The United Nations defines violence against women as any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in physical, sexual or mental harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion, or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or private life.
Contrary to popular belief, violence against women goes beyond the physical and includes mental and emotional abuse. Gender-based violence covers genital mutilation, femicide, rape, sexual harassment, physical abuse, verbal abuse, psychological abuse, financial abuse, education and job deprivation, denial of political rights, trafficking and kidnapping of girls and women, among others.
STATEMENT OF PROBLEM
Ironically, violence against women continues to increase, despite rising campaigns on human rights and gender equality. In their poll on domestic violence, NOIPolls Limited and Project Alert found that 54 percent of Nigerians have suffered some form of domestic violence in their homes or know someone who has. Respondents stated that majority (75 percent) of the victims of domestic violence are women, with men and children as victims at 16 percent and 9 percent respectively.
In Nigeria, violence against women is rooted in gender-based discrimination, and gender stereotypes. It is promoted by our traditions and cultures which give males excessive dominance over their female counterparts. In rural communities, the rights of women are trampled by villagers ignorant of gender rights, and many women live at the mercy of men, relegated to the background, deprived of education, liberty and inheritance. In cities, violence against women appears in cases where women are sexually harassed at their jobs or schools, in relationships or marriages lacking adequate finances and trust, or where the male has alcohol addiction, and in more secretive settings where women are trafficked for sex work.
High profile cases of violence against women in Nigeria include the abduction of girls by the Boko Haram Sect, the first being of almost 200 Chibok Girls in 2014 and more recently over 100 Dapchi Girls in March 2018. It is awful that some of these girls remained hostages of these terrorists for several months and were victims of sexual harassment, statutory rape and underage marriage.
More generally, rape has been on the increase, with the reported gang rapes of over 20 girls and women at a musical concert in Enugu recently. Intimate partner murders have also been on the rise. The fact remains that violence against women needs to be critically fought by the government and society.
CAUSES AND EFFECTS OF VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN AND GIRLS
Causes of violence against women include cultural norms, carefree attitude towards gender-based violence, weak legal sanctions, indoctrination of boys on lesser value of women and girls, and ignorance of women rights by members of the society. Other reasons are low educational level, personality disorders and harmful use of alcohol and drugs, criminal behaviors, difficulty in communicating marital/relationship dissatisfaction, and refusal of victims to disclose cases of violence.
The harmful effects of violence can be classified under psychological, socio-economic and medical effects:
Psychological effects – depression (may lead to suicide), low self-esteem, emotional trauma.
Socio-economic effects – Unemployment, dysfunctional relationships and marriages, divorce, substance abuse, increased social vices, juvenile delinquency and crimes including murder.
Medical effects – Injuries, miscarriage, abortion, STIs, HIV and AIDS.
EFFORTS MADE SO FAR
In 2006, the Federal Government of Nigeria instituted the National Gender Policy with the purpose of ending gender discrimination. In 2015, then President Goodluck Jonathan signed into Law the Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act, 2015. Since 2015, the Nigeria Stability and Reconciliation Program (NSRP) together with the Fund for Peace(FFP) and their partners across Nigeria have been reporting on violence against women and girls. Recently, the National Human Rights Commission signed a memo with the National Council of Women Societies (NCWS) to help educate and empower women on their rights. The Women Arise for Change Initiative (WACI) also encourages women to stand up for their rights and fight their misuse and abuse by men.
Despite these efforts by government and the civil society to mitigate violence against women in Nigeria, it is apparent that more work is needed to fight the menace.
Gender-based violence isn’t just about women. Men and boys also play an important role in empowering, mentoring, and supporting women as their mothers, sisters, wives, daughters, co-workers and fellow citizens to develop our community. The Strategy and Innovation for Development Initiative, SI4DEV Governance group therefore makes the following recommendations:
Prevention is the best way to address the menace of violence against women and girls and should be priority for all stakeholders at all levels.
Women should begin to challenge the deeply rooted inequalities and social norms that reinforce tolerance for violence against women and girls and perpetuate men’s control and power over women.
Women should seek legal redress whenever they are deprived of parental or marital inheritance.
Stakeholders should use all available channels including TV, radio, newspapers and social media to raise awareness about this issue and champion community mobilization.
Opinion leaders including political leaders, religious leaders and community development association should be enlightened and engaged as advocates.
Religious bodies should educate their members on Gender based Violence.
Gender parity policies should be implemented in the workplace, education, economy and governance.
Survivors of gender-based violence should be empowered, not as victims, but as champions and advocates of gender parity and leaders of the cause against such violence.
The national Bureau of statistics should support research to get data on attitudes, perceptions and behavior of men and boys, as well as people exposed to this form of violence.
We need a long-term national orientation program to reduce the prevalence of gender-based violence in Nigeria to support behavioral and culture change among boys and girls.
SI4DEV is a non-governmental organization registered in Nigeria as Strategy and Innovation for Development Initiative. SI4DEV brings together individuals and groups and provides training on practical skills towards achieving democracy and economic prosperity for communities.