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NIGERIA AND VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN

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Jonathan Ogbonna

Violence against women and girls (VAWG) is one of the most widespread, persistent and devastating human rights violations in our world today remains largely unreported due to the impunity, silence, stigma, and shame surrounding it. It is seen in different hues such as in physical, sexual and psychological forms, encompassing: Intimate partner violence (battering, psychological abuse, marital rape, femicide); sexual violence and harassment (rape, forced sexual acts, unwanted sexual advances, child sexual abuse, forced marriage, street harassment, stalking, cyber- harassment); human trafficking (slavery, sexual exploitation); female genital mutilation; and child marriage.

To further clarify, the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women issued by the UN General Assembly in 1993, defines violence against women as “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.”

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To raise awareness and trigger action to end this global scourge, the UN observes International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on 25 November. The date marks the brutal assassination in 1960 of the three Mirabal sisters, political activists in the Dominican Republic. The 2019 theme for the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women is ‘Orange the World.’ Like in previous years, this year’s International Day will mark the launch of the 16 days of activism that will conclude on 10 December 2019, which is International Human Rights Day. 

According to a 2013 WHO global study, 35 percent of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual violence. However, some national studies show that up to 70 percent of women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetime from an intimate partner. This year’s International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women (25 November), and for the next two years, will focus on the issue of rape as a specific form of harm committed against women and girls in times of peace or war.

A study recently commissioned by the ministry of women’s affairs and social development and the United Nations Population Fund (UNPFA) Nigeria with support from the Norwegian Government found out that 28% of Nigerian women aged 25-29 have experienced some form of physical violence since age 15. Also, according to the charity Girls Not Brides, 43% of girls in Nigeria are married off before their 18th birthday and 17% are married before they turn 15.

During a news briefing in Abuja on the elimination of violence against women and girls in, the minister of Women’s Affairs, Aisha Alhassan, spoke about the traditional roots of violence. “Women and girls may suffer violent acts in the household and within the family which could be habituated by socio-cultural attitudes and traditions,’’ she said.

The Center for Health Ethics Law and Development (CHELD), a group comprising lawyers, doctors, health professionals, social scientists, economists, public health specialists, gender specialists and statisticians that promote public health in Nigeria and other African countries, believe many cases of violence against women in Nigeria are influenced by financial factors.

In its 2015 report on Violence Against Women in Nigeria and the Need for a Women’s Fund, CHELD noted that these factors range from husbands preventing their wives from working or denying them funds for necessities such as children’s school fees, health services and even food.

“For instance, several women I have talked to this year have had problems with insufficient funds to buy air time to make calls. Beyond this, financial issues prevent women from leaving bad and abusive situations. Many of the women have been beaten down and prevented from working and earning any income to keep them financially dependent on the abuser,” Cheluchi Onyemelukwe-Onuobia, CHELD’s founder and executive director, said.

However, the most common acts of violence against women in Nigeria include sexual harassment, physical violence, harmful traditional practices, emotional and psychological violence, socio-economic violence and violence against non-combatant women in conflict situation.

A lady who chooses to remain anonymous speaking on rape said;

“If I could have one wish granted, it might well be a total end to rape. Rape isn’t an isolated brief act. It damages flesh and reverberates in memory. It can have life changing, unchosen results—a pregnancy or transmitted disease. Its long-lasting, devastating effects reach others: family, friends, partners and colleagues. In both conflict and in peace it shapes women’s decisions to move from communities through fear of attack or the stigma for survivors.”

Almost universally, most perpetrators of rape go unreported or unpunished. For women to report in the first place requires a great deal of resilience to re-live the attack, a certain amount of knowledge of where to go, and a degree of confidence in the responsiveness of the services sought – if indeed there are services available to go to.

In many countries, women know that they are overwhelmingly more likely to be blamed than believed when they report sexual assault, and they have to cope with an unwarranted sense of shame. The result of these aspects is a stifling of women’s voices around rape, significant under-reporting and continuing impunity for perpetrators.

Research shows that only a small fraction of adolescent girls who experience forced sex seek professional help. And less than 10 percent of women who did seek help after experiencing violence contacted the police.”

Having more women in police forces and training them adequately is a crucial first step in ensuring that survivors of rape incident begin to trust again and feel that their complaint is being taken seriously at every stage of what can be a complex process,” said an anonymous interviewee.

During a news briefing in Abuja on the elimination of violence against women and girls in, the minister of Women’s Affairs, Aisha Alhassan, spoke about the traditional roots of violence. “Women and girls may suffer violent acts in the household and within the family which could be habituated by socio-cultural attitudes and traditions,’’ she said.

The Center for Health Ethics Law and Development (CHELD), a group comprising lawyers, doctors, health professionals, social scientists, economists, public health specialists, gender specialists and statisticians that promote public health in Nigeria and other African countries, believe many cases of violence against women in Nigeria are influenced by financial factors.

In its 2015 report on Violence Against Women in Nigeria and the Need for a Women’s Fund, CHELD noted that these factors range from husbands preventing their wives from working or denying them funds for necessities such as children’s school fees, health services and even food.

“For instance, several women I have talked to this year have had problems with insufficient funds to buy air time to make calls. Beyond this, financial issues prevent women from leaving bad and abusive situations. Many of the women have been beaten down and prevented from working and earning any income to keep them financially dependent on the abuser,” Cheluchi Onyemelukwe-Onuobia, CHELD’s founder and executive director, said.

Dr. Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi, founding director of Women Advocates Research and Documentation Center (WARDC) declared: “We call on the Federal Government [of Nigeria] to create more institutions that can address the root causes of gender-based violence, the impunity that often goes with the scourge, implement policies and enact laws, for a stronger national response that can support victims and survivors \ of violence.”

Starting from its laws, Nigeria must begin to show all sense of seriousness in its bid to fight against this menace, as violence against women in Nigeria is almost accepted as a fact of life in some cultures that perceive women as the property of their husbands.

Also, some cultures encourage denying women and girls access to education, land and or inheritance. A section of the penal code applicable in Northern Nigeria permits wife battering as chastisement if grievous harm is not indicted.

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