The authorities should do well to enforce the law

The 2023 edition of the global 16 Days of ‘Activism against Gender-Based Violence’ commences tomorrow with the theme ‘Invest to Prevent Violence against Women & Girls.’ We hope that the exercise will help draw attention to the plight of Nigerian women and girls. It is no longer news that violence continues to manifest itself in new forms and trends against women and girls in the country. From physical and verbal abuse to rape and even murder, it is evident that relevant authorities are not doing enough to tackle this menace.   

 While spousal abuse indeed cuts across both sexes, women are predominantly the victims in our country. Yet abused women rarely report the violence inflicted on them, for fear of being stigmatized by the society. Besides, the patriarchal interpretations within our various faiths preach endurance. Inevitably, the victim and the abuser (where summoned) are usually advised to go home and find a way to settle their differences, rather than make public the injury or the violence within.   

 There is hardly a day without a report of a man visiting violence either on his spouse or girlfriend. This is despite the stringent provisions in the Violence Against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) Act 2015. The law prohibits, among others, abandonment of spouse, children and other dependents without sustenance, battery, and harmful traditional practices; provides a legislative and legal framework for the prevention of all forms of violence against vulnerable persons, especially women and girls. It prohibits economic abuse, forced isolation and separation from family and friends, substance attack, depriving persons of their liberty, incest, and indecent exposure. It also intends to eliminate violence in private and public life and provides maximum protection and effective remedies for victims of violence.   

Due essentially to the patriarchal interpretations within our various faiths which preach endurance as a sure pathway to heaven, our religious leaders most often advise forgiveness, even in the most bizarre of instances. Again, most abused women who opt to remain in the most challenging of marriages claim stability for their children as the excuse for their ‘fortitude’.   

    Against the background that curbing these tragic incidents is a collective responsibility, both the authorities and the society must be alerted to the fact that battery and assault remain felonies in our law books, even where inflicted between spouses. We must therefore understand that ignoring the subtle signals of violence can only lead to fatal consequences as we have witnessed lately. Assault and battery, even though serious offences in our law books, are hardly ever perceived as crimes by many of our law enforcement agencies, unless the acts ultimately culminate in the occurrence of death.    

 It is indeed imperative that the authorities make more efforts to understand the underlying causes and dynamics of this growing violence, if only to redeem the stability of the family unit, and consequently, the larger society. We cannot continue to ignore the societal upsurge in these occurrences, for the implications on our collective psyche, as citizenry, and our development as a nation, are ominous. More disturbing is that 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 such violence occurs between spouses.   

   Government, at all levels, must address these concerns. That is the only way to assure our women and girls that we care about their welfare and wellbeing, and the health and prosperity of the nation.   

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