The ideological stances of the two factions emerged well before the split in 2016, as friction mounted between members under Abubakar Shekau’s leadership. Following the division, these stances shaped each side’s tactics and operations. The fracture between the two factions is crucial for understanding opposing views on women and girls in Boko Haram.
The 2016 breakaway was not the first time Boko Haram had been fragmented. The group has seen infighting in the past, sometimes causing shifts in ranks and among fighters. The first of these splits was around 2003–2004, just a few years after the formation of the group that would in 2009 become Boko Haram, and another occurred in 2011. However, the most recent split also created divides when it comes to rules on women. This was the first time that differences on this issue in the group became publicly known.
Shekau, who took over as leader in 2009 after the death of Boko Haram’s founder, Mohammed Yusuf, led a guerrilla-style insurgency until 2013.Then the group engaged in a wider campaign of violence characterised by kidnappings, suicide bombings and contest over territories. In March 2015, Shekau pledged allegiance to ISIS’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who then endorsed the alliance and welcomed Boko Haram as “brothers”. This development brought with it the rebranding of the group as Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP). It remained under the governance of Shekau.