NIGERIA: 16 Days of Activism on Violence Against Women

Friday, December 16, 2011
Western Africa
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 
General Women, Peace and Security
Sexual and Gender-Based Violence

Every year women world over mark the 16 Days activism on violence against women. It is an international campaign started by the Centre for Women's Global leadership (CWGL) in 1991. It runs from November 25, International Day of Violence Against Women to December 10, International Human Rights Day to symbolically link violence against women and human rights.

This 16-day period also highlights other significant dates, including November 29, International Women Human Rights Defenders Day, December 1, World AIDS Day, and December 6, the Anniversary of the Montreal Massacre in 1989 when 14 students (Women ) were massacred by a lone gun-man opposed to the affirmative action policies promoted by feminists at the University of Montreal Canada.

The 16 Days of Activism focuses on: raising awareness at the local, national, regional and international levels about gender-based violence, strengthening local work, linking local and global work, providing a forum for dialogue and strategy-sharing, pressuring governments to implement commitments made in national and international legal instruments and demonstrating the solidarity of activists around the world.

The campaign theme for 2011 is "from Peace in the Home to Peace in the world, Let's challenge Militarism and end violence Against Women"

Violence against women happens in various forms and patterns ranging from psychological, physical, social , emotional to economic violations .It can happen once or become a habit and the victim may remain silent without letting anyone know either out of fear or shame. It can be committed by a trusted person or total stranger to the victim. It can even be a blood relative.

Recent cases include that of a 22 year old engineering student of University of Technology Yola, who was bathed by acid by a fellow student for refusing his sexual advances. The poor girl still needs 10 million naira for more surgeries for her to look a little human and ASUU has been making appeals on her behalf.

Another was that of a policemen who raped a three year old daughter of his neighbour.Another much celebrated case recently is that of the student of Abia State University who was not only gang raped but the video of it was pasted on you-tube on the internet for the world to view, among thousand other cases.

Minister of Women and Social Development, Hajiya Zainab Maina at the interactive session she had with law enforcement officers to mark the event in Abuja said , violence against women and girls is an unacceptable reality which needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency.

She said the incidence of rape has increased in recent times affecting a cross section of the womenfolk ranging from children as early as six months to the elderly as old as 70 years adding that Violence against women whether in war time or at peace time is harmful to our national development.

She said though both men and women are victims of violence in an increasingly violent world , the forms of violence experienced by women and girls include acts that entail specific assaults on their sexuality some of which include female genital mutilation, harmful delivery and widowhood practices, male child preference, early marriage among others.

The minister said one of the basic challenges to eliminating gender based violence is the non availability of appropriate penalties in existing legislation to deter perpetrators adding that the availability of a coherent law on gender based violence( GBV) will enable appropriate enforcement and ultimately reduce its incidence.

Maina said it was necessary to dialogue with law enforcement agencies because of their roles in enforcing existing regulations on GBV as well as being the first point of contact with its victims in order to improve the enforcement laws, enhance the handling of victims and to solicit their commitment in disseminating the message of reducing it among the populace .

Similarly, at another event to mark the event organized by the UN Women , Country Representative of UN women, Mrs Grace Ongile , who represented the UN Resident Coordinator Mr Dauda Toure at the event said globally , 603 million women live in countries where domestic violence is not yet considered a crime. "Worldwide , up to six in ten women have suffered physical or sexual violence in their life time. Over 60 million girls are child brides and some 100 to 140 million girls have experienced female genital mutilation or cutting.

More than 100 million girls are 'missing' due to prenatal sex selection and a preference for sons . More than 600, 000 women and girls are trafficked across borders each year, the vast majority for sexual exploitation." She explained.

She said, "Violence against women remains one of the most widespread human rights violations yet one of the least prosecuted crimes. Although equality between women and men is guaranteed in the constitutions of 139 countries and territories, all too often are denied justice and protection form violence . This failure does not stem from a lack of knowledge but rather a lack of investment and political will to meet women's needs and to protect their fundamental rights. It is time for governments to take responsibility."

Some of the 16 steps to end violence against women outlined by the UN Women Executive Director include : Ratify international and regional treaties, adopt and enforce laws, make justice accessible to women and girls , end impunity towards conflict-related sexual violence, increase public awareness and social mobilization, among others.

Prof. Chidi Odinkalu of the Human Rights Commission in his speech said Violence against women kills and those who survive it, their lives are ruined.

"Those who beat up their spouses or partners are not husbands, wives or lovers , but criminals and we should develop a mechanism to keep them away." He said.

He said victims of sexual violence do not take police into confidence or make reports because many of our police force are predatory as the police men themselves rape women and sometime with different kind of things like using batons.

Women Minister, Hajiya Zainab Maina who was also there at the event decried the culture of silence on rape cases saying there is need for it to be broken. She said there is need to sensitize people on the need to report rape cases. She said on hearing about the Abia rape case, she sent people to the state to trace the victim but they couldn't trace her possibly because the girl and her family are afraid that making it public knowledge may give her a stigma , and affect her getting married in future. She said a law on VAW when enacted will prescribe punishment for the offenders and encourage victims to come out and expose their attackers.