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Helping Chibok Girls Freed By Boko Haram Reintegrate Into Their Communities


Earlier this month in Nigeria, 21 of the Chibok schoolgirls got to see their families again. They're some of the young women who were kidnapped at their school by Boko Haram two and a half years ago. Boko Haram still holds almost 200 students, but the ones who've been released or who've escaped are still dealing with the trauma of being kidnapped and the stigma of going back home.

We talked about this with Kim Toogood from the NGO International Alert. She's worked with other cases of girls and women who've been abducted by Boko Haram. And she told us one reason these girls face stigma is because people associate them with the violence of Boko Haram.

KIMAIRIS TOOGOOD: If you think about it, many of these community members have also experienced extreme violence at the hands of Boko Haram. And in many cases that is where the stigma and discrimination against women and girls and children born of sexual violence is coming from.

MCEVERS: I mean, does this happen often? And is it - it sounds like it's just because people can still be scared, right?

TOOGOOD: Right, exactly. I mean, it's a natural reaction that you fled from extreme violence, in many cases witnessed your own loved ones being murdered in front of your very eyes. And you know that this individual, this woman or girl or child, has been associated with this arms group which has committed so much violence against you. And you're not quite sure if they have accepted the ideology. You're not sure if they've been co-opted, if they're really supportive of the ideology.

And so once they come home and they're standing next to you in the line for the food, there's a sense of fear that's inside you, whether you know that that person was taken without their choice or they went willingly, there's just a natural fear that kind of comes with the territory of living side by side with people you're not quite sure you can trust anymore.

MCEVERS: And what about women who return with babies, you know, that were conceived with men in the camp?

TOOGOOD: Yeah, it's hard I think for women and girls that return with children born of sexual violence with Boko Haram. They face an additional stigma. In our work, we have realized that many of these women and girls have found amazing capacity to love these children.

The challenge is that other community members have the kind of understanding that if a child shares a bloodline with an insurgent, they will grow up to be an insurgent. Actually, you know, violent extremism in their minds is generational, and so that child is actually the next generation of violence that will be committed against them.

MCEVERS: Should Nigeria be doing more to help these women and girls reintegrate into society?

TOOGOOD: I think the Nigerian government or authorities are dwarfed by the need that's actually on the ground. And so at this time, I would say yes, they have a lot of desire to be helping. They do do as much as is within their capable hands to be able to do. But you're talking about millions of people in displacement. You're talking about livelihoods and entire cycles of agriculture that have been wiped away over years of insurgency. There are just not enough resources (unintelligible) readily available to be able to address so many needs at a very concrete basic human needs level.

And then you add this element of psychosocial support and reintegration, and in many cases people do actually take these two pieces as two separate things, like rebuild schools now and then eventually everyone will go in the schoolhouse together. But we know that if people don't trust each other, they're not going to go in that school together.

So this support really does need to be infused in all of the reconstruction plans that are being done, whether it's by the Nigerian government or by international organization.

MCEVERS: Kim Toogood is the senior peacebuilding advisor for Nigeria at the NGO International Alert. Thank you very much.

TOOGOOD: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.