Should we ignore Nigerian love
When a child was once born in an African family, the neighbors flocked to celebrate with the parents. It is a fulfillment for the man to increase the tribe and ensure the continuity of his family. That brings him recognition. Women are celebrated for their fertility. This manifests the appreciation for the gift of life and the newborn child. During the celebrations, relatives ask about the child's gender. If it is a boy, it is celebrated that the tradition and the family name live on with him. If it is a girl, she is celebrated as the bearer of virtue as well as the source of life and bridge builder between different tribes. That was the mood that the birth of a child created, and we often danced in happy company. As children we believed and experienced that every birth was celebrated and that there was always plenty to eat and drink in the days after.
As we grew up, we found that for girls by the age of 13, initial joy gave way to subtle competition for men's interest. There are violent intrigues. A competition ensues for their gentleness, their diligence and their beauty. Anyone who succeeds in seizing the opportunity is celebrated by friends and relatives. As soon as the young woman is taken, however, the admiration for her subsides and the competition quickly subsides. Sometimes - and sadly for her - she then falls victim to aggressive male dominance, in which the woman is viewed not as a partner but as a worker, not as a companion, but as a possession.
Feminine virtue versus property
This irony - at the same time as the source of life and the object of possession instead of being celebrated as a subject - is still an integral part of reality. It doesn't get into your head why women have to endure this. The person who was just celebrated as a beacon of virtue and a bridge to other tribes, whose beauty was admired and whose admirers fought over the merits, suddenly becomes the property of the man, who is often exploited and has to serve the satisfaction of his needs . What's wrong? The fact that women are deprived of their dignity and that worship turns into a possessive attitude leaves much to be desired when it comes to dealing with women and girls in some Nigerian cultures, especially in the north. Not recognizing a woman as a "being" may not be the whole point. Rather, there is a »cultural mutation« that measures the value of women as »property«. There is an inability to maintain admiration for the virtues and position of a woman. Instead, admiration shrinks with increasing age and development - in contrast to their male counterparts. The socialization of men and women in the same community results in a different status for both. While the man gains appreciation and honor, the opposite is the case with the woman. Because what constitutes women is not emphasized and valued, they become a victim of their society and upbringing.
I grew up in northern Nigeria and today I work with victims of the Boko Haram conflict. This has given me a lot of experience, especially with regard to the position of women and children in society. The paradox can also be observed today: Despite a culture of admiration and appreciation for women and children, they become victims and displaced in their own homeland. What was once a quiet family environment has turned into a country where people live as internally displaced people. Northern Nigeria is now rapidly transforming into a huge refugee camp. Victims of the Boko Haram conflict, people who were driven from their homes by armed Fulani shepherds, victims of clashes within communities: all of these people are desperately looking for a place in empty schools to find shelter there. Among these war displaced persons, women and children are at the greatest risk. On their flight they become victims of this society again; sad, but unfortunately true: they are becoming a "commodity" that terrorist groups exchange for sex, food and other goods.
Our job is to support victims of trauma and abuse resulting from culturally determined abuse and the upheavals generated by conflicts. The abuse of women, especially girls, has taken on dramatic proportions as a result of the Boko Haram crisis, which has brought death and destruction to communities in northeastern Nigeria for the past ten years. The kidnapping of the Chibok girls on April 14, 2014 made headlines that shook the global community. It is so depressing to see young girls struggling for a future and brutally robbed of their dreams. Of these girls, only 106 have so far been rescued or escaped. The fate of the others is unclear. It is believed that many were married to terrorists as teenagers or died in combat operations. But there is still hope. The #Bring BackOurGirls campaign continues to support them. The group #FreeLeah Sharibu continues to fight tirelessly to save the only Christian girl who remained a prisoner of the ISWAP (Islamic State of West African Province) after the kidnapping and subsequent release of the Dapchi girls in February 2018.
The "danger" of female sexuality
Women and children are still disadvantaged by misconceptions, perceptions and cultural practices. In many places women are victims of violence and long patriarchal submission. Unfortunately, in some parts of northern Nigeria, women and girls are less important than men. One report describes the climate that prevails in this environment: »Female sexuality is generally perceived as a powerful and dangerous force, a ruthless threat to male spirituality and family honor. It is simply considered a dangerous trait in women that requires strict control. « This perception of femininity contributed to increasing fear and hostility towards women and girls. And it serves to justify their submission. It is postulated that women bring bad luck and failure. In order to banish this "curse" it is better to be relentless with them. These ideas create the breeding ground for the overt discrimination against women and their abuse, which manifests itself in domestic violence, physical violence, emotional abuse, or worse, hidden sexual abuse. In order to combat abuse and the trauma associated with it in this environment, it is not only necessary to combat terrorism, but also to deal seriously with culture.
In addition to this subtle cultural mentality and practice of humiliation, there is the rampant terrorism. The Boko Haram crisis in the northeast region, which has been going on for a decade, has further exacerbated the levels of mistreatment and abuse. There has been an increase in human trafficking, sexual violence and mistreatment of women and children since its inception. At its peak between 2014 and 2018, many people were killed, others forced to fight for the terrorists, many were kidnapped and used as sex slaves, others held hostage to extort ransom, and millions displaced within the country.
In the course of the displacement, many families were torn apart, children were lost and parents lost their livelihoods. Today, many children live on the streets of Maiduguri, begging for money for food and shelter. These children are at risk of human trafficking, neglect, domestic violence, sexual abuse and mistreatment. Of the ten million out of school children, 75 percent live in the north - most of them in Maiduguri.
