The increasing incidents of violence against women have become sources of concerns to stakeholders, including women, human right activists, as well as different levels of governmental institutions, writes NAOMI SHARANG.
By most accounts, violence against women is a serious social and public health issue. “Violence against women and girls is a global pandemic,” some observers said. The United Nations (UN) 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”.
A UN report shows that one in every 10 girls faces sexual abuse. The report also states that 35 per cent of women will experience one form of violence in their lifetime, while 30 per cent will experience violence from their current or former partners.
Similarly, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) said violence against women and girls is one of the most prevalent human rights violations in the world. “It knows no social, economic or national boundaries. Worldwide, an estimated one in three women will experience physical or sexual abuse in her lifetime.” The Fund further stated that gender-based violence undermines the health, dignity, security and autonomy of its victims, yet it remains shrouded in a culture of silence.
As part of efforts to check the aberration, Women’s Rights Advancement Protection Alternative (WRAPA) urged government to strengthen the legal framework for the protection of vulnerable women. The Executive Secretary of WRAPA, Mrs Saudatu Madhi, said the violence in some homes even transcends the violence in the society, adding that most perpetrators of such violence are not strictly punished.
“The society has not decided to tag violence against women as a criminal act, and unless we criminalise violence in the home, we will see such violence perpetuate itself. Children who are being brought up in such homes will see violence as a normal thing; they will come out and exhibit violence and join violent gangs.
“We need to build our legal framework to protect the vulnerable woman. The legal framework can only take care of her by holding perpetrator of violence against her accountable squarely; government must also take responsibility,” she said.
Besides, the WRAPA scribe emphasised that it is the duty of government to secure and protect the lives of its citizens, particularly vulnerable women. She, therefore, urged the government to collaborate with and support relevant stakeholders that fight to protect women’s rights.
She said this is because vulnerable persons who go through abuse are rarely bold enough to seek help, adding that any form of domestic violence is absolutely unacceptable. Besides, Madhi urged the general public to support the family system, underscoring the need to strengthen the society’s social structure in order to provide support for vulnerable women.
She said women ought to be reassured of their support and acceptance in the society, adding that women should also be encouraged to develop their capacities.
On her part, Justice Fati Abubakar, Chairperson, Board of Trustees of WRAPA, said the “unacceptability of the reality of women’s rights has deterred women from occupying their rightful place in the society’’. She, nonetheless, underscored the need for stakeholders to sensitise women to their rights.
Abubakar said there is a compelling need to review the content of the Gender and Equal Opportunities Bill, pending before the Senate, “to make it beneficial to everyone. The bill needs a lot of research; it needs wide consultations for a better representation,” she said.
Sharing similar sentiments, Mrs Odi Lagi, Senior Programme Officer, Network of University Legal Aid Institutions (NULAI) Nigeria, advocated the training of police officers to specifically spearhead the crusade against gender-based violence. She argued that the police ought to be trained and re-trained on how to respond to domestic violence.
“They must be trained to see domestic violence as a severe offence,” she added. Lagi urged the police to treat domestic violence as a crime and not as a family affair that should be settled at home. “ If the society recognises that violence against women is a crime, then it should support victims instead of stigmatising them,” she said. Besides, Lagi said the National Orientation Agency (NOA) can make meaningful contributions to the fight against violence against women by educating the public on all elements of domestic violence.
She insisted that even though governments have enacted laws on domestic violence, there is a need for victims to report cases of violence. She frowns at the situation where some churches and other religious places often advise victims of domestic violence to go and pray, rather than encouraging them to report cases to the appropriate agencies.
“Most churches would rather advise the woman to stay in the marriage and pray, rather than take steps to tackle perpetrators of the violence against her,” she said. Lagi said NULAI, through its project, “Amber Alert for Social Justice”, is working to sensitise members of the society to the dangers of domestic violence and its dire consequences on the lives of those who are involved.
“Be mindful of the fact that domestic violence can negatively affect children who, in turn, may continue the chain of abuse when they grow up. Amber Alert tries to get as many voices as possible working together to fight the menace,” she added.
It is, perhaps, very pertinent to note that National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the National Council of Women Societies (NCWS) on the protection of the rights of women, youths and children
Prof. Bem Angwe, the Executive Secretary of NHRC, said that the MoU is part of designed efforts to end discrimination against women by ensuring that they are educated and empowered to claim their rights. According to Angwe, women, who constitute the majority of Nigeria’s population, still remain the most vulnerable, the poorest and the weakest members of the society.
He said that implementation of the agreement will enable women to enjoy equal opportunities with men, while allowing them to attain their full potential. Angwe bemoaned that fact that women in Nigeria still experience certain disadvantages because of their gender, regardless of the fact that the constitution prohibits discrimination.
“By signing this agreement, the Nigerian woman, represented by the NCWS, is stating clearly that she undertakes to assist the commission to realise its statutory responsibility and mandate of promoting and protecting human rights in the country.
“That Nigerian women are committed to ensuring that the requisite framework, to which the parties can collaborate, enlighten and train the public on human rights, is appropriately put in place, particularly as it relates to the rural areas in major concerns of health, education, family and societal values.
“That the Nigerian women are committed to supporting the work of the commission to put an end to all forms of domestic violence, sexual exploitation and abuse of the Nigerian woman, henceforth.’’
On her part, the National President of NCWS, Mrs Nkechi Mba, said that the association is the most viable organ to use in efforts to communicate with women across the country. This is because NCWS has representation in all the 774 local governments of the country, she said.
She, however, observed that in spite of several efforts being made, a lot of women are still ignorant of their rights. The NCWS president noted that the signing of the MoU is one way of ensuring intense and effective public sensitisation, in efforts to make every Nigerian woman aware of her rights.
She said women, with the needed awareness, will be in a better position to ensure the protection of their rights. All in all, experts insisted that prevention and elimination of gender-based violence will require increased advocacy and partnerships between the international community, governments, multilateral organisations, private sector companies, and grassroots advocates.
“It will require empowering women and girls to speak up for themselves, and educating men and boys to speak up and speak out for their mothers, wives, partners, sisters, and daughters. It will also require adequate legal and judicial frameworks,” they added. (NAN)