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Back to life - A safe haven for women and girls in Nigeria

Note: This article is about sexualised violence and suicidal thoughts.

The 21-year-old Hadiza (name changed) knows little else in her life than a life on the run. She is born in the northeastern part of Nigeria, a region that has been plagued by various militant groups for around ten years. As a child, Hadiza has to flee with her parents and finds refuge in a refugee camp in Pulka, near the border with Cameroon. At the age of 15, while collecting firewood for her family, she is abducted by a terrorist group, held captive, and raped. She lives in the terrorists' captivity for four long years until she is rescued by the Nigerian military. For four long years, she is subjected to these abuses. When she returns to her family, she has an 18-month-old child and is severely traumatized.

However, the camp in Pulka offers her only apparent safety. She is raped again, and as a result, her father disowns her. "I had suicidal thoughts multiple times and even considered returning to the terrorist group because life seemed meaningless to me. A relative advised me to go to Malteser International, where I found my salvation," Hadiza says today.

Violence is also experienced by 33-year-old Fatuma (name changed) after she flees with her husband and five children from the terrorist groups. In front of her family, she is raped by members of a militant group. Subsequently, her husband insults her and disowns her.

Life on the run is dangerous for women

More than 110 million people worldwide are displaced, with half of them being women and girls. They are exposed to particular dangers, such as sexual violence. Women in this context often have limited access to fundamental rights such as safety, food, health, shelter, nationality, and education. Even everyday activities like fetching water or using the toilet can expose displaced women and girls to the risk of abuse.

To support women and girls in refugee camps in Nigeria, we opened several centers in 2021 to provide a safe haven for women like Hadiza and Fatuma. Here, survivors of violence receive psychosocial support.

"One of the most effective initiatives of Malteser International was the establishment of a safe space for women like me," says Fatuma. "The safe space offers refuge from violence and a platform for sharing where we can express our concerns without fear of judgment or retaliation. Here, we receive counseling and psychosocial care." In addition, the staff often mediate between survivors of violence and their families. Thanks to the intervention of Malteser International, Fatuma is now living with her family again.

"My story of resilience is not just my own. Many other women in the refugee camp have also experienced positive changes. Violence against women has significantly decreased, and survivors receive the support they need. I am grateful to Malteser International for their tireless commitment to fighting violence against women and empowering women in our community," says Fatuma.

In addition to psychological support, the women in the centers also receive vocational training if they desire. With their own income, they emancipate themselves from their families.

Out of vulnerability and dependency

"I am proud to say that after completing my sewing vocational training, I have started a new life and now run my own small tailoring business, earning an income. With the money, I can feed myself and my children and break the cycle of dependency and vulnerability. I am happy because my husband now involves me in his decisions," says Fatuma.

Hadiza also receives support at Malteser International's center. She is provided with psychosocial care, assistance in overcoming her traumas, and our staff mediate in the conflict between her and her father. "Since receiving support from Malteser International, my father is now open to me whenever I want to talk to him; he even asks me about my business." Hadiza now earns her own money, having learned how to make noodles at the center.

Together, we can ensure that women around the world lead safe, healthy and empowered lives. With your donation, you give hope to women and mothers in need.

(November 2023)

Solidarity and support for women in need - your Christmas donation

Nothing works without women. They provide, protect, care, organize, love, laugh, comfort - no matter where in the world, women and mothers are the social backbone of almost all communities. Nevertheless, women worldwide and especially in the Global South are disadvantaged in many areas of life and are particularly affected by social inequality. Conflicts, persecution and the consequences of natural disasters further exacerbate these inequalities.

In our projects, we are actively committed to women in order to promote a more just society. Let us work together to ensure that women worldwide live safe, healthy, and self-determined lives. Join us this Christmas and support women in need.

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