The fight against SGBV, how far?
Recent records have shown that the violence against women is not abating, though the yearly ritual of 16 Days Activism has continued to bring to the limelight the need to put an end to this ill.
In Nigeria, there were various activities by groups to mark this year’s celebration of 16 Days of Activism against Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV), which was held between November 25 and December 10.
One of such is the ROLAC Programme of the British Council, one of the organisations driving the advocacy with Sexual Assaults Referral Centres (SARCs), Mock Courts and Counselling Sessions for victims of GBV.
One is wont to ask what has been achieved after the 16 days of activism.
The United Nations (UN) defines violence against women as “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual, or mental harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or private life.”
The global body also described intimate partner violence as a behaviour by an intimate partner or ex-partner that causes physical, sexual or psychological harm, including physical aggression, sexual coercion, psychological abuse and controlling behaviour. It further defined sexual violence as “any sexual act, attempt to obtain a sexual act, or other act directed against a person’s sexuality using coercion, by any person regardless of their relationship to the victim, in any setting. It includes rape, defined as the physically forced or otherwise coerced penetration of the vulva or anus with a penis, other body part or object, attempted rape, unwanted sexual touching and other non-contact forms.”
The statistics are alarming as over a quarter of women aged 15-49 years who have been in a relationship have been subjected to physical and/or sexual violence by their intimate partner at least once in their lifetime (since age 15). The prevalence estimates of lifetime intimate partner violence range from 20% in the Western Pacific, 22% in high-income countries and Europe and 25% in the WHO Regions of the Americas to 33% in the WHO African region, 31% in the WHO Eastern Mediterranean region, and 33% in the WHO South-East Asia region. Globally, 38% of all murders of women are committed by intimate partners.
In addition to intimate partner violence, globally 6% of women report having been sexually assaulted by someone other than a partner, although data for non-partner sexual violence are more limited. Intimate partner and sexual violence are mostly perpetrated by men against women.
These grim statistics were amplified during the stay-at-home lockdowns imposed as one of the measures to curb the COVID-19 pandemic. Its social and economic impacts increased the exposure of women to abusive partners and known risk factors while limiting their access to services.
Also related is the situations of humanitarian crises and displacement, which often exacerbate existing violence, such as by intimate partners, as well as non-partner sexual violence, and may also lead to new forms of violence against women. These are the issues that the ‘16 Days of Activism against SGBV’ set aside annually by the United Nations and supported by governments and non-governmental organisations across the world aims to eliminate.
Since 1991, more than 6, 000 organisations from approximately 187 countries have participated in the campaign. The theme for 2021 “Orange the World: End Violence Against Women Now’’, RoLAC Programme of the British Council, European Union, United Nations, Ministries of Justice and Women Affairs amongst other activities, are some of the organisations actively engaged in this advocacy.
This 2021 marked the 26 years post-Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, the post-pandemic year is still in shock on the fragility in several systems ranging from the health sector to the economy; and more importantly, the pandemic affirmed the country’s distance from a world where women’s rights are guaranteed and more women excelling as equal partners as the pandemic exposed a worrying increase in incidents of sexual and gender-based violence.
In Nigeria, the struggle to eliminate or perhaps reduce the incidences of violence against persons especially women has been raging since 2001, from the first convening of the campaign in February 2001 of the then Violent Against Women Bill process (Mahdi, 2019), to the eventually signed into law of the bill: Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act, 2015.
It is, however, a sad narrative that so far not much has changed despite great efforts by the government and other stakeholders—even the Violence Against Persons Prohibition(VAPP) Act is yet to make the expected change as cases of violence have not been substantially reduced.
According to UNWomen, nearly one in three women in the country has been abused in their lifetime. In times of crises, the numbers rise, as seen during the COVID-19 pandemic and recent humanitarian crises, conflicts and climate disasters.
This point was highlighted by the Programme Specialist, Spotlight Initiative, UN Women Nigeria, Ms Tosin Akiba, who said in 2020, Nigeria recorded 11,200 rape cases including children raped to death while lamenting that the rape cases were underreported due to stigma, victim-blaming, poor access to justice for survivors and slow progress from the domestication of laws to implementation.
Akiba further revealed that in Nigeria: “Lifetime Physical and/or Sexual Intimate Partner Violence is 17.4 per cent; physical and/or Sexual Intimate Partner Violence in the last 12 months 11 %; lifetime Non-Partner Sexual Violence, 1.5 %; child marriage 43.5% and Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting, 18.4%.”
In the same vein, the Programme Officer, RoLAC programme of the British Council, Ms Hannatu Essien, at a pre-event briefing marking the 16 Days of Activism, stated that a total of about 23,207 survivors of sexual assault have been reported in eight years, specifically between July 2013 when the first Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC) was established.
Essien, while explaining that: “The RoLAC Programme is collaborating with the Federal Ministry of Justice, FCT Judiciary and the National Agency for Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons on The Survivor Project (NAPTIP), in commemoration of the ‘16 Days of Activism 2021’, said: “Since the establishment of the first Sexual Assault Referral Centre in Nigeria in 2013 and the establishment of the 31 SARCs that have followed, the SARCs have continued to provide free immediate emergency medical treatment, counselling and follow up support to survivors of rape and sexual assault, including support for their engagement with the legal system”.
To be continued tomorrow.
Ojo wrote from Lagos