Amplifying men’s voices against SGBV

The need for men’s voices to be amplified against Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV) in a bid to finding lasting solutions to the scourge took centre stage at the Voice of Women (VOW) conference; ENE OSHABA writes

Globally, it has been estimated that one in three women experience either physical or sexual intimate-partner-violence, or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime.

From forced and early marriages to the physical, mental or sexual assault on a woman, nearly 3 in 10 Nigerian women and girls are reported to have experienced sexual abuse, while 43 per cent of girls are married before the age of 18 and once married, majority of these young girls are denied access to contraception.

Research reports have revealed that only 1.2 per cent of girls aged 15 to 19 have unmet needs for contraception, there are usually high levels of early and teenage pregnancies.

Blueprint weekend gathered that it took quite a long time for stern laws to be introduced specifically on gender-based violence in Nigeria, some aspects of the common Criminal Law as well as the Penal Code also frowns at gender-based violence including battery and rape. These laws, as they appear, deal mainly with what is generally known as physical or non-subtle violence.

Nigeria has launched an e-monitoring platform to gather data and better track the culprits of violence. Also, various civil society organisations have taken the fight, creating awareness and supporting victims of gender-based violence, whether sexual or non-sexual, subtle or non-subtle.

Though the Ministries of Women Affairs, the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP), and women’s civil society organisations have made important strides to address GBV prevention and response efforts, it is clear that enough is yet to be done to curb the abuse and violence perpetrated against women, as more cases are reported daily.

How Covid-19 fuels menace

The Deputy Senate President, Ovie Omo-Agege, while speaking at the 5th Voice of Women (VOW) conference in Abuja said the plight of women in Nigeria and across the world has been further affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, adding that cases of violence against women have more than doubled during the Covid-19 lockdown this year.

VOW was put together by Women Radio 91.7FM with support from Action Aid and Global Affairs Canada with the aim of finding lasting solutions to violence against women, especially as the year 2020 unfolded with many unpleasant issues labelled “Shadow Pandemic” by the UN.

It’s meant to unravel what roles men should play to curb SGBV and how women will not continue to be vulnerable.

Omo-Agege, who was represented by one of his aides Dr. Otive Igbuzor, said according to the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, there were at least 3,600 reported rape cases with more than 100 in each of Nigeria’s 36 states during the lockdown.

“This figure excludes all other forms of violence, and the cases that were unreported. This is unacceptable,” he said.

In fighting violence and abuse against women, Nigeria adopted in 2006 a Framework and Plan of Action for the National Gender Policy.

Subsequently, the 8th Assembly passed the Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act (2015), which seeks to eliminate violence in public and private life; prohibit all forms of violence against persons in both private and public life, and to provide maximum protection and effective remedies for victims (mostly women and children), as well as prescribe punishment for offenders.

Specifically, it prohibits female genital mutilation, harmful widowhood practices and harmful traditional practices such as some demeaning rituals that accompany burials in some places that affect mostly women.

Unfortunately, since 2015, only 13 states out of the 36 states including Oyo, Ogun, Lagos, Osun, Ekiti, Edo, Anambra, Enugu, Ebonyi, Benue, Cross River, Kaduna, Plateau and the FCT have adopted the VAPP Act.

SGBV as social scourge

Sexual and Gender Based Violence is problem which includes sexual violence, physical violence, emotional and psychological violence, child marriage, femicide, female trafficking, female genital mutilation (FGM), domestic violence and rape.

According to Igbuzor, “SGBV is one of the biggest social scourges of our time namely gender-based violence” lamenting that it is destroying relationships, lives and shattering the bedrock of societies, the family in every corner of the globe.

“It also threatens our communities and our country at large. This is why we must bring perpetrators to justice,” he emphasised.

Igbuzor maintained that for a fact, gender-based violence is rooted in gender inequalities which have found women and girls holding the short end of the stick in virtually all spheres of human endeavour such as social, economic and political life.

“However no matter by whom it is professed and perpetrated, GBV affects everyone regardless of income, race, gender, or socioeconomic status. Nevertheless, we cannot shy away from the fact that the women and girls are disproportionately affected by GBV. This is not to say that the social ill of gender-based violence is not against men and boys,” he said.

State of Emergency on SGBV

Also speaking at the conference, the Plateau state Governor Simon Lalong, expressed worry on the increasing rate of SGBV.

He, however, blamed the menace on the outbreak of Covid-19 in Nigeria.

“Covid19 impacted and disrupted daily activities but a different and horrific experience for women and girls who faced rape, defilement, psychological abuse even in the home by friends, family, and leaders. This must end without further delay.

“Men must understand that traditional leaders must break cultural practices that violate the rights of women,” he stressed.

Governor Simon Lalong, who is the Chairman of Northern Governors Forum, while disclosing the position of the North on SGBV, recalled that to eliminate the menace a State of Emergency was declared in all the northern states to ensure it was addressed and totally eradicated.

Lalong said, “Northern leaders declared State of Emergency and we all condemned and resolved to promote stiffer penalties against perpetrators of SGBV.

“Speakers of 19 northern states are in support and register has been opened to name and shame perpetrators.

