Lake Chad Basin: integrating gender dimensions to fight terrorism

This activity was funded by Japan

Women and men can be vulnerable to transnational crime and terrorism in different ways. The measures governments adopt against crime, terrorism and violent extremism response equally have a different impact on men and women. According to UN Women, "the great changes we are undergoing must primarily be understood in the context of the needs and concerns of women in specific situations of conflict. Women's participation is key to sustainable peace."

In early 2017, the United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution condemning the actions of terrorist groups in the Lake Chad basin region, including "early and forced marriage, rape, sexual slavery, and other gender-based violence". At the same time, beyond household chores and being sexually exploited, women play numerous active roles within Boko Haram, including as messengers, spies, smugglers, recruiters, providers of funds and other support. 

In line with the United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy (UNGCTS), UNODC and the Office of the High Commission for Human Rights (OHCHR) organized a sub-regional workshop on Gender Dimensions of Criminal Justice Responses to Terrorism in Yaoundé, Cameroon, on 19-21 July 2017.

The objective of such a workshop is twofold. First, it aims at assisting States in strengthening the effectiveness of the criminal justice response to terrorism by integrating a gender perspective, and second, to ensure that women's rights are respected in the context of growing terrorism threats in the Lake Chad region.

During this three-day training, 29 representatives (including 12 women) of the various institutions of the criminal justice chain, of ministries of social affairs and of civil society organizations of the four countries of the region, namely Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria, as well as from African Union institutions, participated to presentations and debates, exchanging on their respective national experiences through working groups.

Participants of the Yaounde training workshop 

"Boko Haram has been very effective at using existing patriarchal structures and gender roles to its advantage. It is high time that governments catch up and understand how a gender perspective can assist their fight against terrorism", said one of the participants, a women's rights activist from Niger.

The workshop sought to equip participants with a deeper understanding of how men and women may experience counter-terrorism laws and practices differently. As Commissioner Lucy Asuagbor, the Special Rapporteur on Women's Rights in Africa of the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights reminded participants in her closing remarks, "Gender integration also means taking into account women's specificities in deciding for or against detention and on conditions of detention; as well as when deciding which programmes, whether de-radicalization or disengagement programmes, to direct women associated with or victims of Boko Haram to."

Ms. Hadiza Abba presenting during the workshop

The workshop participants and UNODC experts also discussed the challenges of investigating and prosecution sexual violence committed by terrorism groups.

"Terrorism investigations have to be conducted in a gender sensitive manner. Investigating sexual violence by terrorist groups requires expertise on interviewing women and girl victims, and on measures to protect them, which may be lacking in investigation teams specialized on counter-terrorism", explained Ms Hadiza Abba, a lawyer in UNODC's Country Office for Nigeria. She also drew participants' attention to the need to look beyond counter-terrorism legislation to laws against trafficking in persons and violence against women, and to war crimes when handling cases of sexual and gender based violence by Boko Haram. 

In the words of Commissioner Asuagbor, "Gender integration means asking always the questions: what were women's experiences of terrorism and women's experience of the counter-terrorism responses? It means asking the women concerned what justice and remedies mean to them; it means designing programmes, whether reparation or rehabilitation programmes, which are founded on this analysis and women's voices".

UNODC Terrorism Prevention Branch's (TPB) mandate in Central Africa is to strengthen legislative and policy frameworks, enhance knowledge and skills to investigate and prosecute cases, as well as mechanisms for regional and international cooperation. In the region and in the Sahel in particular, terrorism continues to pose a major threat to peace and security in the region.

This workshop, supported by a generous contribution from Japan, was part of the overall UNODC capacity building support initiatives for Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria, and aligns with previous UNODC training sessions related to gender equality among law enforcement and justice authorities in the region. It therefore affirms UNODC's willingness to strengthen its efforts towards gender mainstreaming into its substantive work in West and Central Africa. 

For more information:

UNODC and Terrorism Prevention in West and Central Africa

UNODC Training Module on Human Rights and Criminal Justice Responses to Terrorism

United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy

UNODC Sahel Programme

United Nations Office of the High Commission for Human Rights