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To activate gender-based laws, we must test them,  says SVRT boss




 Despite several laws enacted by the Lagos State Government to tackle rising cases of domestic violence as well as sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV), reports indicate increase in these vices. In this interview with Bertram Nwannekanma, the coordinator of the State Domestic and Sexual Violence Response Team (DSVRT), a body which provides a coordinated response to SGBV, Mrs. Titilola Vivour-Adeniyi, relives her experiences   on the awareness programme organised by DSVRT on November 25 and why concerted efforts are needed to eliminate gender-based violence in the state.

WHAT is driving your passion against violent abuse of women?

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 35 percent of women worldwide have experienced physical or sexual partner violence or non-partner sexual violence.  That’s about 938 million women. This figure does not include the long-term emotional impact and second-generation consequences. The effects of violence are felt at many different levels: By the women themselves, their families, and the economy. The cumulative impact of domestic or sexual violence on the well-being and even the economy of a nation is grossly underestimated today. In the words of a renowned activist, “Women in Africa are carrying the economy of Africa on their shoulders. If one destroys them psychologically or physically, the cycle of poverty is perpetuated. If you destroy a woman you destroy on the average six other people.”

Contributing factors include unequal power relationships that are the result of public and private biases as well as entrenched social norms. These devalue women and girls and deprive them of opportunities to fulfill their personal and productive potentials. Having regard to the fact that violence against women poses a state, national and global problem, we must address violence against women with the attention and seriousness that it deserves.

What are your rating of domestic violence and other abuses against women in Nigeria?

Recent statistics reveals that there is an increase in formal and informal reporting of rape, defilement, domestic violence, child abuse, maltreatment and neglect in Lagos State and indeed in Nigeria. It is still uncertain whether this translates to mean that there is an increase in the rate of committing of these offences. I strongly believe that with increase in awareness and sensitisation, more people are aware of their rights, and are gradually gaining the courage to speak out. Also there is a growing trend of people knowing what to do if they or people within their community fall victims and support services available.

In your view, do you think, there are adequate legislation to take care of domestic violence and other child abuses?

In Lagos State, we have the Prevention Against Domestic Violence Law, 2007 that seeks to adequately protect the rights of children. We also have the Child’s Rights Law, 2007 that embodies all the rights and responsibilities of children. In the case where some people do not wish to recognize domestic violence as a crime, we have the provisions of the Criminal Law of Lagos State, 2011 that provides for assault and grievous bodily harm. So we have the relevant laws, what we need now is proper application and enforcement of the laws.

What is your assessment of the implementation of these laws and regulations?

The letters of the law come alive when people “test” it and one of the most efficient ways of activating a law is by instituting an action in the court of law. While we see a more successful story with sexual abuse; rape, defilement, we don’t yet have that testimony for domestic violence cases. Asides from the barrier of secrecy, there is also the societal and external pressure exerted on victims of domestic violence to remain in the abusive relationship. There is also the low level of awareness about the provisions of the Law and the awareness and realization that indeed, domestic violence is a crime. All of these factors are attributable to the low level of implementation of the provisions of the law. But this is where the activities of the Lagos State Domestic and Sexual Violence Response Team comes in, and we are confident that very soon most, if not all perpetrators, would be held accountable for their actions. Also key to note, is that this administration led by His Excellency, the Governor of Lagos State, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode is focused on empowering and improving the livelihood of Lagosians, so we will also tap into this agenda by ensuring victims acquire skills which enable them to become gainfully employed and reduce their level of financial dependency to their abusers.

How do you rate the activities of DSVRT since its inauguration?

At DSVRT we have taken a three-prong approach in addressing these issues, these are awareness and sensitization, quick dispensation to justice. We believe in a holistic response to these issues and that is what has informed our various activities. In this year, we trained over 600 mandated reporters (who are State Government employees that have dealings with children) on how to detect signs of child abuse and steps to take in reporting such cases.  We have empowered over 2000 school children from over 50 states’ Schools through a ‘defilement prevention workshops on self-defence’, how to avoid being a victim of sexual abuse and how to preserve evidence when physically or sexually assaulted.
We have also trained over 100 Area Commanders and Divisional Police Officers on Sexual & Gender Based Violence (SGBV) relevant provisions of the law and the role of Police as first responders. The team also served as Co-Producers of Unspoken TV Show- a live programme aired on Silverbird TV that showcases different facets of SGBV issues and getting key insights from experts and stakeholders who come in as guests. We engaged and sensitized traditional rulers, led by the Oba of Lagos on SGBV issues and how to handle cases brought to them. We also engaged Iya Lojas and Baba Lojas, led by the Iya Loja General.

Another key initiative was the training of 19 Command Control Centre Officials on how to respond to distress calls of SGBV cases. We have also begun to foster collaboration with the corporate world on how they can partner and key into our various initiatives. We held four enlightenment Walks which simultaneously took place in Alimosho, Ikeja, Lagos Island and Mushin with the aim to enlighten the public and raise more awareness in the strategic areas where the walks held.

We have also collaborated with faith based institutions on a regular basis on SGBV enlightenment, and we trained over 50 Media Practitioners, representing 25 Media houses on best practice for reporting SGBV in the media. We are also providing technical support to the Directorate of Public Prosecutions.
We however still have much more work to do in this area so as to increase victim safety and offender responsibility.

What are DSVRT’s major challenges?

Our challenges can be grouped into two categories, namely institutional and societal challenges. Institutions: Some institutions are not cooperative as their actions or inactions tend to frustrate the efforts of the various responder agencies. Whist we are building a relationship with the Nigeria police, it is still unfortunate that most of the resistance we face in increasing victim safety and offender responsibility comes from the Nigeria police. We are however witnessing major improvement in this area especially with the model police stations which have a family support unit domiciled there. With the constant engagement with the police and the commitment of the leadership of police in Lagos State, we are confident that this trend of improvements will continue.

Societal: Members of the public fail to realize that these acts are actually crimes. They feel they are cases that can be “settled amicably”, forgetting that rape and defilement convictions can be up to life imprisonment. And also, when there is a victim who is willing to explore the judicial process, the victim is exposed to untold pressures from the abuser, the abuser’s family, her family. And then as we have seen in the past, there is also pressure from religious and traditional rulers, the public institutions, and even the lawyers representing the suspect. The very people that are to stand up for her are the people that don’t believe her or make her life a living hell on her quest to justice.
Another issue is the granting of bail, especially for rape and defilement cases, especially when the bail conditions are not stringent.

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