“To stop the menace we need a reorientation to target younger generation by teaching boys to respect girls, and girls to speak out against any act of violence.”

Stand up for protection of women

Igbuzor further stressed the urgency for Nigeria as a nation to double efforts in checkmating the fast growing scourge of violence, stating that though it affects women and girls more boys and men have their fair share.

“We must resolve to have zero tolerance for these abhorrent acts of violence against our mothers, wives, sisters, daughters, grandmothers, aunties and friends.

“We must move quickly to address the legal and cultural challenges facing our womenfolk. But more importantly, addressing gender-based violence against women would require collective effort of every individual, especially men who are the most perpetrators, to stand up for the protection of women. Men should take more responsibility, intervene and do what is right to keep women safe.

“No man has a right to assault a woman for whatever reason, except of course in self defence. It is a matter of inalienable right of persons to liberty.

Women’s political right

Also speaking against the scourge, the Kwara state Governor, Abdulrahman Abdulrazaak, pointed out that the poor inclusion of women at both government and other leadership positions was one of the main reasons of their vulnerability to violence, canvassing strongly for more spaces for women if the issue can be resolved.

“Women need to be empowered by the right political power this will allow them have adequate contribution to decision making and that is why I gave 60 per cent women inclusion because SGBV is linked to helplessness and vulnerability.

“If women are involved in decision making they will no longer be vulnerable. Women deserve to be supported and encouraged every time they should not be left out in decision making.

Case for girl-child education

Similarly, Sarki Yagin Jajil, Alhaji Sani Umar Jabbi, noted that women can play significant role in bridging the gap between knowledge and power if they have the right education.

He called on families to stop discriminating against girls while the build a better future for boys.

“Education is major impediment and no other empowerment better than education. All forms of GBV should be addressed with stringent laws.

Traditional rulers should involve women because there is no progress without women involvement and engagement.

“There is high maternal mortality due to inadequate gender inclusion. Stereotypes start from family where boys are giving preferences but everyone deserves access to education,” Alhaji Jabbi stated.

He called on governments of all the northern states to implement VAPP Act, stating that all gaps needed to be bridged to promote inclusion at community levels as women deserves engagement in everything around them.

“Women are important without them we can’t achieve our goals we need to get them empowered to be able to move the nation forward,” he stressed.

Call to action

The aide to the deputy senate president maintained that there was no better time to advocate and pull resources together that is capable of bringing an end to the high rate of gender based violence in the country.

“The time to hold perpetrators accountable has come. Religious leaders, community leaders, and traditional leaders should challenge men to stand up as protectors and not abusers of women.

“We can no longer look the other way while women are being abused next door or turn deaf ears to the cry of many women across our country for freedom from violence and sexual abuse.

“Every Nigerian has a duty to speak out against these crimes and to make every effort to report these crimes to relevant authorities and prevent them from occurring. We should also provide care and support to those who have suffered in the hands of abusers.

“For us in the National Assembly, there is no place for gender-based violence of any nature. We will continue to strengthen the laws to reduce gender-based violence of all forms to the barest minimum, if not totally eliminate it,” Igbuzor said.

Speaking further he said: “That was why on 4th May, 2016 I introduced the Sexual Harassment in Tertiary Educational Institutions Prohibition Bill, 2016 on the floor of the Senate and six months later it was passed by the Senate.

“However, the bill could not make it through the House of Representatives before the end of tenure of the 8th National Assembly but because of my unwavering commitment to fighting this social ill, I reintroduced the bill to the 9th Senate, 3rd October, 2019. And at its plenary session of Tuesday, 7 July 2020, the Senate passed the Sexual Harassment Bill, 2020 (SB 77).

“The bill, now at the advanced stage at the House of Representatives, seeks to prevent, prohibit and redress the sexual harassment of students in tertiary educational institutions.

“This bill was necessitated because the internal mechanisms of tertiary institutions for addressing cases of sexual harassment were either non-existent or inadequate.

“It is expected that when the bill becomes an Act, it will eventually eliminate sexual-harassment-related obstacles that inhibit the capacity of persons in tertiary institutions to fully develop themselves, based on their gender.

“The fight against gender-based violence will probably take some time before we reverse the rising trend. It is not going to be easy either. But we must continue to fight it by shining a light on the horrendous atrocities visited on women around the country.

“We must rise up against all forms gender-based violence including subtle violence which is found in all forms of discrimination and non-violent abuses on persons, in this case, based on their gender.”

Need adequate advocacy

According to the Plateau state governor, “As we make progress on this, I want to at this point, suggest that Voice of Women and other civil organisations draw more attention to those aspects of gender-based violence that are protected by African customs such as some demeaning rituals that accompany burials in some places, female genital mutilation, forced marriages, among others.

“Although some of them like FGM, unsavoury customary burial and other rites may have been captured by extant laws such as the VAPP Act, we need adequate advocacy as this is lacking so far and I implore us all to pick up the gauntlet and create the requisite awareness.”

He further stated, “We advocate for safe Nigeria for women and girls, boys and men mindset must change to know they do not only deserve protection but have rights as enshrined in the constitution. Men must understand that traditional leaders must break cultural practices that violate the rights of women.”

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