Renewed vigour against gender-based violence
FOR gender activists in Nigeria, the Violence Against Persons Prohibition law signed into law by former President Goodluck Jonathan before the end of his administration has provided a new vigour against gender based violence in the country.
Before the advent of the law, which amongst other things prohibits female circumcision or genital mutilation, forceful ejection from home and harmful widowhood practices, gender-based violence had been on a steady rise.
This was illustrated by the horrendous story of a nine year -old girl who, on account of being consistently defiled by two men, suffered psychological damages until she became addicted to sex.
The child’s case was just one of such violence women in Nigeria face and many times these cases are unreported and without support or immediate solution.
According to a recent report by the World Health Organization (WHO) at least 35 per cent of women have experienced violence inthe hands of an intimate partner.
The report also showed that an estimated one in three women globally has been beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime.
Although, India and South Africa are tops on the list of countries with a high rate of Gender Based Violence (GBV), a national survey as at 2006, puts percentage of victims of gender violence and abuse at 64.5 percent and this has multiplied in the last eight years.
The kidnapping of women by the Nigeria’s Islamist terrorist group, Boko Haram, as part of strategy adopted in 2013 in response to corresponding tactics by the Nigerian government has compounded gender based violence in the country.
More pitiable are the plights of women and girls with disabilities, who suffer more physical and sexual abuse.
As a whole, the society pays a huge price for gender-based violence in the areas of health, justice, economy and international security.
For instance, a recent World Bank reports the estimated costs of such violence run from 1.2 percent to 3.7 percent of GDP—the equivalent of what many governments spend on primary education.
In Nigeria, that would roughly equate to between 1.1 and 3.4 trillion naira.
According to the Nigeria Stability and Reconciliation Programme, approximately 80 million Nigerian women and girls are victims of this type of violence.
Beyond that, gender-based violence also fosters the spread of HIV/AIDS by limiting one’s ability to negotiate safe sexual practices and by limiting disclosure of HIV status and access to services due to fear of reprisal.
According to Maria E. Brewer, Charge d’Affaires, ad interim, United States Embassy to the Federal Republic of Nigeria, “Gender-based violence occurs in Nigeria just as it does in the United States and every other nation.
Ending this global epidemic, she said, will require a multi-faceted approach. “We must recognize that gender-based violence is, at its root, a manifestation of the relatively low status of women and girls around the world. When women and girls can live free from violence and are afforded equal opportunities in education, healthcare, employment, and political participation, they lift up their families, their communities, and their nations and act as agents of change.”
“Prevention and elimination of gender-based violence will require increased advocacy and partnerships between the international community, governments, multilateral organizations, private sector companies, and grassroots advocates.
“It will require empowering women and girls to speak up for themselves and educating men and boys to speak up and speak out for their mothers, wives, partners, sisters, and daughters.
“It will also require adequate legal and judicial frameworks.” She added.
She also disclosed that many nations have passed legislation addressing gender-based violence.
Marie pointed out that to commemorate the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, and to reaffirm the U.S. commitment to ending human rights abuses around the world, the U.S. Embassy in Abuja and U.S. Consulate General in Lagos this year are organizing a number of activities, including screening films on preventing gender violence, organizing workshops and panel discussions with civil society members and expert panelists, and promoting “Orange Your Neighborhood” activities that create safe spaces for women and girls.
As U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said recently, “This is a fight that demands action from every single one of us. We have to communicate in a unified way with a single loud voice that there is no place in the civilized world for those who commit gender-based violence,” she concluded.
Some gender activists in Nigeria have also described gender based violence as an ‘epidemic’ and expressed fears that Nigeria runs a risk of topping that chart unless actions are taken now to address the trend.
These activists like Kate Henshaw, Aisha Babangida and Christine Kay, say the culture of silence, weak laws and lack of support for victims of violence against women and girls are some reasons for increase in the crime.
To these experts, violence against women is not just women’s issue but also that of the men who are the perpetrators, and also society’s business, which needed to be tackled decisively.
Besides the culture of silence and societal stigmatisation, they expressed worries that information for women and the vulnerable as well as support for victims are still grossly inadequate making the fight against gender based violence a long walk yet to begin.
