The 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence against women and girls is an international civil society-led campaign that takes place each year. It commenced on November 25, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, and ended on December 10, Human Rights Day, indicating that violence against women is the most pervasive breach of human rights worldwide. Daily Trust on Sunday looks at the issues.
With about 206 million people as of 2021, Nigeria is the most populated nation in Africa and the ninth most populous nation overall. Of this population, 49.5 percent are women.
The UN estimates that one in three women in the country between the ages of 15 and 49 have been victims of physical or sexual abuse. In 2017, the Nigeria Police Force recorded 18 out of 26 rape/sexual abuse charges.
According to the Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey, 14 per cent of Nigerian women have been victims of physical abuse. During the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, there were large number of incidents of violence against women.
In barely two weeks of lockdown, per a UN assessment, the number of reports of gender-based violence had surged by 56 per cent by April 2020.
A report by HumanAngle Media revealed that in the first four months of 2022, 335 people in Nigeria reported experiencing various types of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV).
Between January and April 2022, the 335 victims experienced various forms of violence, including spousal abuse, physical assault, and sexual abuse, with the Northeast and Southeast having the lowest SGBV reports compared to other zones.
The additional forms of gender-based violence that women experience include female genital mutilation, which is still a common practice in many parts of Nigeria due to deeply ingrained cultural and religious beliefs.
The Minister of Women affairs, Dame Pauline Tallen, recently stated that out of 11,000 rapes reported in the country, only 33 convictions have been gotten so far.
She further stated that; “Every year, hundreds of women and girls are let down by a culture of silence and impunity that has been fostered by damaging cultural assumptions, a lack of investigation into rape cases by the police, toxic misogyny, and inadequate assistance for survivors.”
Nigeria appears to be at the forefront of the fight against violence against women and girls, yet so many stones are left unturned. Most incidents of sexual assault go unreported to the authorities. The percentage of women who experience violence and seek any kind of assistance is less than 40 per cent.
A very small percentage of women who need assistance turn to formal organizations like the police and health services; the majority turn to relatives and friends. In some cases, security authorities have occasionally reacted negatively and shown apathy toward women who accuse men of sexual assault, reducing the chances of women reporting incidents of rape.
Speaking to the Daily Trust on Sunday, FCT’s PPRO, DSP Josephine Adeh, said although the gender desks have improved awareness and reporting of gender-based violence, there are still challenges that gender desks officers face in pursuing cases.
She said; Since the creation of the gender desks, there has been an improved awareness amongst officers about how to handle such reports, there are also more women willing to report and we have also been able to prosecute.
“However, when pursuing these cases, officers run into challenges such as poor reporting of the crime, cultural sentiments, refusal of victims to continue prosecution and evidence conservation.”
DSP Adeh urged women to teach their children to speak up, disregard traditional and religious sentiments and cooperate more with the police in order to reduces incidences of gender-based violence.
Apart from the culture of silence that has held many women back from reporting incidents of violence, there’s also the fear of being asked questions such as “What were you wearing?”, “Why did you go to a man’s house?”
In the Nigerian culture, girls and women are taught to dress decently, walk modestly, sit properly, and behave prim and proper. Yet despite all the rules women are meant to obey, they are still daily victims of sexual and gender-based violence.
With Nigeria’s deeply rooted patriarchal culture, it’s safe to say that it subtly condones and accepts rape, which is why often times the victim is the focus of every effort to eradicate the crime.
A report by Education as a Vaccine (EVA) titled “What was she Wearing” which chronicled the stories of several women and girls who were raped while wearing a variety of clothing, including hijab, long skirts, wrappers and diapers, and revealed that each of the women and girls were raped for the same reason, regardless of what they were wearing: they were women and girls.
A mental health advocate, Ms Halima Muhammad, stated that the trauma of violence, be it sexual or physical, is not one that anyone can easily put behind them as it often changes the trajectory of one’s life.
“People who have experienced violence are scared for life. People try to move on and forget what has happened, some become a shadow of themselves because they don’t even know how to move on. It takes a lot for one to process and move past such pain, even with love and support.”
A survivor of gender-based violence, Peace Enang, told Daily Trust on Sunday that she still relives the nightmares of the days she was violated by a staff member who worked in her house.
“Sometimes, I miss the happy child I once was, I had no fears and worries. However, I’m now an adult who lives with full-blown paranoia and depression. Because of my experience, I cannot hold down a good relationship with any man.
“I still remember the nightmares of how he made us stop at his house every afternoon from school as he said that we could play together since mum and dad wouldn’t be home soon. I still remember how on the way to school; he’d bribe me with sweets and chocolates reminding me of our playdate after school,” she said.
For Peace, justice means seeing her abuser imprisoned, where he can’t disrupt the life of another girl child.
Earlier in November, Minister of Women affairs, Pauline Tallen, declared that the Violence Against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) Act 2015, which would assist to reduce frequent incidents of violence between states, had been domesticated by 34 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
The laws’ objectives include reducing the threat of violence, particularly gender-based violence (GBV), ensuring that offenders are brought to justice, aiding survivors, and defending the rights of women, children, and men.
In line with SDG-17 on partnerships, this year’s theme for the 16 days of activism against gender-based violence, UNITE! Activism to End Violence Against Women & Girls, calls for global action from all stakeholders to raise awareness and share information in order to put an end to this epidemic of violence once and for all.
Speaking at the Orange ceremony and lighting of the UN House in Abuja, UN Resident Coordinator Matthias Schmale urged a greater focus on the various forms of violence and the culture of silence that often surrounds its victims.
“The EU-UN Spotlight initiative is another good example of collaboration towards ending violence against women and girls. We need more such initiatives to scale up current actions to eliminate harmful practices such as child marriage, female genital mutilation, human trafficking, sexual violence, and domestic violence.”
“We need large scale investments in data collection, evidence gathering and provision of legal support services to ensure access to justice is quick and unhindered. Perpetrators of violence need to be reliably prosecuted.”