In 2017, a group of women who had bombs tied to their body has resulted in the massacre of hundreds of civilians in north-east Nigeria. These women have been labeled as “suicide bombers” by the people of Nigeria and the world. Adding to the fact that these girls are Muslims, the load of existing stereotypes on Islamic terrorist has taken their full rights. Never mind that they were the actual victims by a cult named Boko Haram, the stereotype thinking people have had on them gave them no voice to summon help. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie addressed this “stereotype threat” in her TED talk called “The Danger of a Single Story” on how impressionable and vulnerable we are in the face of a story.
Boko Haram, a cult that claims themselves as “Islamist militants” not only has affected almost 90% of the communities in north-east of Nigeria where Boko Haram is based, it has also created a big problem with stigma. These girls were the trapped powerlessly due to such an ideological threat which is conveyed by the personal story of Falmata, delivered by psychologists Fatima Akilu, in a video documented by BBC news, entitled “Made Out to Look Beautiful, and Send Out to Die”. The stereotype on Nigerian women suicide bombers as terrorists is primarily perpetuated by the skyrocketing use of women suicide bombers by Boko Haram which is said to be two-thirds of girls. Despite the vast portrayal of these female suicide bombers in the news coverage to have courageously taken part in the battle, Fatima Akilu shares that they have not seen a single female suicide bomber that has offered herself up for Boko Haram’s suicide mission. Due to the cultural perspective, it fails to see that most women in Nigeria were taken against their will and being coerced for suicide missions, this explains why society associate these women with terrorism.
The story of thirteen-year-old Falmata, one out of 454 female suicide bombers that have been deployed by Boko Haram, shows the injustice upon them as a result of a single story. In addition, to having been seen to carry Boko Haram’s ideology and rhetoric which they are strenuously against of, they ignore the fact that these women were abducted and were forcefully to choose either to marry a fighter or to involve in the heinous act. Hence, they fail to consider these victims but rather driven by the stereotype. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie suggests a single sided story could potentially affect one’s thinking and beliefs. In the case of Nigerian women suicide bombing, the abducted young girls and teenagers were brought up with Boko Haram’s ideology until they were brainwashed. Children rescued from militants often adopt Boko Haram’s beliefs while under their control as they are not exposed to any other education but the religious teachings, claims Akilu. She also presses on their learning of Quran under Boko Haram captivity which she believes does not teach Islam, as it is teaching them the Quran in isolation of everything else, and the rest of the teaching is ideology. This explains their belief of suicide bombing being preached in the Quran and is perceived as a holy act for the sake of god.
The use of the phrase “detonate the bomb, to enter paradise” shows the effect of the cultural influence which to the extent moves them to partake in the odious act where in reality these practices are against the core beliefs of Islam as killing is forbidden. Woefully, the stereotype led to these women being shunned from society. This is the power that Adichie warns her audience about in her TED Talk. Falmata experienced the effects of this stereotype when the community expresses that they were “afraid of her”. Falmata alongside with few others who do manage to slip back into their community unnoticed remain in the shadows. “Annoba” is what they are referred to by some in their communities, which means something like “epidemic”. Any girl that spent time with the militants will be seen as Boko Haram by many people, says Akilu. She also states that people in these communities tend to look at the act, rather than the girl. In the second media, the phrase “how can we then take her back”, in response to the escape of these women from Boko Haram military shows the degree of the consequence of single-sided story. They believe that these women are willing to eliminate the whole community and sees them as a reminder of the terror that they have lived through. Therefore, they fail to spend enough time looking at it from the point of view of the girls and see them as the victims they are. In summation, the treatment and actions of the community against Nigerian women demonstrate the potential harm of the terrorist stereotype in Nigeria. The justice rights of Nigerian women suicide bombers should be acknowledged from being taken against their will to being rejected by the community. In an attempt to dispel the floating stereotype on these women, messages, and sharing of stories should be conveyed and delivered in the pursuit of broadening public perspectives.