Women and conflict
Over the last decade, conflicts have become more violent and widespread in West Africa with increasing numbers of civilian casualties, particularly in Nigeria and the Central Sahel. Nearly 40% of observed violent deaths are the result of violence against unarmed populations. This trend is a result of two key factors: the deliberate strategy of extremist organisations to target civilians and the difficulties experienced by governments in protecting them. Women pay a heavy price. They are targeted by Islamist organisations and militias created in response to widespread insecurity. They are also victims of counter-insurgency operations by government forces. Nigeria alone accounts for 87% of violence against women in the region. In the northeastern part of the country, where Boko Haram has its roots, women are systematically targeted and abducted. They are recruited as labourers, including for sexual purposes, or as informants and combatants. In Burkina Faso and Mali, women suffer from deteriorating living conditions in rural areas, are subjected to assaults and rape by armed groups as well as forced migration. Community violence, related to the sharing of water, pasture and other resources, is also at the root of violence against women. This worrying trend could be halted, if governments’ counter-insurgency strategies focused as much on protecting populations as eliminating insurgents.