Female members of the radical Islamic group Boko Haram are almost as likely as men to be deployed as fighters in northeast Nigeria, challenging a widespread perception that these women are mainly used as cooks, sex slaves and suicide bombers, shows a new study published on 3 Oct.

While men in the Islamist group dominate in leadership and training roles, women may outnumber them in other senior roles, such as recruitment and intelligence operations, according to the report, based on interviews with 119 former Boko Haram members.

Forty per cent of female respondents said they served as soldiers – compared with 45 per cent of men – while both sexes carried out domestic tasks like cooking and cleaning, the report found.

“[Boko Haram] recruiters are adapting to the tightening security environment,” said Mahdi Abdile, director of research at Finn Church Aid and co-author of the study, adding that women and girls are increasingly being targeted for recruitment.

“The intelligence community is on the lookout for young men, so it is easier for women to navigate past security barriers and penetrate communities,” said Abdile.

The report also found that six in 10 of the former militants currently undergoing rehabilitation programmes were introduced to Boko Haram by friends and relatives, while only a quarter learned about the group at mosques or madrasas (Islamic schools).

“Mosques and madrasas used to be the place to get new recruits… Now they are under the spotlight,” said Abdile, adding that this shift in strategy represented a challenge for anti-terror and radicalisation efforts in Nigeria.

Religious beliefs, poverty, a lack of education and work, as well as opportunities offered by Boko Haram, were cited by the former militants as the main reasons for joining the Islamist group, which
has lured young entrepreneurs and business owners by providing or promising capital and loans to boost their businesses, as Mercy Corps pointed out in April.

The report was carried out by Finn Church Aid, The International Dialogue Centre (KAICIID), The Network of Religious and Traditional Peacemakers and the Citizen Research Centre.

Sources: Reuters