“I feel it is a healing center” - Giving Women a Safe Haven from Conflict and Displacement in Northeast Nigeria
Eight years of violence by militant groups in Nigeria has sparked the largest humanitarian crisis in Africa, displacing millions and leaving women and girls at-risk of violent attack.
The humanitarian community estimates more than two million survivors of gender-based violence in Nigeria require specialized services. On top of this, the militant group Boko Haram has repeatedly abducted women and girls, while often using the youngest and most vulnerable to execute suicide bombings.
With USAID/OFDA support, International Medical Corps is working to prevent and respond to cases of gender-based violence in Borno, Nigeria’s most conflict-affected state. At the heart of this program are safe havens known as women-friendly spaces, where women come together to socialize, make handicrafts to support their families, and quietly seek services for gender-based violence as needed.
USAID/OFDA funds a women-friendly space in Shehurinorth, a neighborhood in the Borno State capital Maiduguri, where a high number of displaced families have sought refuge from Boko Haram. On average, fifty women visit the center each day.
The center is supported by a team of community outreach volunteers, who raise awareness in their communities about what gender-based violence is and encourage women and girls to visit their local women-friendly space.
“When the outreach volunteer visited me, I was so eager to come because I could find help,” said one woman.
At the center, women socialize as they work on handicrafts that they sell in the local market. This includes traditional embroidered Nigeria caps, pictured above, as well as knitted home decorations, fans, and beaded handbags and jewelry.
“The center has impacted my life so much,” said a mother of six. “I used the money [I made] to buy more material to make more hats and I am now able to send my children to school.”
The livelihoods activities are important because they not only provide a therapeutic activity women can do together, but also help them gain some financial independence. Many of the women report that their husbands often withhold financial assets as a way to exert control.
The women use the money from the goods they make to buy food, toiletries, and send their children to school.
The women-friendly space also offers case management services for survivors of gender-based violence. This includes referrals to medical care, legal and security protection, and psychosocial support.
Women bring their children to the center, creating a warm, family-friendly environment that offers them a strong support network.
“I feel it is a healing center,” said one. “When I am here, I forget my problems at home and don’t think about my trauma.”
With Boko Haram still in control of many of the homes they fled, the women in Shehurinorth face an uncertain future. For them, the center is a welcome constant and source of community, even in the chaos of conflict.
Story and photos by Crystal Wells, International Medical Corps