How WANEP leads advocacy against rape, SGBV

As global rage over rising cases of rape and other Sexual Based and Gender Violence (SGBV) continues with individuals, governments and Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) joining the campaign against the menace, the West Africa Network for Peace building, Nigeria (WANEP-Nigeria) is leading a campaign to implement transformative strategies that are people oriented and focused on addressing the root causes of rape and other SGBV. ENE OSANG writes in this report.

The spate of Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV) in the country has been on the increase amidst the Coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic notwithstanding laws such as the Violence Against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) Act and Child Rights Act (CRA) which proscribe rape and other SGBV as well as stipulate punishment.

Case of rape and other SGBV had risen astronomically in the wake of the lockdown by government to check the spread of the Covid-19 and has been blamed on the fact that vulnerable people had to stay home with their abusers, especially as non-essential workers and school children were forced to stay at homes.

Miffed by the situation and determined to stem the tide the West Africa Network for Peace building, Nigeria (WANEP-Nigeria) led by the National Coordinator for Nigeria, Ms Bridget Osakwe, has called for more government will and stiffer penalty for offenders.

WANEP-Nigeria national coordinator in a press statement titled: Urgent Call to End Gender Bases Violence and Protect the Rights of Women and Girls in Nigeria expressed concern over the increasing sexual assault and rape of women and girls in the country.

According to Osakwe, the recent cases of rape and sexual harassment of women and girls are expression of the deeper systemic disregard for women as widely reported by the media resulting in the death of the victims have sparked outrage across the country.

Notably, she  decried the rape and murder of  Mrs Queen Igbinevbo, a pregnant woman in her home in Edo state on May 20, 2020; the rape and gruesome killing of Vera Uwaila Omozuwa, a 22-year-old Microbiology student of University of Benin in a Church in Edo state on May 27, 2020; the rape and murder of Barakat Bello, an 18-year-old female student of the Department of Science Laboratory Technology (SLT) Federal College of Animal Health and Production in Ibadan, Oyo State on June 1, 2020; and the gang rape of a 12-year-old girl in her home at Ajah, Lagos state on June 4, 2020, amongst others.

“Gender based violence is a global pandemic that affects one in three women in their lifetime. The issue is not only devastating for survivors and their families but also entails significant and social economic costs.

“The increasing prevalence of violence against women and girls in the Nigerian society is a deliberate attack, ingrained discrimination and injustice which highlight a form of structural violence.  This form of violence rooted in centuries of male domination, misogyny and inequality has led to early deaths, social stigmatisation and limited life choices for many women and girls.

“The perpetrators of these violent human rights violations against women and girls must not go unpunished as they can be found in every sector of the society including amongst security agencies,” she further stated.

Focus on root causes

WANEP, amongst other recommendations, called on the state and non-state actors to implement transformative strategies that are people oriented and focused at addressing the root causes of gender-based violence; improve security with attention on women and girls and enacting laws for strong national response that support victims and survivors of violence.

Osakwe, who said, “The steep increase in gender-based violence became noticeable with the outbreak of Covid-19 and the stay-at-home directive imposed by the federal government and some state governments as part of the measures to curb the spread of the disease,” noted that “most women and girls at this time were confined at home with their abusers with little or no information on what to do and how to access social services.”

According to her: “To ameliorate the situation, WANEP- Nigeria created an online survey to document incidences of SGBV for referral and intervention; as well as a radio programme tagged: Women Voices for Peace that aims to discuss issues of women, peace and security in the society, focused on Covid-19 pandemic from a gender perspective and its impact on gender-based violence in Nigeria.”

The national coordinator disclosed that emerging data gathered revealed a high number of child abuses, rape, sexual harassments and human rights violations.

Protecting women, girl during crisis

On the need to protect women and girls during crisis WANEP–Nigeria reiterated that women and girls were vulnerability during conflict and at peace times, adding that the consequences of violence they suffer was unjustifiable. According to her, “Acts of violence against women and girls contravenes the provisions of the United Nations Security Council Resolutions 1325 and 1820, the Sustainable Development Goal 5 – which calls for gender equality and empowerment of women and girls, the Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa: an instrument for advancing reproductive and sexual rights; the Violence Against Persons (VAPP) Act 2015 and the Child Rights Act (CRA) 2003.

“While we call for a federal government legislation mandating a zero-tolerance approach in penalizing and prosecuting perpetuators of gender based violence we enjoin all Nigerians to take responsibility and work actively to build a society based on justice, non-violent transformation of conflict, respect for women human rights and human dignity for all.”

Coordinating security framework for response

Against this backdrop, WANEP further urged that the security agencies including the Police, the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) coordinate activities towards providing an integrated security framework that ensures swift response to incidents of violence against women and girls and prosecution of perpetuators.

“While we commending the 25 state governments that have passed the CRA we call on the 11 state governments that are yet to domesticate the Act including, Adamawa, Bauchi, Borno, Gombe, Kano, Katsina, Kebbi, Sokoto, Yobe, Jigawa and Zamfara states to do so immediately to protect the rights of children particularly girls,” she urged.

The network recommended that state actors should partner with women focused CSOs in strategising on the domestication of the VAPP Act within states to protect the rights of women and girls against the different forms of violence, even as Osakwe noted that only Ekiti, Kaduna, Oyo, Benue, Ebonyi, Anambra and Lagos states had domesticated the Act.

The WANEP-Nigeria Coordinator also solicited non-state actors to intensify awareness and sensitisation on harmful effect of violence on women and girls, engage boys and men to become advocates and agents of change in the society.

For her, “Local ownership of the Sexual Offenders Register (SOR) to allow for persons identified within communities as perpetuators to be named, shamed, prosecuted and convicted for sexual violence. This will check mate the menace and uphold the rights of women and girls in the society. Partnerships and collaborations between government and civil society organisations will sustain response strategies.”

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