NGO demands law enforcement as world marks International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women

As Nigeria joins the rest of the world to mark this year’s International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, the Women’s Aid Collective...

As Nigeria joins the rest of the world to mark this year’s International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, the Women’s Aid Collective (WACOL) has revealed shocking statistics that show that a woman or female child is sexually assaulted every hour in the country.

Worse off are female children from 0 months to 29 years, as they are the most affected and women between 18-22 made up the greatest number of victims of sexual assault.

The United Nations’ (UN) International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women is an occasion for governments, international organizations and non-governmental organizations to raise public awareness of violence against women observed yearly since 2000. The 16 days of activism against Gender Based Violence (GBV) would end on December 10, Human rights Day. While there are no official and up-to-date statistics on SGBV against women, one in three women suffer domestic violence and one in two women suffer SGBV.
While the nation has marked this day yearly, Dean of the Faculty of Law, founder and CEO of WACOL and the West African Women Rights Coalition (WAWORC), NGOs dedicated to promoting and protecting the human rights of women and young people, Professor Joy Ngozi Ezeilo, has said not much has changed for Nigerian women who suffer all forms of violence almost daily.

According to Ezeilo, the day is an important one set aside for stocktaking, to increase advocacy and demand for accountability towards ending SGBV. “Violence against women is one of the most surreptitious forms of violation of human rights of women and girls worldwide and it comes in various forms. In Nigeria, it comes in the form of wife battery, girl-child sexual exploitation, trafficking women and girls for sex and general exploitation, early and forced child marriage, harsh widowhood practices, lack of inheritance rights in many parts, discrimination of all sorts, female genital mutilation (FGM) and circumcision, femicide and so on.

“It takes nine lives to survive womanhood in Nigeria because from cradle to grave, the Nigerian woman is confronted with all forms of violence. If you are born a girl, you are lucky if you survive and are wanted and not aborted. If you manage to survive childhood, you might suffer malnutrition because you are not the desired boy child your parents wanted. If you are especially unlucky, you might progress to circumcision and then be married off early with the attendant consequences including VVF and RVF. If the girl child survives, she would most likely be a victim of sexual violence in places considered safe. We need to create safe places for women and girls and that is what this day should be about.

“It should be about laws and improved accountability at all levels, accountability by perpetrators, by the state and its agents as we all have a role to play, we have to do the needful. As corporations, how many have strong sexual protection laws, how many educational institutions have sexual harassment policies? Daily, we hear of women and girl children being assaulted in hitherto ‘safe places’ like churches and schools. There is zero accountability and clearly, the government isn’t doing enough and must realize that women’s rights are part of the universal human rights and we can no longer use our cultural and social norms as excuses for our inability to comply with laws.”

Advising government at all levels to begin to enforce established laws, she urged them to take stock of the situation, ask hard questions, and provide help and services to victims of violence.

“We don’t have a system that responds effectively. It is just now we are beginning to have centres like the DSVRT in Lagos, WACOL and TAMAR SARC in Enugu and so on. Both the public and private sectors need to come together, pull resources and join forces to tackle this menace. We should say no to the continuous impunity of SGBV in Nigeria, the impunity of violence against women and girls.

“Elections are here again and what do we have? Complaints from female aspirants and candidates of the political violence they have suffered and being a woman in that sector, they suffer peculiar kinds of violence, not just physical violence alone but mental, psychological, libelous slanders to put them down and made some withdraw. We tell them to have thick sin but it is not easy. Just recently, they arrested and charged one man for posting a lady’s nudes online, this is a good step in the right direction, people have to pay a price when they defame and slander you.”

Explaining why SGBV persists despite the plethora of laws available that are supposed to protect women in Nigeria, she said the country’s system of laws is not user-friendly and the technicality of proving rape is very laborious especially to a female victim who has to come before the law and is usually made to feel assaulted all over again. “A female victim of rape is usually treated like a liar. There is a lot of cultural stigma and victim blaming from every quarter, especially from family and friends. Sadly, this promotes the culture of silence and we need to shatter this culture and say ‘me too!’ like others are saying worldwide. Things that were considered taboo in the past are now the norm, fathers are sleeping with their daughters, relatives are abusing one another, this is the ultimate betrayal of trust in domestic relationships. We need to create empowering environments where victims don’t feel bad for speaking out and giving them voices, provide a safe space for them to fall back on.
“What we have these days is when victims go to the police to report; the police would be pressuring them to ‘settle’. How does one ‘settle’ with her abuser? We don’t settle rape out of court and when it comes to rape of minors, it must be compulsory reporting and prosecution. Now, we have a register of sexual offenders and if people know they can enter there, they would be more careful. Date rapes, women and child trafficking, sexual abuse and exploitation of children have reached epidemic levels of concern now. We cannot leave this battle alone to NGOs, everyone should be concerned from the government to the citizens. With the advent of social media, new forms of violence are emerging daily and the judiciary has to be alive and up to the date. Some courts will tell you that seeing a man on a woman doesn’t mean penetration occurred. Ok, so what was he doing there on top of her? Rape sentences are so lenient, it’s sad, we need to promote zero tolerance to rape and violence against women.”

She added: “The law needs to protect victims and witnesses more, provide effective remedies for victims as this will help them speak out. The media should speak out more, there is need for capacity building for frontline officers so they can find innovative ways of dealing with this problem. For a woman to come out today in Nigeria and say she was raped, she knows the consequences so why do we put more stumbling blocks on her way?”

The coordinator of the DSVRT, Titilola Vivor-Adeniyi said according to available statistics, reporting of violence is on the increase and even though the surface hasn’t been scratched yet as SGBV is one of the least reported forms of violence “not just in Nigeria, but globally. As at September of this year, we have attended to 3,044 SGBV cases compared to last year’s 1043 cases. This shows people are beginning to speak up more. The government needs to do more advocacy and improve access to justice. As individuals, we need to demystify the myth of sexual violence especially against women and anyone can be a victim.
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