Starting from yesterday, November 25, which was International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women to December 10 – the Human Rights Day – the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence Campaign provides opportunity to galvanise action to end violence against women and girls in Nigeria and around the world. Violence against women and girls is a grave violation of human rights. Its impact ranges from immediate to long-term physical, sexual and mental consequences for women and girls, including death. It negatively affects women’s general well-being and prevents women from fully participating in societal developments. Violence not only has negative consequences for women but also their families, the community and the country at large. It has tremendous costs, from greater health care and legal expenses and losses in productivity to impacting national budgets and overall development. Across the globe, women are beaten, raped, mutilated, and killed with impunity. Gender-based violence stems from the failure of governments and societies to recognize the human rights of women. It is rooted in a global culture of discrimination which denies women equal rights with men and which legitimises the appropriation of women’s bodies for individual gratification or political ends. Every day, all over the world, women face gender-specific persecutions, including genital mutilation, sexual slavery, forced prostitution, and domestic violence. Studies show that at least one out of every three women worldwide has been beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime. Indeed, recent global prevalence figures indicate that 35% of women worldwide have experienced either intimate partner violence or nonpartner sexual violence in their lifetime. On average, 30% of women who have been in a relationship report that they have experienced some form of physical or sexual violence by their partner. Risk factors for being a perpetrator include low education, exposure to child maltreatment or witnessing violence in the family, harmful use of alcohol, attitudes accepting of violence and gender inequality. In Nigeria, most common forms of violence against women are rape, acid attacks, molestation, wife beating, corporal punishment, and subjecting widows to harmful practices. While domestic violence is a violation of fundamental human rights, which the Nigerian Constitution is against, there are still provisions that make it legal to engage in domestic violence against women. The provision of the Penal Code applicable in the Northern part of
Nigeria specifically encourages violence against women. Underneath its provisions, the beating of a wife for the purpose of correction is legal by use of Section 55 (1) (d) of the Penal Code. Nigeria ratified the Convention for the Elimination of Discrimination against Women in 1985 but international treaties can only go into effect when Parliament has put in a corresponding domestic law thereby limiting the international treaty to disuse. For instance, serious crime such as rape is criminalised and under the law, the sentence can range from 10 years to life. But Nigeria’s conviction rate of 10 percent of rape prosecutions in the last ten years leaves much to be desired. In the 7th session of the National Assembly, a law was passed to reduce gender-based violence. The Violence against Persons Bill gave harsher punishments for sexual violence and also provided support and measures such as restraining order to prevent the continuation of abuse. But that has not stopped the violence against women and girls. When women are abused in custody, raped by armed forces as “spoils of war,” or terrorised by violence in the home, unequal power relations between men and women are both manifested and enforced. Violence against women is compounded by discrimination on the grounds of race, ethnicity, sexual identity, social status, class, and age. Such multiple forms of discrimination further restrict women’s choices, increase their vulnerability to violence, and make it even harder for women to obtain justice. Government at all levels must prevent, protect against, and punish violence against women whether perpetrated by private or public actors. They have a responsibility to uphold standards of due diligence and take steps to fulfill their responsibility to protect individuals from human rights abuses. Yet such violence is often ignored and rarely punished. Too often, no one is held accountable for these crimes. It must not be so. As the world marks the International Day for the elimination of all forms of violence against women, we identify with the position of the United Nations UNWOMEN that; violence against women is a consequence of discrimination against women, in law and also in practice, and of persisting inequalities between men and women; violence against women impacts on, and impedes, progress in many areas, including poverty eradication, combating HIV/AIDS, and peace and security. However, violence against women and girls is not inevitable. Prevention is possible and essential, until completely eliminated.