Nigeria – Rising levels of Gender-Based Violence and central role of a vibrant civil society for change

Written by Soyem Osakwe

Nigeria is failing its women and girls in so many ways. The latest spate of violence across the country has underscored the critical need for government to act swiftly to protect its most vulnerable and put an end to gender-based violence. From the camps of internally displaced persons, to states across the federation, it is the same story; women and girls have been victims of gruesome attacks.

The Nigerian police recently stated that it received 717 reported cases of rape between January and May 2020, adding that the current covid-19 pandemic has led to increased levels of violence against women and girls. This does not account for the number of survivors who chose to stay silent, afraid of the perpetrator(s) and even more terrified of a society where rape culture and victim–blaming is rife. From late May to early June, several civil society organizations in the country took to the streets to protest the rape and murders of Uwa Omozuwa who was raped in a church in Benin and died as a result the brutal attack; Barakat Bello who was raped and killed in her home; and Grace Oshiagwu who was raped and killed in Ibadan, the Oyo State capital. In response, the police intensified efforts to catch the perpetrators showing the power of social movements in addressing violence against women. (https://www.premiumtimesng.com/news/top-news/410969-omozuwa-police-parade-suspected-killers-of-uniben-student.html).

Intense pressure from civil society groups also compelled the Federal Government to declare a state of emergency on gender-based-violence in the country. However, the Government has to do a lot more to curb GBV in the country, by taking decisive actions through appropriate legislation, and strengthening of agencies that handle gender-based violence cases, especially law enforcement, social and welfare services. To ensure long-term progress, the decisive action points should include the following, which are by no means exhaustive:

  • Men and boys begin to acknowledge and recognize how male dominance, sexism and male privilege lay the foundation for all forms of violence against women.  To make progress, men and boys first need to understand and realize that men and women are equal, then modify their behavior as it relates to women and girls. Socialization at the family, religious and school levels must begin to emphasize that men and women are equal, existing power inequalities between men and women and implement transformative, effective social norm change programmes to address this. Globally, we are learning more about what works to prevent violence and shift harmful social norms and what programmes need to include to be effective.
     
  • Every state in Nigeria needs to domesticate the Violence Against Person’s Act (VAPP); a key piece of legislation that prohibits certain practices and abuses that infringe on the rights of women, girls and the vulnerable in our society. The VAPP provides that any person found guilty of rape is liable to life imprisonment without the option of fine, while offenders below the age of 14 are liable to 14 years imprisonment without option of fine. Some experts argue that putting minors in jail may not be the  best practice and recommend that a more progressive approach would be juvenile justice system   for  perpetrators who are minors. The VAPP is also the first legislation that recognizes that men can be victims of rape. Despite increased cases of sexual and gender-based violence, only 15 states out of Nigeria’s 36 States have adopted the VAPP. These States include; Lagos, FCT, Oyo, Ogun, Osun, Ekiti, Edo, Anambra, Enugu, Ebonyi, Benue, Cross River, Kaduna, Plateau and recently, Akwa-Ibom and Bauchi. It is therefore crucial for stakeholders in states where the Act has not been adopted, to join forces in ensuring that the VAPP is localized in their respective states.
     
  • State Governments must support the fight against violence against women by setting up and funding Sexual Assault Referral Centres (SARC) to provide much needed psychosocial and medical support for survivors in their respective states.
     
  • Collaborative effort from law enforcement is very important. Ideally, the Nigerian Police Force need a comprehensive approach that produces a deeper understanding of sexual assault crimes by all officers and reduces the possibility of victim –blaming, further abuse or re-victimization.  Also, case-workers or officers must undergo specialized training and obtain a mandatory accreditation to handle sexual offences, in order to ensure they are well equipped to ensure an end to violence against women and girls in the country.

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About the Author

Soyem Osakwe is a Strategic Communications Consultant and Digital Leadership Coach. She champions causes for gender equality and leads communication initiatives for women’s rights. Soyem volunteers at the Mirabel Centre. You can send her an email: soyemosakwe@gmail.com Or connect with her on LinkedIn

[Photo retrieved from Pexel]

 

 

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