By Gbenro Olajuyigbe
‘Hysterical sensationalism is the very poorest weapon wherewith to fight for lasting righteousness’ – Theodore Roosevelt
There is generalised violence in Nigeria and the grief grid is vertically and horizontally exponentially increasing. However, women and girls appear to be the most burdened by the consequences of seemingly unending escalating extreme violence that have turned our land into a killing belt and our nation to spring of bloodbaths. There is the failure of protection too; with women and girls as main victims. Humanitarian law prioritises the protection of women and girls in times of peace and war. Under the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and the two additional Protocols of 1977, protection for women and girls was envisaged among other issues; protection from all forms of hostilities. These include protection from sexual violence, torture, mutilation and any form of inhuman or degrading treatment, including harassment, slavery, trafficking and any means of spreading terror.
Women are a group of disadvantaged persons and criminally discriminated against. They also constitute the bulk of the poor. They are not only the most vulnerable to violence in conflict and emergencies; they have become weapons of prosecuting wars and conflicts. Their bodies have become the terrain where wars are fought even though they are often ignored in the peace building process.
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In Nigeria, insurgency and radicalisation to violent extremism have had widespread impacts on communities and people, particularly women. In times of relative peace, Nigeria is still witnessing a stunning rape epidemic. Stories of ritual rape of even under-five children litter our space on daily basis. We barely do anything other than lament our misfortunes or even explain it away. We have laws that insist on ‘penetration’ and almost ‘on -the -spot- copious evidence of rape’ such as semen in the body, the saliva of the accused, his body print or fingerprint to prove rape. We barely do anything about laws that can strengthen action against Sexual and Gender-based violence beyond sheer programming and occasionally naming and shaming.
We always wait for elite victims before we allow the tiger in us to let loose its tigritude . Even when we do, we only face the personalities involved and allow weak system and structure that empower rapists and ease their escape from the gate of justice to fester. The case of Bisola (not real name) was sad enough; but retroactive! I wonder what remedy our law as presently carved could offer her. We are always one hundred meters sprinters in this country, not marathoners. We hardly see any problem through in terms of rooting for the system- and structure- change. The best the Bisola episode offered was opportunity for reform which we ignored in preference for noisy uncoordinated emotion-driven episodic campaign that ended up as smoke whose fire could not be traced.
All societies require an informed level of activism and revolution, not cyber noise, whose life span is hardly up to one week in a nation of one day, one trouble! Many unheard cases of rape abound in IDP camps and of people in conflict. Impulsive episodic response actions will not solve our problems; unless we want to be moving from pole to pole on weekly basis as if on Baber’s chair.
The truth is that the country is fast becoming a huge ungoverned space for sexual and gender-based crime to thrive and blossom. Sadly, these criminals often find refuge in our near impotent laws and within the justice administration system that lacks a culture of timely justice. With such a weak system and impotent structure, we will continue to have more victims in the mortuary than in the ‘ sanctuary of protection’!
Addressing women’s rights issues demands relentless knowledge-driven strategy and commitments; not fruitless emotional hype unintelligent advocacies that have driven activism over the years, yielding insignificant progress. We must answer the questions of; what is responsible for the absence of a gender perspective in rights and law enforcement in Nigeria despite policies? Why there is a lack of institutional or other forms of support for community-level initiatives by women to enjoy their constitutional and women-specific rights within their localities? Why the marginalisation of Nigerian women in formal policy-making positions, traditional leadership and administration mechanisms, including security, enforcement institutions and ad-hoc peace building mechanisms?
Failure of state authorities to consult women, even informally, in the course of state-initiated women issues and policies is dump folding and ridiculous to the extent that some state governors have even appointed men as Special Advisers on Women Affairs. The pressure on accountability for gender equity has become irresistible across the globe.
No country or her components, including, internal or external institutional or organisational branding is of any value any longer in today’s world without transforming gender equity into reality. One of the ways the effectiveness of state institutions, agencies and organisations is measured today is by using gender lens to scan gender sensitivity compliance. Although, putting Gender Policy in place is a cardinal milestone in the race to catch up with global best practices. However, as good as policy document may be, it is useless if not diligently implemented. We must deliberately formulate strategies for the full integration of gender concerns by the Nigerian State and other sectors in governance, justice administration, conflict resolution, peace-building, protection and security frameworks and processes at all levels in the country. As well as develop country-specific action plans for the comprehensive implementation of conventions, protocols, resolutions and other international, national and local frameworks for protecting women, girls and other vulnerable persons in Nigeria. Even the story of God’s creation of the world, to those of us who believe the story, buttresses this when God, after creating man went on to create woman on the ground that, “it is not good for man to be alone.” It simply means that in God’s view, man could not have achieved anything if God had left man alone. Therefore, if God, in His limitless wisdom, affirmed that it is not good for man to be alone, that translates to ‘it is not good for man to act alone’ in this space called earth. There seems to be a national conspiracy against this divine declaration. All over the country, we have gross marginalisation of women so much so that it seems to be a conspiracy against women. Emotionally and physically, women and girls wear the face of violence in Nigeria. This veil of backwardness must be removed. In the words of Franklin Roosevelt, ‘we must remember that any oppression, any injustice, any hatred is a wedge designed to attack our civilization’
Olajuyigbe is the Executive Director, of Emergency & Risk Alert Initiative