Rethinking the fight against gender-based violence in Nigeria
An often silent endemic in our country today is gender-based violence. And while the term is exactly not commonplace in our communities in Nigeria, we have been familiar with its practical instances since time immemorial. We see them around; we hear of them. And more than anything, it is one real social issue that stays amid us — mischievously lurking in dark shadows and silent corners of ignominy. Well, for the sake of clarity, according to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), Gender-Based Violence (GBV) is any kind of violence against a person or group of persons, particularly women and girls, largely because of their gender. In point of fact, a staggering stat from a 2013 data of the World Health Organisation (WHO) shows that one in every three women globally has been beaten, coerced into sex or abused in some other ways. And even more sadly, according to its subsequent 2014 report: one in every five women is sexually, physically or emotionally abused as a child. Disturbing to a fault!
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To say the least, it is heartrending to ascertain that even in the heat of COVID-19 pandemic and its attendant lockdown, the number of reported GBV cases was on an unprecedented rise — in which, sadly, a bulk of them were minors, much less cases that even go unreported. Although there have been several efforts geared by both our governments and civil society organisations towards stemming the upsurge of gender-based violence in Nigeria over the years, the time has never been more critical to play more well-defined roles in the fight against this menace. As we celebrate the forthcoming International Women’s Day and the World Social Justice Day, gender-based violence should be a front-burner issue we should foster critical discussions about.
There is an expedient and exigent need to expedite and strengthen our GBV response in Nigeria to be more effective — within a broad context. More than anything, this role starts with putting in place proactive measures and effective structures. Over the years, while some state governments in Nigeria have ensured the effective implementation of the extant provisions of the Gender-Based Violence (Prohibition) Laws. But there remains a huge lacuna to be filled: reforms to challenge discriminatory laws and traditional practices deep-seated on the bed of gender-based norms in our socio-cultural construct. To achieve this, it’s high time we focused on the younger generation by introducing comprehensive training on gender studies into the curriculum of secondary and tertiary education. And also to ensure our education sector planning is gender-responsive. As a result, this is bound to cause a paradigm shift amongst students in our schools, who are microcosms of our larger society. And as such, engendering a new generation of gender-conscious and socially responsible citizens.
An indisputable truism about Gender-Based Violence is that it has far-reaching negative consequences on its victims, survivors and their communities at large. And we cannot afford to allow this to fester. Thus, beyond providing solutions to address this social issue at the surface level, we need to tackle its root causes to bring about sustainability of impacts. While the laws, sensitizations, and advocacy campaigns are all good, they are only palliative measures that would still make the issue repeat itself in vicious cycles and not sustainable in the long run. This starts by dedicating deliberate efforts towards intercepting the spiral causative chain that prompts the occurrence of gender-based violence on the whole. For instance, support services rendered to the survivors of GBV should be well-suited. It can be as providing these: free shelter in a safer environment for them; grants to help set up their business ventures; and even equip with free skills acquisition programmes through social security. This is because when our women and girls are socio-economically independent, they live a decent life for themselves. And more importantly, they tend to leave circumstances that make them constantly prone to domestic violence, like an abusive relationship without the worry of the means of livelihood and survival afterwards.. Even more, there should be a more inclusive policy-making with the inputs and voices of those directly affected by gender-based violence.
Moreover, this boils down to the government to not only fortify its institutions like the Ministries of Justice and Women Affairs and Social Development, but also forge strong partnerships with multi-stakeholders, social workers, healthcare workers, women’s rights activists, and most importantly Civil Society Organizations (CSOs). This is in a bid to map out effective models to address GBV in our society. The transformative power that lies in collaboration is indeed unlimited. And in the long run, this will foster a formidable network of support for the victims and survivors. They will be able to get the required support services such as medical, legal and psycho-social. A frontline organization working on GBV response in Nigeria that our government institutions can strengthen ties with and call for contributions to policy frameworks is Gender Mobile on the mission of adopting a comprehensive approach and leveraging technology in gender-based violence prevention, response and advocacy efforts.
However, we all have a huge role to play in making our society gender-based violence free. And this can be achieved by community and grassroots mobilisation that will get everyone in our various communities involved by making conscious efforts in reporting cases to relevant authorities, breaking harmful traditional practices and challenging the stereotypical culture of silence surrounding GBV over the years. Also, our leaders, both religious and community, should selflessly commit to adequately empowering our vulnerable populations, women and girls, to break free from the shackles of this violence and not be subjected to situations they can be taken undue advantage of due to power imbalance They must also create safe spaces for them to always speak up and tell their stories when abused without the fear of stigmatization, shame and evasion of justice.
On the whole, the political will of our governments at all tiers and arms must be strong on zero tolerance to gender-based violence in any form. Coupled with ensuring a working, efficient, trusted and moral justice system for the perpetrators to be prosecuted swiftly and accordingly. And in a nutshell, we must all come together at the intersection of government policies, civil society intervention projects, and citizens’ efforts to bridge the solution gap and #EndGBV in Nigeria.
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