By Rebecca Ejifoma
The Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) working in the area of security, justice sector and human rights have called on the Federal and State governments as well as the Nigerian Police to treat the increasing cases of Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV) as a security threat.
This call was made over the weekend in a chat with the Justice and Security Dialogue (JSD) Programme Coordinator, Ms. Isioma Kemakolam.
According to Kemakolam, why incidents of rape are on the “increase”, which she noted, has attracted national outcry, is because “sexual violence is yet to be considered as a security issue, and when it is, it does not rank high as a priority”.
She stressed that COVID-19 if nothing, highlighted this issue more, creating awareness on this plague called rape, and that “to really see change, we need to see shifts in how the government, police and others understand sexual violence as a security issue that impacts everyone and the society.
“This pandemic has brought to fore this issue and there are increased discussions around it as a ‘shadow pandemic’ during the COVID-19 pandemic, which now proves to be a catalyst for action”.
Listed as reasons why people seem to tolerate or overlook sexual violence are; attitudes, lack of awareness on existing laws, family attachments (to the perpetrator), fear of public opinion/shame, insecurity, social and economic dependency, stereotypes or myths, prejudice, fear of retribution, feeling of helplessness, religious and cultural beliefs amongst others.
To this end, JSD which is a programme being implemented in Nigeria by WANEP in collaboration with CEPAN with support from USIP established a Gender Desk in Nasarawa Gwom Police Division of Plateau State Command, which became handy to address the rising scourge of SGBV amidst COVID-19.
Urging the public to take advantage and utilize services of the Gender Desk, the program coordinator stated that the desk is open to receive cases, improve response and victim’s experience with the police and hopefully, reduce the prevalence of SGBV.
Adding that all services are free, she said that partnering CSOs, CBOs, Ministries of Health, women and social welfare to network and coordinate service providers with the Plateau Police Command, JSD trained 40 officers on effective response to SGBV.
“Manning the desk are trained officers who will not only professionally carry out their duties but network and coordinate with other service providers in the handling of SGBV in line with relevant national, international, regional, instruments such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Marriage Acts, Violence Against Persons Prohibition, The Child Rights Law of Plateau State , The Gender and Equal Opportunities Law among others,” she said.
To create awareness and improve demand for such service, the Programme Coordinator said JSD will, from July 01, 2020, re-start its radio program on SGBV awareness and effective response. The Radio drama series titled “Tuna dani”(Think me) will broadcast in local language on Unity FM, Jos.
She however, cited some challenges since the Nigeria Police in 2016 under the former Inspector General of Police, Solomon Arase, created a ‘public friendly’ gender unit across the country to prosecute cases of SGBV, adding that “the special unit under the Force Gender Unit since its creation has remained a mirage in most states of the federation”.
Kemakolam also highlighted some of the challenges to include: conflicting laws, fund, personnel retention ( noting that since the establishment of the desk and deployment of four trained officers, two have voluntarily redeployed from the unit because it is not as “lucrative” as other units), limited training, lack of victim support facility including psycho-social services. She noted that with lot of police support dependent on aid, it would not be sustainable.
As a way forward, the CSOs urged government and the police apart from enacting laws and reeling out operational guidelines on combating SGBV, and the need to intentionally budget to support and replicate the desk, train more officers, make available, affordable and accessible medical and judicial services to victims.