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PROTECTING WOMEN AND GIRLS
All the stakeholders should do more to address violence against women
There is an alarming upsurge in incidents of violence perpetrated against girls and women in our country. Almost every day, reports in the media are replete with incidents of killings, rape, assault, and all manner of physical and mental abuse against girls and women, most often for the flimsiest of excuses. Wives get battered or killed for not cooking or preparing stew with insufficient salt; for staying out too late even when they work or for not tending to a chore satisfactorily. To compound the problem, many of our law courts hand out light sentences that are hardly of any deterrent effect to the offenders.
As of 22nd November, last year, according to the Minister of Women Affairs, Mrs Pauline Tallen, Nigeria had recorded about 11,053 cases of gender-based violence (GBV) for year 2022, going by the information available from the National Situation Room and Data Dashboard. Meanwhile, only 33 persons had been convicted, even though 401 cases resulted in fatalities. This is a serious problem that should concern critical stakeholders in the country. We cannot continue to ignore the upsurge in these occurrences, for the implications on our collective psyche as citizenry, and our development as a nation, are ominous.
The statistics are simply startling even though our government and critical stakeholders are yet to comprehend the gravity of the situation. According to a recent study, up to one third of Nigerian women reported that they had been subjected to one form of violence or the other while one in five has been subjected to physical abuse or violence. For such a huge percentage of our women to be at the receiving end of incidents of abuse, it is imperative that we try to understand the underlying causes and dynamics of violence, if only to redeem our values and the stability of the family unit, and consequently, the larger society.
Institutional violence (as forms of harassment and exploitation) in schools, public institutions and even within the agencies of law enforcement, has gradually become the norm. Complaints of violence and abuse (against family members) made at our police stations, where girls and women can summon the courage to do so, are often dismissed as domestic matters, especially where the violence occurs between spouses.
Assault and battery, even though serious offences in our law books, are paradoxically not perceived as crimes by many of our law enforcement agencies, unless the acts ultimately culminate in death. Violence continues to manifest itself in new forms and trends. Obscene tape recordings, accompanied by threats and blackmail, are readily summoned in compelling silence from female victims of violence, especially among young people.
Unfortunately, our laws are yet to catch up with the various dimensions they manifest in our society, with the outcome of a plural legal system working to compound the challenges for those who seek to obtain justice. Despite the signing into law of the Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act 2015, the frequency of these incidents in our immediate environment vividly demonstrates that we are teetering towards a lawless society, with all the frightening implications for peace and security.
The media should continue to bring to the fore these incidents, if only to arouse our collective outrage into a sense of emergency to act to stop gender-based violence. We also need an institutional structure where these incidents (including the perpetrators and victims) could be analysed with a view to strategically addressing all the challenges in a comprehensive and structured manner.
Finally, our governments, at all levels, need to sit up to address these concerns, to assure our collective welfare and wellbeing, and thereby our health and prosperity as a nation.