Violence against women is one of the most common abuses of human rights. Its scope includes forced marriages, rape, sexual harassment, intimidation at work and in educational institutions, forced pregnancy, forced abortion, trafficking and forced prostitution. A 1994 World Bank study on 10 selected risk factors facing girls and women, rated rape and domestic violence more dangerous than road accidents, war, cancer and other deadly diseases.
Countries have made some progress in addressing violence against women and girls. According to a UN's 2006 In-Depth Study on All Forms of Violence against Women, 89 countries had some legislation on domestic violence, and a growing number of countries had instituted national plans of action.
In addition to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the 1993 Vienna Declaration on Human Rights and the 1995 Declaration of the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing specified actions to protect women from discrimination and violence. Similarly, a 1993 UN General Assembly Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women called on governments to condemn such violence and to refrain from using customs, traditions or religious beliefs to avoid their obligations to end it. These agreements serve as the framework for the mandate of the UN special rapporteur on violence against women.
In 2003, African governments adopted a protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights in which they committed themselves to end discrimination and violence against women. The protocol came into force in November 2005 after ratification by 15 states.
In Nigeria, the predominance of domestic violence has gotten to an alarming level that legislating new laws to curtail it might no longer be sufficient. For instance, law enforcement and court mechanisms also have to be made friendly and accessible to women. The police are often indifferent to matters concerning domestic violence, believing it is a family affair. Also, many communities condone violence against women in a manner that tacitly suggest approval of the practice.
Neighbours and friends may hesitate to intervene in violent relationships because marital issues are often regarded as personal matters. There is a need to ensure that all those who respond to violence against women irrespective of social status are sensitized and trained to provide a response that is compassionate and comprehensive.
A major challenge will be altering the societal outlook and traditions that accord inferior status to women. There is an urgent need for more women to know and appreciate their rights. It is also important that people really understand the need to protect women and how it will help the society when women are treated in dignifying manners.
Equally, Women rights activists must coordinate efforts, share information and resources to expose men that engage in domestic violence against women. Policy makers and law enforcement agents must also have dedicated desk and officers that are trained to solely deal with women violence in every police station. At the community level, religious and local leaders must unite to ignoble treatment to women that involve violence against women. A new approach is needed, that makes the connection between men, gender and violence, and bring men firmly into prevention equation. This will put them in the front burner of sensitization and campaign against women violence.
In Lagos State, the Office of Public Defender (OPD) is handling thousands of cases relating to violence against women. The Uzoma Okere case was just one of the many the OPD had handled successfully in recent time. For instance, in 2009 alone, it received over 3,000 petitions out of which 402 were successfully handled. The intervention of the state government in the Uzoma Okere case brought to the fore the reality of violence against women in our society. Or how else do you describe a situation where heavily armed military men violently assaulted an un-armed lady? Thanks to the OPD, a very crucial lesson have been taught - that no one can trample on the rights of other citizens, men or women, without consequences.
Issue of violence and abuse against women go beyond physical to psychological depression and, to resolve this, the Lagos State Government implements regular free cervical and breast screening and treatment for women in the state. This is coupled with free antenatal treatment for pregnant women and their children in the state. The state government is also working relentlessly with women's rights groups, NGOs and other spirited individuals to stem the tide of violence against women in the state.
The issue of violence against women is a social malady that requires holistic approach and solution from all the stakeholders. The civil society, traditional and religious bodies, women rights groups, law enforcement agencies, all tiers of government, families must embrace all work together with a view stemming the tide of this dreadful societal ill.