Months after being rescued from Boko Haram captivity, Sabira, a 23-year-old, began experiencing pain and burning sensations during urination, as well as bleeding between menstrual periods. She sought medical attention and was diagnosed with an infection.
Sabira was abducted at the age of 19 and forced into marriage while in captivity. She is now a mother to one child who was born as a result of the forced marriage.
“I’ll never forget the suffering and humiliations that the terrorists made us go through even after we agreed to be their wives and sex slaves,” she said.
Boko Haram terrorists invaded her community in June 2020, kidnapped many women, and killed many men who could not escape.
Like many women who the Boko Haram terrorist group abducted, during her captivity Sabira was subjected to torture and exposed to harmful practices that increased her risk of contracting sexual and gynaecological diseases.
In a recent chat with HumAngle, another abducted lady who recently regained her freedom shared and corroborated Sabira’s narratives with disturbing details.
The young woman, who preferred to remain anonymous due to the sensitive nature of the issue, shared a similar experience to Sabira’s. She constantly feared what would happen to her health as a woman during her time in captivity.
She recalled one of the most painful and humiliating experiences was when they were forced to share one pair of underpants during their menstrual cycles.
“Yes, you may not believe this, but that was what many of us go through,” she said.
“We only wear pants during our period; when we are done, we wash and return them to the owner, who would keep them for the next woman to borrow and wear during her period.”
In spite of the washing, needless to say the condition of these underpants was unpleasant, but there could be worse situations.
“Sometimes, if you are not on good terms with other women, like the ones who hate you for not accepting the Boko Haram belief, like they already did, they would deny you the right to use the pants when it is your period,” the survivor said.
Another survivor, who identified herself as Lami, explained that when girls don’t have access to underpants during their menstrual period, they wear blood-soaked clothes or sit on the sand for extended periods to allow the blood to drain.
Lami, now 23 years old, said she spent four years in captivity, during which she had lost count of how “you have to sit on the sand for most of the day to allow the blood to flow out and soak into the sand.”
“As a slave, you aren’t allowed to go to the river bank to bathe, so you have to go about with flies following you and perching on your blood-soaked clothes,” she added.
She explained that kidnapped women and girls who refused to consent to marry any terrorists are usually treated as enslaved people – a status that can only change once they agree to become a wife of one of their captors.
Lami, who was later forced into marriage, narrated how she was only allowed to bathe and share pants during her menstrual cycle.
According to HumAngle’s findings, female captives are subject to strict clothing regulations and are only allowed to own a limited number of garments approved by the terrorists.
Sabira, who gave birth to a child in captivity two years ago, said she had seven pairs of pants in her travel box when abducted.
After being taken captive, Sabira had only two pairs of pants left. The terrorists had taken five pairs and given them to their wives. This left Sabira with no choice but to wear one pair of pants for several days, which was unclean and uncomfortable.
“Days after I was abducted and taken to Sambisa forest, I needed to discard the pair of pants I had been wearing for five days, but one of the Boko Haram wives had to pick it up and wash it to use again,” she recalled.
The lack of proper sanitary kits puts these women and girls at risk of severe health issues. The situation worsens because they are in captivity and have limited access to medical care.
Medical practitioners said sharing sanitary kits like pads or pants can pose several health risks for women.
“Firstly, the sharing of these items can potentially spread infections and diseases, especially if they are not properly cleaned and disinfected between uses,” said Maryam Bukar, a senior nurse at the Maiduguri General Hospital.
“This is because menstrual blood can carry harmful bacteria and viruses that can survive on surfaces for several hours or even days.
“Sadly, these women lack decent hygiene and practice most of the time they spent as captives in terrorists’ dens.”
“Using unclean sanitary pads or pants can also lead to skin irritation and other health problems, such as urinary tract infections (UTIs) and vaginal infections. This is because the buildup of moisture and bacteria can create an ideal environment for the growth of harmful microorganisms. We must also understand that menstrual blood can carry harmful bacteria and viruses that can survive on surfaces for several hours or even days,” she said.
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