The street children of Maiduguri
It is shocking how many street children there are in Maiduguri - and that this circumstance is accepted so indifferently. The sight of these children who are forced to live on the streets keeps tearing my heart apart. I pass hundreds of these children every morning on my way to work. Each of them carries a sign begging for food. The children approach moving cars to solicit alms and risk being run over. These children have either lost their parents as a result of the crisis or are living in camps for internally displaced persons. They suffer from neglect and various forms of abuse. Only a few of the passers-by have a heart and give them 20 naira (the equivalent of five cents). When the morning hours are over and a child has not received alms, they will try to wash plates, collect firewood or charcoal, or beg for something in the restaurants in the area. For the children it is a pure struggle for survival. They are denied the dignity of a decent home, parental care, and the right to an education. In view of this misery, does our society actually think about what the future should look like?
Children as family breadwinners
We are experiencing that many parents can no longer afford to send their children to school. Instead, they have to work in strange households to support their parents or to get food for the family. Many of the children are now the breadwinners of their families - a burden that a child often cannot bear. Sometimes the children are beaten or accused of theft in the houses where they work.
One of the challenges for our fellow citizens is therefore to work against domestic violence. Working among internally displaced people living in camps or host communities has opened our eyes to the horrors of abuse and mistreatment that many children and women endure. Having been deprived of a decent livelihood and of their home, they are mistreated, exploited and abused. We occasionally come across cases of teenage girls being thrown from their foster parents' home and accused of stealing money. In order to help them, we try to get them out of this toxic environment immediately and place them with distant relatives. Cases of forced marriages in which girls are married who are not yet 16 years old are also shocking.
As a diocese, we recently established a center for psychosocial care and trauma treatment. It works with the Justice, Development and Peace Commission (JDPC). We work locally with internally displaced people who live in camps and sometimes in host communities. There we offer various forms of psychological support for people in need of protection. There are many women and girls who have been victims of abuse. We accompany and support them - in a specialized and general form. We also create awareness for the containment of sexual violence. This is already having an impact and is helping to support the internally displaced persons and make their lives easier.
There are factors that encourage abuse of women and children. This includes, among other things, the persistent culture of silence that permeates our environment. Community neglect of victims is a factor in these abuses and violence against vulnerable members of our community. Another factor is the victimization and re-traumatization of the victims and their subsequent stigmatization. The victims remain silent - because they are threatened or ashamed to report the abuse. Sometimes the silence is also the result of abuse-related traumatisation. There is also silence on the part of the community, which sometimes knows about the abuses, but often ignores the victims' calls for help because the existing laws are only weakly enforced. We have often experienced situations in which the parents knew about the abuse but were afraid to confront the perpetrator. The negligence of his actions then enabled the perpetrator to commit further abuses with impunity.
Community ignorance often manifests itself in a lack of care. Children are left to their own devices. The conflicts between Boko Haram and the Fulani pastoral people have weakened the feeling of social cohesion and trust in the police. People struggle to survive on a daily basis. And for the victims, survival of the fittest is bitter everyday life. Disastrous housing and overcrowded camps have exacerbated the problem of child and woman abuse. Because internally displaced persons are left to their fate or are only given food and are housed more poorly than right, their protection needs are often neglected. A few non-governmental organizations providing mental and psychosocial support in this area are helping to ease the situation a little. Thanks to her help, some victims are receiving much-needed care.
Victimization and re-traumatization of victims is also a difficult problem to deal with. This boko haram crisis is the first in which so many people have been displaced. And more than 1.3 of the 2.6 million internally displaced people in Nigeria live in Borno state. The fact that food is scarce in the host communities themselves makes the situation unbearable. There is a lack of space and resources to survive; families often leave their wards to their fate or women live in the overcrowded shelters of their relatives. Displaced persons are often badly treated in the host communities. It is a bitter reality that sex is being traded for food and shelter. The victims of displacement experience another form of trauma and violence - this time from "benevolent predators" who pretend they are providing help but in return sexually exploiting the victims. Closely associated with this renewed victimization and trauma is the stigma of being known as a victim. Many are afraid of being denounced, ridiculed or driven into feelings of shame. Therefore they are silent and remain silent in their immeasurable suffering. This suffering often manifests itself in flashbacks, strange sexualized behaviors, violent outbursts, and problems maintaining interpersonal relationships.
Church as a place of healing
This makes working with victims and other people difficult. The information and awareness-raising that we carry out in the churches and camps give some people the courage to turn to us and seek help. Many look for an explanation for their problems, others take courage and speak out. To us, working in this environment means immersing ourselves in the daily struggles of our compatriots. It is equally important to listen to their story. This creates trust and opens up space for healing. If you know the pain and frustration of those affected, you also understand their longing for change. People want to return to normal and claim their right to integrity. When we meet people whose vulnerability is being exploited, we offer them places where they can live safely. Often times this includes changing schools in Maiduguri, connecting with relatives or even a foster family specifically to protect them from sexual violence.
Serve with love
Our offers of help are shaped by Christian values. It is true that we provide humanitarian services in the form of psychosocial support. As a church, however, we are a people of faith. Our faith and love for the holistic development of man are rooted in Christian anthropology and the teachings of Christ. We're not just trying to alleviate people's suffering. Rather, we serve with love. We help people to develop their potential. A holistic approach to dealing with the victims means helping them to rediscover the dignity that God has given them. We try to make them understand that it is not the humiliating situation that defines them. Your daily struggle is a struggle against evil. Living a good life therefore means living the fullness of being in the image of God.
We accompany them with a lot of passion in their search for solutions and for peace. Accompanying them does not mean taking the initiative for them. In such situations it is often wrongly believed that the victims are helpless and unable to find a solution to their problems themselves. But on the contrary! Over the years I have found that these people have viable concepts and good solutions. What is often missing is the environment that helps create this resilience.And that's exactly where the people need our support! We are very happy when we see the many women and children who, despite the adverse circumstances, fight to improve their situation. For us, this is both a mission and a calling.
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