Cohen also finds that rape leads to “peace fragility, primarily through the destruction of social trust,” suggesting that conflicts that rely on sexual violence arise from and contribute to the unraveling of the social fabric, even following the cessation of the fighting which further complicates the already tortuous process of post-conflict reconciliation.
While Cohen’s research is concentrated geographically, her findings can be applied more generally.
The United States bolstered Nigeria’s capacity to monitor the Sambisa Forest, where much of Boko Haram was located, and collect intelligence on the insurgency by providing drones and unmanned surveillance aircraft.
The attention that the group garnered following these abductions, which facilitated the spread of its propaganda domestically and internationally, may have emboldened the group to rely more heavily on female operatives.
However, Boko Haram depends on female operatives disproportionately, relative to similar insurgencies; for example, the Tamil Tigers used 46 women over the course of 10 years, whereas Boko Haram has deployed more than 90 women in a little over a year and a half.
Though Boko Haram is known to be the most significant source of violence in Nigeria since the transition to democracy in 1999, the group’s abuses against women have also earned it international notoriety.
Interestingly, some have suggested that economic incentives can motivate participation; in underdeveloped countries, economic growth “might be linked to women’s diminishing share of the labor market,” pushing them to join “terrorist groups out of desperation,” whereas in advanced economies, “women may be attracted to terrorist groups more by their ideological or religious determination,” rather than out of coercion or necessity.
While it is unclear what prompts women to join such groups (when they do so willingly), the value they add to the organizations is clear.
When the group abducted the Chibok Girls from their school in April 2014, impassioned advocates around the world promulgated the #Bring Back Our Girls movement and popularized the hashtag on social media, demanding that former President Goodluck Jonathan mount a serious effort to rescue the victims.
Not only did human rights advocates marshal support through NGOs and public awareness campaigns, but Nigeria’s international partners, including the United States, also provided supplementary military support.
This article is from the “Women, peace, and inclusive security” edition of PRISM—a top defense and security studies journal—which was co-produced by Inclusive Security and the National Defense University. In June 2014, a middle-aged woman riding a motorcycle approached the military barracks in the North Eastern Nigerian city of Gombe.
While being searched at the military checkpoint, she detonated the explosives strapped to her body, ending her life and killing a soldier in the process.
Further, Boko Haram’s use of female suicide bombers connects it to the broader global extremist movement, which is increasingly deploying female fighters and suicide bombers.