The authorities should enforce the law

Last week in Lagos, hundreds of women staged a walk to the State House of Assembly in Alausa, where they presented a draft bill on how to tackle increasing cases of ‘femicide’ (the killing of women and girls) in the state. That the Lagos event took place at a time the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) Women Affairs Secretariat was expressing concern over the increasing incidence of Gender-Based Violence (GBV) in Abuja is why authorities should be concerned. “Currently, there is nowhere in Lagos State laws on domestic violence that covers femicide,” said Mrs Temitope Ajayi who led the walk in Lagos. “Femicide is the highest form of gender-based violence, the most violent form because it results in the murder of women and girls.”

In Nigeria, hardly a day passes 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. Besides, it provides a legislative and legal framework for the prevention of all forms of violence against vulnerable persons, especially women and girls and prohibits economic abuse, forced isolation and separation from family and friends, depriving persons of their liberty, incest, and indecent exposure. It also intends to eliminate violence in private and public life and provide maximum protection and effective remedies for victims of violence, and punishment of offenders.  

Against the background that curbing these 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.   

While the challenge at hand may not be in the enactment of new laws, we agree that the manifestation of violence in new forms and trends against women and girls is worrying. From physical and verbal abuse to rape and even murder, it is evident that relevant authorities are not doing enough to tackle this menace. Due essentially to the patriarchal interpretations within our various faiths which preach endurance, our religious leaders most often advise forgiveness, even in the most bizarre of instances. Inevitably, the victim and the abuser (where summoned) are usually advised to find a way to settle their differences, rather than make public the injury. 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’.  

 It is indeed imperative that the authorities make more efforts to understand the underlying causes and dynamics of this growing violence. 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 to assure our women and girls that we care about their welfare and wellbeing.

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