The roles of the Media towards reduction of Violence against Women in Nigeria
using the Violence Against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) ACT 2015
One of the critical success factors towards the achievement of the goals of a free and egalitarian society, is the existence of mechanisms to protect citizens from oppression, suppression, discrimination and violence. The passage of the Violence Against Persons’ Prohibition (VAPP) Bill, which was passed by the Nigerian Senate on 5th May, 2015 and signed into law on 24th May, 2015, after 13 years incubation at the National Assembly, is cause for celebration.
The tortuous journey of the Bill is enough of a pointer to the complexity of the problem and the propensity of booby-traps towards finding solutions. Studies have shown that our society is endemic with incidences of rights violation and abuses, as well as cases of discrimination against vulnerable persons. The high prevalence and intensity of the violence most times arise from local customs, traditional beliefs and value systems. Unfortunately, the legal and judicial systems do not offer much protection against the violence and abuse. This ugly trend is further accentuated by our culture of silence. It has been realised that in these instances, silence is never golden!
According to India Ochs, a US Attorney, “it is easy to say, ‘fight back’ to people who have been abused, but it is not always easy to do so. Many people do not fight back because they are scared. They are worried about being hurt again or think they do not have the right to fight back but this, of course, is wrong”.
It is disturbing to acknowledge that violence is not a rare, isolated occurrence. It affects individuals from all over the globe – individuals who live in developing countries and those who live in the developed world. However, the situation is more complicated in our environment. Whilst for instance, rape carries a punishment of life imprisonment in Nigeria, the arduous process of proving rape, the pain and shame of reliving the experience coupled with societal pressure to keep silent, victim blaming, and stigma, often discourage women from reporting sexual violence.
Until the passage of the VAPP Bill, there were a handful of States in Nigeria with specific laws targeting gender based violence and abuse but there was no federal law specifically addressing the issue. However, the content of the new law is tailored towards our environment, reflecting the realities of gender based violence and discrimination in Nigeria today. In addition, the law incorporates relevant provisions of international human rights laws and principles.
Essentially, the new law covers a wide range of these practices – spousal battery, forceful ejection from home, forced financial dependence or economic abuse, harmful widowhood practices, female circumcision or genital mutilation, harmful traditional practices, substance attacks such as acid baths, political violence and violence by state actors (especially government security forces) are now recognised offences. Victims and survivors of violence are also entitled to comprehensive medical, psychological, social and legal assistance by accredited service providers and government agencies, with their identities protected during court cases.
So, on the one hand, the legal provisions aspect has been settled, the question however remains: how do we ensure its awareness and enforcement? It would only remain a law in abeyance if the key stakeholders refuse to own it, and merely keep it in the statute books. How do we bring it to the awareness of victims or potential victims? How do we begin to re-orient ourselves about the desired attitudinal and cultural change? How do we ensure that our society begins to understand the need to promote respectful relationships and gender equality?
Given the devastating effect violence has on women and the vulnerable groups, the best way to end violence against women, girls and other groups is to prevent it from happening in the first place by addressing its root and structural causes. Successful approaches to violence-risk reduction are emerging within some countries, but are not widely communicated among and between nations.
The VAPP law has been in place for months now, how many people are aware of it? How many people have gained insights of its provisions? How many people have been charged under the law or conviction obtained?
Here comes then the responsibility for the media. The media is recognised all over the world as an agent of socialisation, which moulds the morals, views and opinions of the society. It therefore needs to step in and begin the education process towards preventing and ending violence and abuse in our society. The education should target various age groups and other strata of the society, especially the young people, and enable them understand the root causes of violence in their communities, to educate and involve their peers and communities to prevent such violence, and to learn about where to access support if violence is experienced.
Various programmes and activities can be put in place on perceptions and behaviour related to various forms of violence, supporting advocacy, creating awareness and community mobilization. People also need to be sensitised that there is a consequence for every indiscretion in this regard – perpetrators will be punished! And more importantly, we must educate ourselves on the need to change the culture that permits and enables violence.
A critical thing to note here is that you or your loved ones may eventually be the beneficiary of a single effort you invest or contribute today towards preventing and ending this menace in our society.
The VAPP law is the first step towards having accountability on this issue. We all need to work together, especially using all the media tools at our disposal, to make sure that this law truly means something in the lives of Nigerian women.
Margaret Fagboyo is the Acting South West Regional Coordinator, Department for International Development (DFID), Nigeria.
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