Thursday, June 30, 2016

Violence Against Women And Girls In Nigeria: The Role Of Women’sAID Collective (WACOL) In Supporting Women And Girls
Violence against women and girls is the most surreptitious form of violation of human rights of women and constitutes an invasion of women’s lives in public and private spaces. Hence, there is no safe place for women to thrive in dignity and enjoy their human rights to live a life free from violence.
Violence against women and girls has reached an epidemic proportion in Nigeria and must be urgently addressed to check the impunity with which this heinous crime against humanity is committed. Violence against persons results in cumulative breaches of women’s rights, including right to life, privacy and family life, right to dignity, liberty, freedom from torture, inhuman or degrading treatment as well as sexual and reproductive rights. Whereas it is true that violence affects women and men, it unarguably affects women and girls disproportionately. A woman or girl for example who is raped would have to worry about unwanted pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections on top of violation of her right to bodily integrity and mental torture, trauma and emotional distress that are all aftermaths of incidence of sexual violence.

In Nigeria, common forms of violence in Nigeria includes: Rape, Partner/Wife Battery/Spousal Beatings, Sexual Harassment, Trafficking in women for sexual and domestic labour; Female Genital Mutilation or Female Circumcision, Forced and Child Marriage, Acid Attack, Female body mutilation for ritual purposes, Denial of Inheritance Rights or share from the assets of deceased father or husband, Harmful Widowhood/Mourning Practices, Emotional Abuse, Abandonment of wife or children without means of subsistence, Sexual slavery, and Dedication to shrine etc.

Governmental support services for reintegration and rehabilitation of victims are virtually non-existent despite the fact that the Nigeria government has signed and ratified the United Nations Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the Protocol on African Charter on Women’s Rights. On the other hand, very Few NGOs run shelters and other support services for battered women and victims/survivors of sexual assault. The situation with regard to sexual violence is even worse and it is undeniably the most clandestine form of violation of human rights of women and girls. Women and girls experience sexual violence in their homes, communities, schools, workplaces, streets, markets, police stations and hospitals. The national survey on torture in Nigeria carried out by Women’s Aid Collective indicated that rape and sexual abuse are forms of torture mostly experienced by women. The survey puts the rate at which women are raped and sexually abused at 65.4% which presents a high risk to women’s development. In addition to serious psychological effects, sexual violence creates heightened vulnerability to unintended pregnancy and life-threatening sexually transmitted disease.

WACOL as an actor has been very concerned about the increasing prevalence of sexual and gender based violence based on actual cases its legal unit handles on daily basis concerning women victims of SGBV. For example, in 2013 out of about 3000 complaints filed in WACOL 2,450 were on different forms of GBV representing over 80% of all cases received and provided free legal aid, counseling and shelter by WACOL. The responsibility for protection of women’s rights to security falls on a number of institutions; police, courts, prison, immigration and so on.

In 2014, Women Aid Collective (WACOL) established a specialized Sexual Assault and Referral Centre called Tamar SARC.[1] This is modelled as an international best practice in responding to the needs of victims of sexual violence. The Centre renders without discrimination, confidential and high quality medical, counselling and other support services to victims/survivors of sexual violence, especially women and minors, by supporting their recovery and encouraging increased reporting of rape and other sexual assault cases. Tamar SARC in about 18 Months of its operation have received over 350 cases of sexual assaults with more than half of that number (174) perpetrated against girls under the age of 18 years.
Adequate and effective remedies are often inaccessible for victims of sexual and gender based violence, despite the numerous human rights violations they suffered. They go through a lot in search of justice becoming in the process doubly victimized, stigmatized and jeopardized. Sometimes they are publicly humiliated in Court by questions and cross-examination and corroboration required to prove rape.
The signing into law on May 25, 2015 of the Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act, 2015 has for the first time introduced comprehensive legislation on gender based violence although limited in jurisdiction to only the Federal Capital Territory (FCT); leaving out the entire 36 States of the Federation of Nigeria.
It is therefore very important for State Governments to domesticate the VAPP Act, if they do not have existing legislation on the issue. They need to urgently replicate and adopt the VAPP Act 2015 to prevent and combat all forms of sexual and gender based violence in their respective states. Again, governmental responses to victims of sexual and gender based violence leaves much to be desired and exposes victims to stigma, ridicule, discrimination, double victimization and without effective remedies.
We need ongoing stocktaking and sober reflection on the plight of victims/survivors of violence-physical, sexual, psychological/emotional, economic and harmful traditional practices. We need to promote effective implementation of laws and policies to prevent and combat sexual and gender based violence; and there needs to be an interface between policy makers, activists and victims of sexual and gender based violence and the public towards ending SGBV in Nigeria. We also need to raise awareness amongst key stakeholders and build new momentum for the adoption of Violence against Persons Prohibition laws across States of the federation, in addition to promoting Government accountability to protect its citizens. It is also important to mobilize support for victims of sexual violence, including access to comprehensive health care and psycho-social assistance that will aid their recovery and reintegration.
We cannot afford to wait a minute more to end this spate of violence, especially on women and girls. WomenAid Collective (WACOL) and Tamar Sexual Assault Referral Centre (Tamar SARC) will continue to provide essential services in line with international best practices to women and girls in especially difficult situations and victims of sexual and gender based violence. We encourage victims to speak out and break the culture of silence. Nigerian women are working in solidarity with women worldwide to say no to sexual violence! To say no to gender based violence! And to stand up to stop the violence. End violence against women and girls now!

Professor Joy Ezeilo is the Founder of Women’sAID Collective (WACOL), an NGO dedicated to the promotion of women’s rights working across several States in Nigeria. She is a Professor of Law at the University of Nsukka, and has served as the UN Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Women and Girls.

[1] TAMAR SARC is a joint Initiative of Enugu State Government, Police, DFID/J4A and WACOL. The Center enjoys financial support from the Justice for All, DfiD/British Council.

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