Ugo Aliogo examines the efforts by some organisations to address the issue of sexual gender-based violence in the country
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) report states that Gender-based violence (GBV) is a serious violation of human rights and a life-threatening health and protection issue.
It is estimated that one in three women will experience sexual or physical violence in their lifetime.
During displacement and times of crisis, the threat of GBV significantly increases for women and girls.
In another report, the United Nations Population Fund, (UNFPA) contends that violence against women and girls is one of the most prevalent human rights violations in the world. It knows no social, economic or national boundaries. Worldwide, an estimated one in three women will experience physical or sexual abuse in her lifetime.
The report remarked that gender-based violence undermines the health, dignity, security and autonomy of its victims, yet it remains shrouded in a culture of silence. Victims of violence can suffer sexual and reproductive health consequences, including forced and unwanted pregnancies, unsafe abortions, traumatic fistula, sexually transmitted infections including HIV, and even death.
Also lending its voice to the issue of Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV) is Actionaid Nigeria. Nollywood Practitioners in collaborated with ActionAid Nigeria to examine the role of Nollywood in curbing sexual harassment/gender-based violence within and outside the industry.
The event provided an opportunity for Nollywood practitioners to share knowledge on the issue of sexual harassment, exploitation, and abuse/violence against women and girls.
The forum also provided an avenue to discuss the role of men in Nollywood in supporting the advocacy to end violence against women and girls within and outside the industry.
Speaking at the event, the Actionaid Nigeria, Project Coordinator, Women’s Voice and Leadership Nigeria Project, Vivian Efem-Bassey, noted that the project is funded by Global Affairs Canada.
She also stated that the goal of the project is to contribute towards the enjoinment of human right by women and girls and advancing gender equality in Nigeria.
She explained that regarding the women’s voice and leadership Nigeria initiative, Actionaid is supporting 100 women right organisations, stating that from the 100, 28 are based at state level, while the others are at community levels, “so we are working with 72 community based women rights organisations.”
“Women’s right organisations that are working in rural communities. Some of these women are in hard to reach communities. So we have women organisations that are established and located in rural communities that are addressing sexual gender based violence issues,” she stated.
Efem-Bassey hinted that Global Affairs Canada funded the initiative, adding that the women rights organisations make community members aware that there are laws that provide for litigations, protect survivors of gender based violence, achieving justice and ensuring that the perpetrators being prosecuted.
She further noted the women rights organisations provide psycho-socio support to survivors of SGBV, especially for women who are not economically viable, and rely on their perpetrators.
According to her, “These women rights organisations try to empower these poor women financially, so that they can live if they have gotten to the point where they need to survive. Some of these organisations also try to do reconciliation, if the case is not a criminal case that needs to be taken up by law enforcement agency.
“Gender based violence is broad; it is sexual, and psychological violence. There is financial violence where the man who is the financial head of the family withholds supports from the family and such cases can either be handled by social or women affairs.
“At the Local Government Area, it is the social affairs department, but they also are not usually equipped with everything they need, so these community based organisations run by women come in, and build the capacity of these women so that if it means to encourage the man and let him know it is his right to support the woman and his children.
“There is a law about negligence because we have the child right law in most States now. They are still pushing for it to cover the 36 States. So these women organisations let them (fathers) know that it is their duty and such things make the man a bit response when he sees that he has been reported to government authorities.”
At the event, Actionaid collaborated with the Centre for Creative Arts Education, (CREATE), an organisation headed by veteran actress, Hilda Dokunbo. The Actionaid Project Coordinator said recently, there have been a lot of concerns in the Nollywood industry regarding sexual harassment; especially with people speaking out as a result there is strong desire to address it.
She said one of the objectives of the initiative was to look within the industry and think of a system that would protect women and girls from sexual harassment, and would also pursue prosecution of offenders.
“We also wanted them to start thinking about using their platforms for social change and correcting the narrative and putting the idea out there through their movies and whatever products that comes out from the industry, then we wanted a commitment from the producers, directors, and the different Guilds in Nollywood.
“We wanted something that will be eventually documented and implemented. We want a situation where every discussion that is being made here is put into action,” she maintained.
Efem-Bassey expressed confidence that they have gotten commitment from the Guild of Executive Directors and Producers that any actor found wanting for a case of SGBV would not be allowed to be on set, “I think they would take it further and tighten it up.”
She asserted that response to SGBV has been scaled up, awareness has also improved, but the incidences have not stopped.
She argued that the incidence keep occurring and it could be attributed to two days; mindset and it also the fact that it is deep seated in traditions, culture and social norms. There are certain beliefs we hold unto traditionally.
Efem-Bassey revealed that there are men that rape, because they feel that they have right to the woman’s body, “having paid her bride price, therefore there is need to change such.”
According to her, “Addressing SGBV is a multi-pronged and sectoral. Every hand needs to be on deck, government, traditional institutions, the entertainment industry and everyone. All schools should come up with safeguarding policies that allows for the protection of the child.
“Anybody that is going to come close to a child, that person should be investigated for past occurrences of SGBV before they come and they should sign code of ethics, if you breach this you will face the punishment.
“There should be zero tolerance even among people and students who are involved in SGBV, you will be expelled after investigation. I think because there is so much that needs to be done, it is taking a lot of time.
“The media also has a role to play in this fight. We have to put pressure on government and the lawmakers to pass the necessary laws and policies to checkmate this evil. I believe that when perpetrators are brought to justice, it will serve as a deterrent to others planning to do similar things.”
Nollywood’s Role in Tackling SGBV
Dokunbo said the first step for Nollywood was to get a buy-in from the various practitioners in the industry to address SGBV.
She noted that the practitioners have also been charged to produce high quality movies that project women better, address cases of abuses and punish offenders, “not creating apologies in our production.”
She expressed assurance that plans are already on motion to setup a desk that addresses the issue, “so if there is a report of abuse or attempted rape, once it is reported it would be handled by the appropriate channel, and people would know that you cannot do that in the industry.”
According to her, “We are making headway regarding the issue of rape, it is not as ugly as it used to be, and yes we have not arrived to where we are going especially in stamping it out completely. We have made some progress because now, people are encouraged enough to speak up.
“There was a time when if someone is raped, the victim is not bold enough to tell a close friend. There was a time when everyone stigmatizes you for being a survivor. But now it has changed. The perpetrator is called out and brought to justice.
“People are emboldened more to call out perpetrator. Like every other evil in our society, it has taken time, there are cultural inhibitions and lack of political will. It will take more efforts to actually root it out.
“When offenders are punished, it will serve as a deterrent to other people. But the present reality now is that sometime, the law enforcement agencies treat the issue of rape with levity. Most rape cases happen to people extremely close to family and when it is reported, the family will object and prefer to keep it within the family. The battle is not yet won because other people and I are still lending our voices to the issue, until the society is free from this marginalization and exploitation.”