Ending Violence Against Women in Nigeria
The struggle to end violence against women is clearly still a long way off. Perhaps for this reason the theme of the recently celebrated International Women’s Day was “Women and Men United to end Violence against Women and Girls”. And rightly so too. Violence against women is an every day occurrence and it comes in several forms. While the most commonly identified are domestic violence and rape, there have since been several more specific forms of acts identified as gender -based violence. These include women in conflict situations, trafficking in women, widowhood rites, early marriage, female genital mutilation, sexual assault etc.
Our women have had these acts inflicted upon them by male folk under the guise of religion, cultural practices and other forms of social discrimination. Others are a result of merely inflicting mental, economic and physical superiority over a woman. The patriarchal nature of many of our societies permits women to be subjected to many of these practices. In some communities the elders will look you straight in the eye and say that what the world terms as violence is actually a valued cultural practice. Take female genital mutilation for instance. It is erroneously believed to be a way to curb promiscuity amongst young girls. As a matter of fact the practice has proven to be a health hazard and hindrance to a fulfilling sexual life.
Sadly these days there is another naked display of violence against our women is also demonstrated through heavy handed tactics of some of the security agents. This is an emerging form of violence as a result of women’s more active and dynamic participation in civic action. In 2005 a group known as the Concerned Mothers of Nigeria went on a peaceful protest to call attention to the spate of domestic airline mishaps in the country. The protest is remembered more for the treatment the women received at the hands of the police. They were rough handled and this led to some of them sustaining injuries and being hospitalized. It is on record that the then Inspector-General of Police Mr Sunday Ehindero apologised the women. Apologies may be soothing in the short term but are not an effective tool in the fight against gender-based violence.
The incident raised a few eyebrows and then became buried amongst other national issues at the time. It made the headlines for a few days and was consigned to the dustbin of history. A few weeks ago a similar incident occurred in Ogun State .
In Abeokuta , a group of women went on a peaceful march to protest what they perceived to be an injustice being perpetuated against female law maker Hon Titi Oseni of the Ogun State House of Assembly. Unfortunately the protest also turned very ugly. Members of the police in a bid to disperse the women tear-gassed, beat and chased them with dogs. Footage of a mobile policeman wielding a baton and chasing one of the women demonstrated the extent of the brutality. Many of the women including the elderly amongst them sustained injuries and were left breathless and disoriented from the effects of the tear gas. The women were neither armed nor threatening and it was quite disheartening to see them bloodied, battered and bruised after the authorities had dispersed them.
The danger of women being confronted with violence from the hands of the police during peaceful protests is that such behaviour is bound to discourage them from participating in civic action. Active participation in civic action and exercising of fundamental human rights will be grossly stifled and undermined by the over -zealous response of security agents. If care is not taken the democratic space will be the poorer for it without the voices of women being heard. Should such cracks be allowed to widen within our democracy?
In the critical debate about violence against women, it is very clear that the fight can only be won in joint partnership with men. Hence it makes perfect sense to call upon men to become partners in the journey to fight some of these heinous practices. This conviction is clearly demonstrated in this year’s theme. But from recent events in our nation a lot of work still needs to be done. While the International Women’s Day calls attention to the daily acts of violence being perpetuated against women, there still needs to be sustained campaigns to combat gender-based violence. It is not enough for us to speak about it for only a few days a year and expect massive changes in attitudes within society. For instance what stops the upper echelons of the female officers in the Nigeria Police drawing attention to the need for gender studies to be incorporated into the curriculum at the Police College ? Such developments can actually cut across all the armed forces, and other uniformed personnel such as the Customs and Excise, Immigration, Civil Defence etc. indeed all of society should be the target of massive awareness campaigns.
Incorporating gender awareness programmes and initiatives into aspects of our lives, education and society in general has become imperative. We have witnessed sustained campaigns in the fight against narcotics, road carnage, HIV/AIDS etc. This is one campaign that the corporate world must support and help in the fight to eradicate. Many of our corporate organisations appear to have converged towards the more ‘glamorous’ social and health concerns. A few of our more prominent corporate companies have thrown their weight behind dancing competitions, talent hunt shows, TV reality shows etc. How about the flagging up of anti- violence messages on their products or partnering with civil society to jump start a nation-wide awareness campaign? Some of our financial institutions have created gender-friendly services and products. This is ostensibly to improve the economic lives of women. How about supporting the fight against the violence many women and girls suffer? What about taking up the cause of violence against women as part of their corporate social responsibility profile? So many women occupy top positions in the corporate world do they not feel that the battle against gender-based violence is worthy off their support?
Violence against women has been described in Article 1 of the United Nations Declaration on the elimination of violence against women defines violence against women as “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty whether occurring in public or private life”. Women who form more than half of the population have made so many contributions to national development and have the potential to do so much more. We love to celebrate our female role models. By the same token we should continuously highlight the causes that hold women back and provoke so much suffering and pain.
Speaking at a press conference the Ogun State Commissioner for Women Affairs and Social Welfare Ms Jokotade Odunuga appealed to the media to be “a voice for women so that all hands are on deck to ensure that acts of violence against women are totally eradicated from our society”. What can be more truthful than this?
The fight against acts of violence on women can only be successfully fought if we all join hands. Women and men can stand side by side on this issue and present a united front. Moreover the campaigns should not be once- in a’- while but a long and sustained one. This is an issue that should be kept burning in the public domain.
Opinion from Tayo Agunbiade