By Ado Hassan, Sokoto
VIOLENCE in what ever form is a harmful, dirty, inhuman and callous act. In short, is seen as a silent killer. It is an infringement on the right to life and survival of a citizen. It is no respecter of law, tribe, religion, age or race. The world abhors it” Gender Based Violence”
Some times, victims of sexual abuse tend to be in a fix. The act is seldom done in the open and occasioned under duress and threat. Often than not, perpetrators are under the influence of drugs.
Victims are mostly disadvantaged by age, resources and literacy. Even if they wail for help, only a marginal few get rescued in a thousand cases.
Virtually same applies to those experiencing domestic violence which culture largely promotes against the women who even for minor faults, get traumatised, wailing for help.
They not only face the aforementioned difficulties, getting justice and within a time not longer than necessary has been the challenge even if they open up.
Besides, the social consequence of stigmatisation trails their emotional and psychological comfort. It also exposes them to discrimination.
However, Violence Against Women and Girls has long created fears in the lives of victims who suffer all manners of social ills occasioned by usually sexual harassment as a result of rape among others.
Most importantly, VAWG can also be subjective; economic , psychological, mental, emotional, structural or domestic abuses against human creation.
Hitherto, and without fear of contradiction, violence is visibly visited on women and girls across the globe irrespective of age bracket.
Accordingly, while men must learn to control their tempers and desires, while women and girls must also avoid indecent dressing and negative attitudes to their husbands.
Comparatively, reports indicate that no evidence of established and registered case where women beat men. On the other hand and most often than not, men have always turned women their punching bags.
” The perpetrators of violence against women and girls should be disgraced to the highest level of embarrassments.”
” We are aggressively advocating for death sentence for offenders. Because is a violation against the state so long as it is fully established”,
” Stiff penalties should be met on offenders. I must also say that the delay we experience in dispensing justice also affect victims and heir families”, some of the reactions from a cross section of Sokoto people interviewed.
Accordingly, while commenting on the trend , a source who refused to be mentioned told said that VAWG is the most widely and devastating abuse of human right in the world.
” Women and girls need to be protected. There should commitment to actions and programmes that protect and defend them against any form of physical and sexual abuse.
” Doing this by strengthening the legal frame work and ensuring direct involvement of women in policies that affect them, will grossly address the situation as well discourage the attitude of making rape cases a family issue among citizens.”
From her perspective, a female activist who also choose not be mentioned said” parents also contribute to the spade of abuses on the girl child. Rape is a common phenomenon in especially the north. Girls from poor families are most vulnerable due to poverty and economic imbalance driving them into hawking which makes it easier for the men to sexually abuse them.
” Our female parents are mostly to blame. They send teenagers and sometime children below ten years with items that don’t worth N500 and be told not to return without selling all. Day in , day out, someone (man) will one day seize opportunity to rape her and put her life in jeopardy.
” We need to constantly create awareness. CSOs, GBOs , CBOs and NGOs must rise to their responsibilities against such abuse”, She urged.
However, surveys and statistical data have constantly revealed that women and girls are more vulnerable to the menace globally.
This trend has hitherto, opened a new chapter of concerns across countries of the world today.
As it were, while descending on the alarming rate of it occurrence, we cannot divorce our concerns from the Gender Based Violence( GBV) perspective.
Women and girls have been subjected to all manner of devastating treatment against their rights. Many a times, their health and survival are affected.especially in Nigeria and other African nations.
Surveys have outlined that 1 out of 3 girls have experienced one violence of sexual abuse or another.
Other reports from similar surveys showa proportion of 1 out of 4 get abused sexually.
The most common and trending are domestic, sexual and economic violence which have always demoralised victims in the course of their endeavours.
The trend has no age barrier in our society. A sizeable number of victims of sexual abuse(rape) are between the ages of 9 and 17. Infact, they are mostly teenagers who by error of conduct or orientation in life, get abused by men who can father them.
Though, a survey report in 2013 by the National Demographic Health Survey(NDHS) puts Nigeria at 118th nation out of 134 on Gender Equality Index with no fewer than 30% of its women aged 15-49 reported to have experienced sexual abuse.
One out of the many cases of sexual abuse that triggered concerns in Nigeria was that of Benue state 11year Ochenya Obanye who was abused by an uncle now in jail.
The victim suffered severe health consequence which led to her death.
There are several others not known to the world who died in silent as a result of one abuse or the other.
Ending the menace has become a global issue for discuss across international organisations and corporate NGOs.
However, in demonstration of commitment and resilience against the scourge, the European Union(EU) and the United Nations(UN) jointly evolved a template thus” Spotlight Initiative Dialogue” in synergy with the Media to promote and actualise the ‘End Violence Against Women and Girls’ campaign.
To change the narrative, the initiative, beams it focus on five states across Nigeria. They include: Lagos, Adamawa, Sokoto, Cross River, Ebonyi and the FCT.
