Haram not just cooking and cleaning —Research

Female members of Boko Haram are almost as likely as men to be deployed as fighters in Northeast Nigeria, challenging a widespread perception that these women are mainly used as cooks, sex slaves and suicide bombers.

This was contained in the report of a joint research by Finn Church Aid, The International Dialogue Centre (KAICIID), The Network of Religious and Traditional Peacemakers and the Citizen Research Centre released on Tuesday, in Dakar.

The report, according to The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), noted that while men in the Islamist group dominate in leadership and training roles, women may outnumber them in other senior roles, such as recruiters and intelligence operatives.

The report, based on interviews with 119 former Boko Haram members, found that four in 10 female respondents said they served as soldiers, compared with 45 per cent of men, while both sexes carried out domestic tasks like cooking and cleaning.

Mahdi Abdile, Director of Research at Finn Church Aid and co-author of the study, said that recruiters are adapting to the tightening security environment.

He added that women and girls are increasingly being targeted for recruitment.

“The intelligence community is on the lookout for young men, so it is easier for women to navigate past security barriers and penetrate communities.”

Boko Haram has killed about 15,000 people and displaced more than 2 million in Nigeria, in a seven-year insurgency to carve out an Islamist caliphate, and it still launches attacks despite having been driven out of much of the territory it held in 2014.

The Islamists have stepped up suicide bombings carried out by children in recent years, many of them carried out by girls, according to the UN children’s agency (UNICEF).

Vincent Foucher, of the International Crisis Group (ICG), said that while there has been a global focus on the female suicide bombers, women in Boko Haram have long been involved in planning logistics, planting mines and bombs, and fighting as soldiers.