Tackling sexual, gender-based violence in Nigeria
RMTIMESNG-15-year-old Amina Hassan, from Pataki Local Government Area of Niger, was forced to marry a 50-year-old man with children. She is the first of seven girls from her parents and she was not given the opportunity to go to school.
Life became miserable for Amina as she was always beaten up anytime she refuses her husband’s sexual advances.
Amina eventually ran away, while her case was taken up by Reproductive Rights Advocacy Safe Space and Empowerment (RAISE).
A 38-year-old woman (name with held), who lives in Benin, narrated her bitter experiences in her 17-year-old marriage.
She said that her husband always beat her for not giving birth to a male child.
“He insists I must deliver a boy for him after having two girls; he beats me up with no just cause.
“In fact, there were many occasions he almost killed me; especially at night as he always come back drunk and forced himself on me.
“I have contemplated killing myself more than twice, but God intervened,’’ she said.
Cases of Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV), like that of Amina and the Benin-based 38-year-old housewife have been on the increase in recent times.
With the advent of COVID-19, the situation worsened as families had to stay at home during the lockdown period.
Available records showed increased incidences of rapes, especially on minors, spousal batteries, among others, during the lockdown period.
To stem gender based-violence and give succour to the victims, ActionAid Nigeria, partnered three Women’s Rights Organisations (WROs) in Adamawa, Edo and Niger states on Women-led Integrated Protection Action Against Violence (WIPe-GBV).
The WIPe-GBV project, which was aimed at protecting the rights of women and girls from GBV exacerbated by conflicts and COVID-19 in these states, was funded by Commonwealth and Development Office of the UK Government.
At a recent meeting in Abuja, women and gender-sensitive men x-rayed the challenges of GBV and how the project has been able to address the plights of victims.
Mrs Ene Obi, the Country Director of ActionAid Nigeria, called for unity of Nigerian women to end the menace in the country.
Obi expressed worry over the culture of silence by women toward GBV cases, saying “the society is not protecting its citizens.’’
She lamented the pace at which GBV cases were withdrawn from the courts and called on stakeholders to rise above GBV in the country.
“On Dec. 8, 2020, ActionAid Nigeria in partnership with Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), officially launched a five-month project targeted at protecting the rights of women and girls from GBV exacerbated by COVID-19 in Edo, Niger and Adamawa states.
“The implementation of this project gave us better insight into the unique context of addressing violence against women and girls amidst pandemic, especially in conflict settings.
“We have been able to get to the communities and bring out a lot of cases on SGBV. It is an overwhelming episode this time because of the increase in violence occasion by COVID-19.
“There is a lot of mobilisation in some of these communities and more cases are being held while some of the cases are being done.
“What is of concern to us is the culture of silence. The society is not protecting its citizens because we are not very happy that some cases were withdrawn from the courts,’’ she said.
Obi called on women to rise up as the 2023 election draws nearer in order to take their rightful position to boost complete eradication of SGBV in the country.
In the same vein, Dr Ranatu Hassan, great granddaughter of Queen Amina of Zaria, commended ActionAid for taking the lead in the fight against eradication of GBV across the country.
She, however, frowned at some parents who were not forceful to fight for justice for victims of GBV.
She appealed for the extension of the project to accommodate many other girls and women experiencing GBV, whose voices were not being heard.
To also tackle GBV, the Federal Ministry of Women Affairs, recently inaugurated a Strategic Knowledge Management National Technical Working Group on Sexual and Gender-Based Violence in Nigeria.
The working group is a joint EU-UN Spotlight initiative, structured to advise the Ministry of Women Affairs in the multi-sectoral SGBV national response and bring together technical expertise, donors, development partners and civil society organisations.
According to the Minister of Women Affairs, Mrs Pauline Tallen, the ministry has established an inter-ministerial committee to address issues around SGBV.
Tallen decried absence of adequate data on SGBV, describing it as a major challenge in addressing the scourge.
“Unfortunately, COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the violence against women. Now we have a pandemic within a pandemic.
“I appeal to the justice system to ensure that justice against the perpetrators is no longer delayed because justice delayed is justice denied.
“Our children and women need justice and we cannot sweep such bad cases under the carpet. They must be adequately tried and brought to book,’’ she said.
Tallen said that President Muhammadu Buhari had declared zero-tolerance to SGBV, which led to the development of Gender-based Violence Data Situation Room and Dashboard on May 15, 2020.
The minister appealed to all states that had not domesticated the Child Right’s Act to do so.
Available data on GBV covering 2019 to 2020, showed that over 3,000 cases were reported, 171 cases were fatal, 188 cases closed, while only 11 cases were persecuted.
All in all, stakeholders have identified inadequate data and refusal of GBV victims to speak up for fear of stigmatisation as challenges facing tackling the scourge.
They believe that awareness creation and collation of adequate data on all forms of violence against women and girls will go a long way to tackling the scourge.
They say that attention should be focussed on domestic and family violence, sexual and gender-based violence, harmful practices, femicide, trafficking in human persons, sexual and economic exploitation, among others.
They also advocated speedy prosecution of perpetrators of GBV as well as ensure protection for survivors, as fear of physical assault on them and their family members is a hindrance to reporting cases of SGBV in the country.