It however, set its mission on 6 pillars to drive the visionary agenda in four years with a budget plan of $40 million.
Making funds available may not be enough without the active involvement of the state governments as key stakeholders to shore up in domesticating rights Act through responsive legislation otherwise, it will create a huge vacuum. This means all hands must be on deck.
The pillars are: Legislation and policy framework strengthening ( capacity building, public legal literacy and awareness, legal reform, key policies and guidelines adoption and budgeted), Strengthening institutions, Prevention and Social Norms, Delivery of Quality Essential Services, Data Availability and Capacity as well supporting movement of women were identifiable pillars that could be resolved and domesticated to fight the epidemic of violence against the female gender.Notable catalysts to GBV trend include inability of victims to open up through formal complaints sequel to lack of confidence and trust in the law enforcement agency( police) occasioned by law level of literacy, lack of empowerment , as well for fear of stigmatisation among other salient causes.
However, the approach against the epidemic or phenomenal occurrence that continue to envelop the lives of victims of gender based abuse have been strengthened by recognising the media as a strategic partner and necessary tool to further pilot the course of the Spotlight initiative in Nigeria.
The media is generally viewed as the “4th estate of the realm” has the role of shaping and moulding the opinion of the society.
It is the quickest and reliable platform through which agenda setting is built. Public interest is of utmost concern to the media and VAWG remain an epidemic that affects the larger society’s social order which the media must join to fight to end it.
This has hitherto, advanced a new perspective for the EU UN Spotlight Initiative to fight the menace through a workable and more reliable action plan on VAWG.
It is evident that, VAWG is a problem in Nigeria which statistics from surveys have revealed.
” It is against the law and survivors don’t usually receive full legal support which force them to remain in abusive relationships than to be ridiculed outside relationships or wedlock”, a report observed with concerns.
A further analysis of the age bracket affected by the trend has 33% of urban and 24% of rural women respectively.
Though, the argument against the report has provoked observations from different perceptions as to why relying on a six year survey rather than having fresh updates that tally the current year.
Further observation said the data may not be realistically factual to determine or represent fresh cases that defines current circumstance on VAWG in the country. Therefore, routine data update becomes necessary and requisite to fighting violence against women.
More disturbing is the numerical proportion of young girls married out below the age of 18 and before turning 15.
The health hazards and risk associated to these young innocent girls whose future stands mortgaged against their individual and collective rights, is grossly jeopardy to the template of their survival and is unacceptable.
Worthy of concern is the multiplying effects arising from the blind decision which according to reports, generates 20, 000 cases of fistula obstetrics on annual basis with the age brackets placed at 43% and 17% respectively.
In a related perspective which sees violence against women and girls as a social stereotyped phenomenon, also explains that, the traditional patriarchal structure which has right from time, placed women on the subordinating social status to the male.
This has not only constitute violence but subjects them to surrender to and act like slaves to their husbands in the domestic circle hence, making the situation more unbearable to their freedom of survival which tramples against their rights as mothers and custodian of child upbringing and morals.
At this point, these elements have substantially denied them their placement in decision making process, life issues as well paving a path for others to decide and determine their pursuits and career among others.
Greasing the journey even as he identified lack of political will, socio economic defects and social justice among other challenges promoting rather than discouraging the trend of GBV, a former Sokoto state Commissioner of Information and one time Director General, National Broadcasting Commission(NBC), Mr Nasiru Danladi Bako, noted that the integration of women in the affairs of governance as instruments of development as well driving force in promoting positive change would significantly close the negative openings on inequality and gender disparity that could further ignite violence against them.
Accordingly, Bako who is a title holder of ‘Kogunan Sokoto” in the Sultanate while in his presentation at a 2 day media engagement dialogue on VAWG in Kano, Monday, advocated a sustainable gender curricular on violence against women and girls at the basic educational levels to engender an acceptable practices that place women and girls on the right pedestal of equality with their opposite counterparts.
” This will further discourage government from ignoring deserved treatment for women and girls as well set a proactive agenda for the nation against violence.
” We must also begin to appreciate and recognise relevant sociological family and lineage backgrounds that the girl child has the dynamism and capacity to participate and contribute as the male in advancing the country”, he stressed.
The Topics titled: “The Power of the Media: Finding the Needle in a Hay Sack and Changing the Narrative of the Rights of Women and Girls – Creating a New Social order in Nigeria”.
While focusing on the need to disabuse the negative perception against women and girls that provoked violence against them, the former NBC Boss stressed the need to intensify advocacy activities to foster awareness and create new sense of direction that would place women and girls on the right trajectory of integration through awareness.
” On this note, the media has a great role to play by projecting the right of women and girls vulnerable to violence.
” Women associations, NGOs and related organs have to be fully involved in including the media in the fight on violence against women and girls in the country”, he stated.
Similarly, the EU-UN Spotlight Initiative Coordinator, Hadiza Dorayi Aminu remarked that the trend of violence against women and girls goes beyond domestic and sexual violence which requires the active involvement of the media.