These, the experts said are some of the challenges needed to be addressed in order to end the increasing rate of gender-based violence
But the founder, Women Aid Initiative, Dr. Joy Ezeilo, recently blamed weak nature of Nigeria laws, wrong socialisation and lack of information as reasons for high prevalence of gender based violence in the country.
Also at a recent workshop organised in Lagos by the United Kingdom Department For International Development (DFID) funded Justice for All (J4A) programme in collaboration with the Lagos State Government, Partnership for Justice and Women Aid Collective (WACOL), the National Programme Coordinator for J4A, Bob Arnot, called for coordinated efforts to mitigate the rising incidence of Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV) across Nigeria and in Lagos in particular.
The workshop, which has as its theme: “A Coordinated Approach to Sexual and Sexual Gender based Violence in Lagos State”, according to the organisers was in quick response to the rising cases of sexual and gender-based violence across the country.
According to Bob Arnot, the success story of the Lagos Mirabel Centre, established in July 2013 as the first Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC) in Nigeria and the Tamar Centre in Enugu in providing medial and counselling services to victims of sexual and gender based violence, had created need for sustainable impacts of the activities of the various stakeholders in order to ensure that they are replicated in other states in the country.
According to him, a coordinated approach is critical to effectively combating the challenges faced by the centres as well as developing new areas for desired impacts is desirable.
Also the former Lagos State attorney general and commissioner for justice, Ade Ipaye, noted that incidents of rape, defilement, child abuse and child neglect, or sexual assault, through formal and informal reporting, are of particular concern to the Lagos State government.
He noted that the cosmopolitan nature of Lagos State and its population density indicate that government should be very attentive and firm in dealing with these incidents, lest they spread even more rapidly within our communities.
He said: “we have always been in the forefront of rights protection, law reform and law enforcement, initiating positive trends for the rest of the country. It is therefore imperative for the State Government to take action against these crimes so as to ensure the safety and security of all residents and visitors.
He stressed that the Lagos State Government has taken various initiatives in form of reform of the Criminal Law and Criminal Justice Administration Law; establishment of Special Units in the Directorate of Public Prosecutions and the Domestic and Sexual Violence Response Team and the recent signing of an Executive Order establishing a Sex Offenders’ Register and requiring Mandatory Reporting of these incidents in all public schools and other institutions by the state governor.
The major aim of the Sex Offenders’ Monitoring Programme and the Mandatory Reporting policy, he said, was to reduce repeat cases by providing names and personal details of convicted sex offenders in the State to a central database.
“ The Database will be accessible to individuals and organizations with established need for the information. For example, school proprietors who want to do staff recruitment can access this Register to carry out background checks on applicants. It is believed that this will serve as a deterrence and also help potential victims to protect themselves from known and nearby sex offenders by facilitating public monitoring and preventing known criminals from being placed in a position of opportunity to commit further sex offences.
“The Mandatory Reporting policy will make it compulsory for all State School Administrators, Counsellors, Teachers, Social Welfare Officers and any other official of the State Government having any dealings with children to report any suspected or actual child abuse or neglect to the Attorney-General’s office.
For the Managing Partner, Partnership for Justice, managers of Lagos Mirabel Centre, Mrs. Itoro Eze-Anaba, clients’ mental state, pressure from perpetrators against seeking for justice, Police’s preference for settling cases and demand for money from clients, inability to access hospital services outside working hours, insufficient shelter facilities, low level of referrals and slow speed of judicial process as some of the challenges militating against smooth running of the centre.
She said the Mirabel Centre has within its establishment provided medical and counseling serviced to 361 victims of sexual violence including 220 under the age of 18, while the alleged perpetrators in 25 cases have been charged to court.
To her, although the media in Nigeria has been helpful in bringing to the fore incidence of Sexual Gender based Violence in the country, there is still need for more sensitisation by talking to parents, uncles, artisans and Okada riders on the issue of rapes and their consequences to our generation.
For a Chief Superintendent of Police (CSP), Monday Agbonika, the complaints by police officers in Lagos that they cannot prosecute perpetrators of gender based violence because there was no supporting law is baseless, since all necessary legislation to deliver quality services to survivors of domestic violence and sexual and gender based violence are in place in Lagos.