"Violence against women both violates and impairs or nullifies the enjoyment by women of their human rights and fundamental freedoms... In all societies, to a greater or lesser degree, women and girls are subjected to physical, sexual and psychological abuse that cuts across lines of income, class and culture."
—Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, paragraph 112
Violence can be defined as an exercise of physical force usually done with the intention to hurt emotionally or physically, destroy and inflict injuries on the victim. Anyone can be a victim of violence but for the purpose of this discussion, the focus is on Violence against Women (VAW) and a look at the ways the Nigerian authorities have responded. Unfortunately, the statistics of such cases and the consequences of violence such as death or permanent body impairments, in addition to the fact that violence against anyone is an act of injustice to any human; has led to a wide interest and advocacy for a reduction in these cases of violence and legislative punitive measures to punish offenders.
According to Heise (2004) Violence against women come in various stages in their lives,
- Prenatal Stage - Prenatal sex selection, battering during pregnancy, coerced pregnancy.
- Infancy – Female infanticide, emotional and physical abuse, differential access to food and medical care.
- Childhood – Genital cutting, incest and sexual abuse, differential access to food and medical care.
- Adolescence- Dating and courtship violence, economically coerced sex, sexual abuse in the workplace, rape, sexual harassment, forced prostitution.
- Reproductive- Abuse of women by intimate partners, marital rape, dowry abuse and murders, partner homicide, psychological abuse, sexual abuse in the workplace, sexual harassment , rape, abuse of women with disabilities.
- Old age- Abuse of widows, elder abuse (which affects mostly women).
The issue of the advancement of women's rights has concerned the United Nations since the Organization's founding. Yet the alarming global dimensions of female-targeted violence were not explicitly acknowledged by the international community until December 1993, when the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women.
Prior to this time, most Governments tended to regard violence against women largely as a private matter between individuals, and not as a pervasive human rights problem requiring State intervention. In view of the alarming growth in the number of cases of violence against women throughout the world, the Commission on Human Rights adopted resolution 1994/45 of 4 March 1994, in which it decided to appoint the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, including its causes and consequences. As a result of these steps, the problem of violence against women has been drawing increasing political attention (http://www.un.org/rights/ , 2011).
One of several key international groups that have sought to improve the rights of a woman is the Convention on Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women – CEDAW. CEDAW provides a practical blueprint for each country to achieve progress for women and girls. Providing opportunities for women and girls to learn, earn and participate in public decision-making helps reduce violence, alleviate poverty, build democracies and strengthen economies (http://www.cedaw2011.org).
The Nigerian government ratification of Convention on Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women in 1985 should have theoretically implied that it is bound to fulfil all obligations stated in Article 2 -: States Parties condemn discrimination against women in its forms, agree to pursue by all appropriate means and without delay a policy of eliminating discrimination against women and to this end,, undertake: a. to embody the principle of the equality of men and women in their national constitutions or other appropriate legislation if not yet incorporated therein and to ensure, through law and other appropriate means, the practical realization of this principle; b. to adopt appropriate legislative and other measures, including sanctions where appropriate, prohibiting all discrimination against women; c. to establish legal protection of the rights of women on an equal basis with men and to ensure through competent national tribunals and other public institutions the effective protection of women against any act of discrimination; d. to refrain from engaging in any act or practice of discrimination against women and to ensure that public authorities and institutions shall act in conformity with this obligation; e. to take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women by any person, organization or enterprise; f. to take all appropriate measures, including legislation, to modify or abolish existing laws, regulations, customs and practices which constitute discrimination against women. g to repeal all national penal provisions which constitute discrimination against women.
Nonetheless, in practice this unfortunately is not the case as CEDAW has raised the concern since 2008, that the Nigerian government is not carrying out its obligations as required. By extension of this abnormality, the weak state of women’s rights in Nigeria has been attributed to the non – domestication of and non – implementation of CEDAW.
Amongst other notable efforts, with the support from the UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), Nigerian women launched campaign against gender violence. The program included legal and social services for victims and their families, sensitivity training for law enforcement and government officials and community based education activities aimed particularly at young people. This project was launched IN 1998 by UNIFEM and the Nigerian non – governmental Women’s Centre for Peace and Development, named; Social Advocacy Against Violence Against Women (SAAVAW) with funds from UNIFEM’s Trust Fund in Support of Actions to Eliminate Violence Against Women.