She said ” Institutions must be strengthened to develop a system, plan and be encouraged to fund as well deliver the needful. Our behaviour at the national and community levels as well individuals in preventing social and gender based violence. Intervention to support women and girls under violent conditions by driving the right persons to doing the right thing in terms of accessing services and provision of shelter .”
The Coordinator noted that ” nothing is wrong with culture, except we are trying to avoid as well discourage harmful practices. Child Right Act is necessary to promote and protect the child. Child marriage is an abuse which constitutes violence against the girl child. Nigeria is also faced with the barrier of accessing single service centre.”
Accordingly, Dorayi who expressed concerns over the continued silence of women and girls under violation for one reason or the other, noted that ” it could take some higher level counselling for such victims to voice out the pains and anguish they experience especially those going through domestic violence. Female parent need to create intimate relationship with their daughters which will help promote their ability to speakout. It is only if they agree to voice out that a likely stop or mechanism to salvage the situation can be achieved.”
Though, the Coordinator disclosed that UNDP had pro-actively stepped up efforts at the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) in expediting on cases and issues related to violence and harassment against women and girls.
” We need to be more innovative in our approach to addressing this critical phenomenon that has over time been reported to be of epidemic proportion and the trend is on the rise in the country. Victims need to be protected by law”, and doing this, Dorayi added” a responsive advocacy drive, multi stakeholders dialogue, partnership, knowledge exchange as well networking strategy must be engineered and encouraged and not to be left out.
In his presentation titled: “Implementing the Laws- Confronting the Political and Social Challenges Around VAWG and Harmful Practices in Nigeria and Accelerating Access to Justice Child Survivors of GBV”, a Human Rights Activist, Basic Rights Counsel Initiative, Barrister James Ivor said culture and religion were critical social components hence , where the duo conflict, conscience and moral reason should prevail when focusing on violence against women and girls.
While noting that security and safety were constitutional rights of every Nigerian citizen,Bako stressed that violence against women and girls is a health and human rights concern.
Similarly, Ibor explained that all human rights are fundamental rights but not all fundamental rights are human rights noting that gender could be seen differently.
He cautioned against holding on to system that promotes irrational believes explaining that ” GBV constitutes a breach of fundamental right to life, liberty, security , dignity and equality between women and men, making it one of the most challenging act of power imbalance between the opposite sex in Nigeria.”
He explained further that” the Child Rights Act is designed and applicable across the 36 states of the country including the FCT hence , the media help promote values that are acceptable and discourage all acts of GBV.
” The media has the role of creating awareness, identify and report cases of violence, working with age grades(groups) and community to protect the rights of women and girls otherwise, not doing will amount to gross disservice to the country and humanity.
Similarly, making her presentation, ” Prevention and Social Norms, Safeguarding the Dignity of Women and Girls through Awareness of Women Rights including Sexual and Reproductive Rights”, HOD, Public Law, Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies(NIALS), Dr Ibe Ifeakandu, said it was about gender inequality which statistical survey analysis identified 200 million of the female gender across the globe as victims of genital mutilation.
This, She also said” 99% of the right estimated 40 million persons trafficked each year are women and girls. GBV is a global phenomenon which also exposed 44% of girls to marriage before attaining the age of 18 and 17 % before the age of 15.
However, this has significantly and consistently created ripples especially across the globe.
” More worrisome is the fact that the percentage has negatively shut up 73% marrying before attaining 18 years of age.”
Ifeakandu, however, expressed concerns with alarming fears while noting that culture and religion have drastically limited women rights to sexual health, adding” sexual and reproductive health right is the most abused rights of women and girls.”
The NIALS resource person further recalled the Kigali declaration which set out a responsive agenda on eliminating child marriage as well ensures adequate and active women participation in available window of opportunities.
She said ” the media is 70% a strategic driving force for the Spotlight Initiative engagement in building a sustained advocacy and community support platform that guarantees and safeguards the rights of women and girls in Nigeria and across the globe in the course to end VAWG.”
However, also explaining on the topic “Synergy Between Grassroots CSOs, NGOs, and the Media For Effective Advocacy and Coordination”,
Chika Obiechina, the Executive Director, Always Sister Foundation for Care and Development on Working With Advocacy Groups, said violence against women and girl child is a very disturbing phenomenon.
According to her, reports on GBV by media practitioners, makes little due to some avoidable missing links as inability of journalists to carry out investigative follow ups to conventional stories, especially with respect to the issue of gender based, noting that ” Nigeria on a cross road where culture and religion tend to entrench factors that give rise to GBV”, observed the resource person.
She appealed to the media to positively influence government intervention towards the reversal of the GBV trend stressing that, media practitioners should promote the message with passion to generate support from all and sundry.
Therefore, future well being of women and young girls in Nigeria must be supported to enable them live a life free from violence and harmful practices by addressing the linkages between sexual and gender based violence and harmful practices