The abduction in April 2014 of hundreds of Nigerian of schoolgirls by the extremist movement Boko Haram has raised many deep questions about the nature of this decade old insurgency and international reactions to it. This paper asks to what extent the resort by this movement to gender violence represents an escalation in its tactics? And to what extent is this type of violence context-specific? It argues that we have to recognize that this movement is a response to specific Nigerian conditions, and while its violence against women conforms to similar patterns in other African conflicts, the ‘language’ of violence in this case is specifically Nigerian, and was in part a response to similar gender violence by the Nigerian authorities. The fact that the movement keeps emerging anew several times after its leadership and the bulk of its membership had been wiped out tells us that there is a reservoir of anger that keeps feeding it. However, the gender violence is a symptom of a deeper pathology within the movement ideology (signified by its blatant advocacy of slavery and its hostility to modernity and education), which exacerbates the marginalization of Northern Nigerians and perpetuates the spiral of insecurity.
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