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#MeToo gives hope to Nigeria's women

Saadatu Hamma kept a diary for a while. In it, the judge recorded every rape case that she dealt with or that her colleagues told about. She can no longer say exactly how many cases she has compiled over the years. The number was high - and at the same time vanishingly low. "98 percent of rape cases are not reported," says the woman who lives in Kaduna - the capital of the state of the same name in northern Nigeria. At the moment, children and adolescents under the age of 15 are particularly likely to be victims, says Hamma.

The hashtag #ArewaMeToo, which is particularly popular in Kaduna, could change that. Arewa is the old name for northern Nigeria. Women have been reporting sexual assaults on the short message service Twitter since February. Opponents of the debate accuse them of only having to dress properly or to live by the rules of the Koran. Maryam Aiwasu, who, according to the human rights organization Amnesty International, was even briefly arrested, is believed to be the originator of the protest. In the meantime she is said to have been released again.

New development

The public debate about abuse and rape is a new development. These topics are taboo throughout Nigeria, but especially in the north, says Hadiza Isma el-Rufai.

The wife of Governor Nasir el-Rufai is a writer and with her novel An Abundance of Scorpions, which has so far only appeared in English, the situation of Muslim women in the Haussa culture - the Haussa are the largest ethnic group in the north - in put the focus. "Our society is pretty hypocritical. We like to think: We don't do things like that. It's just the whites. But that's exactly what happens here. The only difference is that we don't talk about it."

It is especially the families of the victims who do everything to ensure that the incidents do not become public. "When a girl is raped here, the first thing you think about is the reputation of the family. You tell the person affected: 'Don't tell me, otherwise nobody will marry you,'" says Hadiza Isma el-Rufai. The human rights activist Amina Kazaure confirms this. She works for the non-governmental organization Vision Trust Foundation and is the coordinator of the interfaith women's council. In the state of Kaduna, she also campaigns, despite "enormous stigmatization", that rape is no longer concealed.

Intimidations

It's not easy. Amina Kazaure recalls a case in which the victim's mother tried to speak to women's rights activists about the abuse. "But then her husband intimidated her and she had to keep quiet. She is educated and works at the technical college."

In another case, the perpetrator was an Islamic scholar who abused a girl in a public toilet. "The sister later became aware of this because the girl had blood in her urine. This is how the mother found out about it." The women's rights activist therefore often speaks to children and encourages them to speak if they observe or experience unusual things.

High risk for children of the poor

It is true that abuse occurs in all classes. However, there seems to be a particularly high risk for the children of the poor. If - in rarer cases - boys are victims, it is often those who attend the Almajari schools, says Amina Kazaure. In the Almajari schools, imams gather boys who have to learn the Koran by heart at night and who are sent out on the streets to beg during the day. "They are abused and then intimidated. They have no network and no one to take care of them."

Judge Saadatu Hamma also knows cases in which the perpetrator family bribed those of the victim. She has also seen that in the event of a trial, many victims do not even have the means to pay for transportation to the court. #ArewaMeToo is therefore a welcome development for them: "At last we can talk about it. We can do better educational work and demand better justice. The victims can deal with it better. It can get better in northern Nigeria." (Katrin Gänsler from Kaduna, April 1st, 2019)