With reference to CEDAW’ s report in 2008, the following issues were highlighted , this was in relation to how successful the government has been at incorporating key articles of the convention. This is captured against and in relation to violence against women.
Most of the socio- economic, legal, and political frameworks needed for the protection and promotion of women’s rights have not been effectively implemented. In early 2007, the National Assembly rejected the Bill for the domestication of CEDAW, which stands as the acid test for gender equality in Nigeria. This has put on hold the process of integrating CEDAW Convention as an integral part of the criminal justice and legal administrative system in Nigeria.
Gender stereotypes continued to be reinforced in Nigeria as series of the agents of socialisation such as the family, schools, churches, mosques, and the media have become custodians as well as disseminators of gender roles, stereotypes, prejudices and discriminatory cultures. Girls and boys grow up in Nigerian society to accept male superiority over female and the patriarchal structure has become unquestionable phenomenon. The Teachers, Religious Leaders, Parents, Police Officers and Artistes in Nigeria usually work to promote obnoxious customary beliefs and practices that violate the rights of women. Consequently, customary practices such as female genital mutilation, preference for male-child, and widowhood rites are still prevalent in most parts of Nigeria. Gender stereotypes in Nigeria are further reinforced by lack of national legislations aimed at disabusing the mind of people of such stereotypes as well as specify the punishment for offenders.
Trafficking and exploitation of women and children in Nigeria still go on because the Government only focus on the legal regulation and established an agency National Agency for Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) to check the syndrome while the remote causes of trafficking and exploitation such as poverty, unemployment, Illiteracy, are yet to be seen as important indicators, and yet to be addressed.
Considering that this report was produced in 2008, the next question arises; have there been positive improvements or changes since then? Unfortunately this is not the case because a very recent incident in 2011 has come to reveal. In October 2011, a very worrying event and the most recent case of VAW occurred. A young female university student was gang raped. This rape incident was video taped. Typical of such events there was a widespread clamour for justice by several gender and human rights organisation, persuading the government and the legislative to take decisive actions and bring the offenders to the books.
As gathered from Daily Trust – National Newspaper, a meeting was held in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, by key organisations and stakeholders to further discuss the issue of sexual violence as a result of this event and the disturbing and unsatisfactory manner in which the government and key authorities handled the act. The meeting was finalised with action plans to set up a task force that would create a secure avenue where cases of sexual violence can be reported without fear of stigmatisation or persecution. They also decided to develop a paper on sexual violence, which would engage with and sensitise lawmakers on the need to pass the Violence against Persons (VAPP) bill pending at the National Assembly.
As the saying goes “it’s a man’s world”, but I would have to note that there would be no man, if there was no woman”. Therefore there should be a critical reflection and social change in the country with regards to the importance of ensuring and appreciating that a woman’s safety and well-being amongst other important human necessities, is of primary concern to the Nigerian authorities.
In summary, although I appreciate that Violence against Women has witnessed a reduction over the years, as the advocacies have increased and more women have become more educated and financially empowered, hence are able to speak out (although it is still the case that there are some women who are economically empowered, yet experiencing violence in their relationships or workplace, and suffering silently as a result of the fear of social stigmatization). In addition, it is my opinion that Nigerian authorities have been more rhetorical than positively active towards ensuring that the right laws and legislatures are in existence to curb, correct and compensate cases of VAW Although, International bodies, Women organizations and non – governmental organizations, continue with passion and relentless spirits to direct and influence positive changes, their efforts over the years have witnessed minimal success and the issues still remain – weak laws and legislature to punish offenders and protect the victims, a closed system whereby victims are scared of the consequences of reporting because they would be socially stigmatized and abandoned, the measure of the violence they experience may increase as a result of their attempt to report these cases. The way forward at the end, I suggest would be … more pressure, more advocacies, creating a whistle blowing system or organization where victims or witnesses can report to without the fear of being bullied or socially reprimanded, a more proactive government and less violence. Please share your opinions and suggestions!