Tosin Akibu, Programme Specialist Spotlight Initiative- UN Women Nigeria, in this interview, speaks on GBV amidst a second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic among other issues.
Statistics show that 3 out of 10 women have experienced physical, economic or psychological violence and half of the Nigerian girls are married before they turn 18. Are we winning the battle to end violence against women and girls in Nigeria?
COVID 19 has only served to exacerbate the occurrence of GBV in Nigeria, with many women and girls suffering from increased GBV at the hands of perpetrators.
The African society, unfortunately, is ruled by a pervasive patriarchal system that grants men power and control over women and supports unequal power relationships for women and men.
Addressing this requires a multi-faceted approach which includes addressing structural limitations related to access to justice, weak policies, reversing individual perceptions, gender norms, and attitudes through social and behaviour change communications, creating opportunities for women and girls to exercise their social, economic, and political rights, and their participation in decision making and other gendered issues.
Despite all these challenges, we have recorded success in terms of policies and changing social norms. This year, many states have domesticated the Violence in Person Prohibition (VAPP) Act. An epoch-making announcement in June by the Nigerian Governors Forum, declaring a state of emergency on rape; the recent development of a roadmap by the Nigerian Governors Wives Association Against Rape, for states to act on the state of emergency are all steps in the right direction.
The traction gained through the consistent, intentional engagement of community women on women’s movement through the joint EU-UN Spotlight Initiative supporting them to strengthen their agency and voice in advocating for not only the domestication of laws but enforcement. In addition, in Cross River, for example, the Becheve community in Obanliku LGA; has abolished the age-long ‘Money Woman’ tradition where female children (some as young as five) are used to settle debts owed by their parents or grandparents. We are not where we are, but not where we used to be.
Yearly, we dedicate days of activism to ending violence against women and girls, where exactly are we in achieving this goal by 2030?
People are talking about the evil of rape, GBV, defilement, harmful practices, workplace sexual harassment. Before you perpetrate violence now, you will think twice.
Through the joint EU-UN Spotlight Initiative, more people are reporting incidences and are accessing support. UN agencies are supporting the strengthening of institutions to be gender-responsive, there has been momentum in developing or reviewing sexual harassment policies, through the joint EU-UN Spotlight Initiative, school-related gender-based violence response protocol is being piloted in tertiary institutions.
The 16 days of activism commemoration has brought together various MDAs, UN Agencies, NGOs, CSOs, women coalitions to lend their voices demanding an end to gender-based violence; supporting government to ensure gender-responsive budgeting, working with traditional and religious institutions to speak and work against GBV and with women and girls toward achieving goal 5 of the Sustainable Developing Goals.
In June 2020, for the first time, the 36 Governors united to speak up and declared a State of Emergency on sexual and gender-based violence.
What impact has their declaration made on eliminating violence against women and girls in Nigeria?
Indeed, during the ‘stay at home’ containment order across the country, Nigeria witnessed an increase in reported cases of Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV) targeted at women and girls. Service providers reported a sharp increase in cases of intimate partner violence and domestic violence. Data on reported incidents of GBV cases in Nigeria based on information collection from 24 states showed that in March, the total number of GBV incidents reported were 346, while in the first part of April, incident reports spiked to 794, depicting a 56 per cent increase in just two weeks of lockdown. Some of these incidents of violence have tragically resulted in the death of victims, the rape of children, including incestual rape, and tenant-landlord assault.
The declaration of GBV state of emergency by the NGF was timely, a right step in the right direction. It is unprecedented, it shows commitment from the governors’ forum and depicts that states alongside other actors are now responsible for the prevention and response of GBV and to address the impunity of lack of access to justice.
We believe it will lead the process to buttress the alarming rate of GBV in the country, as well as recognize GBV service as essential service.
In addition, the federal government has established an inter-ministerial committee for GBV response across the 36 states of Nigeria whose proposed activities includes establishing/strengthening SARC, harmonization of existing data, develop national GBV prevention strategy, conduct awareness-raising around GBV, carryout advocacy as well as a review of existing laws and policies prohibiting GBV.
If women suffer more gender-based violence, it means men are the perpetrators.So, should men undergo more psychological therapy than women?
Of all GBV cases reported in 2019, 98% were perpetrated against women and girls by male perpetrators. However, the remaining 2% were perpetrated against boys and men. We need to ensure access to justice for survivors of GBV. Many a time, perpetrators come up with different excuses to justify their crime (e.g. it occurred under the influence of drugs or due to a phycological disorder).
In the next one year, what songs would UN women like to sing concerning Gender-Based Violence?
We have also joined with other UN agencies through the joint EU-UN Spotlight Initiative developed an accountability framework for traditional and religious leaders. We want to see that framework utilized beyond Spotlight states (Lagos, Adamawa, Cross River, Ebonyi, Sokoto, and FCT). Supporting the training of various key stakeholders, women’s networks/coalitions in different states on advocacy, leadership, and monitoring skills to demand accountability of MDAs to ensure sustainable prevention of VAWG/SGBV/HP and the promotion of SRHR for women and girls. Most importantly, to see access to justice, access to GBV essential care, and national and state budgets that do not only gender-responsive but funds disbursed and utilized for the prevention and response of GBV.
By Funmi Ajumobi,
Vanguard News Nigeria