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Changing The Story: A Road Map For Addressing Violence Against Women And Girls In Nigeria

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Monday, September 5th, 2016

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Mabel is a 42 year old woman. She has a job she loves and is very good at. She is respected by all her colleagues and peers. She has three adorable children, who are all doing well in their respective schools. She is very active in her church, she is a member of two professional associations and is considering a run for the Presidency of one of these associations. Every day, wherever she is at 5pm, her heart begins to beat a little bit faster. By 6pm when she starts to gather her papers to head home, the heartbeats increase and her palms become sweaty. As her driver moves slowly through the traffic on her way home, she does not pay any attention to the usual noise and drama commuters encounter on their way home after work. Her mind is fixed on home. She is not looking forward to going home, but she has to go. She does not know what mood her husband will be in tonight. Two nights ago he was unhappy with her because she informed him she had to travel to a meeting in Abuja next week. He showed his displeasure by choking her. She was let off lightly then. The week before, he kicked her hard in the ribs. Maybe that is why the nagging pain in her side won’t go away. She found herself hoping that whatever he did, it should not be her face this time. There is only so much make-up can cover. Not my face, she kept thinking to herself. She looked at the file on her lap, wondering if having to stay up late tonight to finish writing would incur his wrath again. She had to finish this task, she had a ruling tomorrow. Mabel is a High Court Judge.

Mama Joke

Iya Joke felt herself drifting in and out of consciousness. The smoke was beginning to overwhelm her. She no longer heard the screams and shouts of all the young men hovering over her, holding her still so that the smoke from the burning leaves could permeate every pore in her body. A week ago, these young men had dragged her from her house, accusing her of being a witch. A young relative in her compound, who was like a son to her, had been ill for some time. All efforts to heal him had been to no avail. She had even accompanied his mother to places trying to help. Now she was being accused of poisoning him with her witchcraft. She was taken to the King’s palace. The King and his chiefs took her into an inner chamber in the palace, where she was given a strange concoction to drink. She was told that if she did not confess to her witchcraft within seven days, the concoction would kill her. She was then released and she went back home.

Eight days later, the young men came back. The concoction had not killed her, which ought to have been proof of her innocence, yet they were convinced of her guilt. They lit a fire and burnt the sacred Obo leaves, which were meant to identify witches. Any witch who inhaled the smoke from the leaves would have to confess. So here she was, being beaten and held down by a screaming horde of over twenty young men, all yelling at her to confess her crimes of witchcraft. Then it all went dark. She woke up on her bed in her house, and even though she could see her surroundings, she could not move. She closed her eyes again. Or so she thought. In the morning, her cousin discovered her body, lifeless on the bed. She ran her hand over her face to close her eyes. She is at peace now, her cousin thought to herself.

I could tell you more stories. Tales of women hurt, debased, bought and sold, humiliated, starved of affection, and driven to madness. Women butchered, burnt, beaten and tortured literally to death. The stories usually start the same way and have the same ending. Women and girls who are born thinking they are human beings entitled to a life of dignity and respect, to be loved and cared for by their families and communities. And in the course of their lives, they find out a very uncomfortable truth. They have less value than boys when they are young. When they are older, they are disposable and transferable, from fathers who value their sons over their daughters, to husbands who become their lord and master. Almost every man they come across is superior. The boy they beat to second position in class, the male student who got a B to their A and the male colleague who got promoted in her place because the board determined on her behalf that she needed to spend more time with her young children. These stories cut across class, education and social standing.

Gender based violence is no respecter of age, class or education. Whilst education and social standing might give women more choices, the huge burden of cultural and societal expectations continues to wear women down into submission. Experts on Violence against Women will tell you that there are three main forms of Violence against Women:

Physical: Beatings, acid attacks, torture, kidnapping, trafficking, harmful traditional practices such as dangerous widowhood rites, disinheritance, Female Genital Mutilation, witch hunts, imposition of dress codes, forced seclusion, and others.

Sexual: Rape, incest, indecent assault, sexual extortion and exploitation, marital rape, child marriage, sexual slavery, forced prostitution, baby factories, virginity testing, and ritual rape.

Psychological: Intimidation, sexual harassment, institutional discrimination, neglect, verbal abuse, abandonment, stalking, cyber stalking and abuse, isolation from friends and family, denial of livelihood opportunities, lack of voice in decision making.

If a woman or girl has experienced any of these, it can be said that she is a victim of violence. Conventional statistics put victims of one or a combination of these forms of violence at 1 out of 3 women. Why should we care about Violence against Women? We should care because it destroys women’s lives. It leaves women scarred and scared for the rest of their lives. It erodes self-esteem and confidence.  It diminishes the capacity of women to fulfill their full potential. It destroys families and communities. It affects our economy. It increases HIV/AIDS rates, transmission of STDs, serious health conditions, commercial sex work and numbers of people suffering from mental health disorders. Women who are victims of violent sexual crimes are afraid to report for fear of stigma, blame and rejection. As in many other parts of the world, when the cases are reported, it takes so much effort to get a conviction, the process leaves the victims feeling assaulted all over again. When there is no justice, they do not get closure and the healing process takes so much longer.

For us to understand Violence against Women, we need an appreciation of the structural and underlying causes which feed this menace from generation to generation and which creates an almost unbreakable cycle of oppression. We all grow up in societies firmly entrenched in patriarchal norms and values  which influence all the social, cultural, political, economic, educational and religious institutions around which our lives are structured. It is these institutions, into which we are all socialized, that determine the value and worth of women and girls. As long as these institutions remain bastions of male dominance and control, the empowerment of women will continue to be severely limited. Acts which violate women and girls in public and private, are merely a symptom of the effects of a culture that emphasizes the superiority of men over women and takes women on a long journey of subjugation throughout their life-cycle.

The good news is that over the years, this cycle of oppression has been challenged, and significant gains have been made. Thanks to the relentless advocacy of generations of women’s rights activists and human rights advocates, gender equality and women’s empowerment is no longer a strange concept. Women are today better educated than they were in the past, they play key roles in the formal and informal economy, they are more politically visible, and there are many role models who have blazed trails and broken barriers for other women.  There are a respectable number of professional bodies and associations created for and by women who seek to address some of the historical imbalances. There are also several policies and laws in place at State and Federal level which are meant to provide a basis for raising the status of women. At the global and regional levels, it has been established that women’s human rights are universal, inalienable, and indivisible, and that  Governments at all levels have an obligation to guarantee these rights.

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Changing The Story: A Road Map For Addressing Violence Against Women And Girls In Nigeria from Above Whispers

5 Responses

  1. Let also look into revise marriage laws that are institutionally biased
    against women, particularly those that deny women
    custody over their children, inheritance, and land rights in
    cases of death, separation or divorce. The revised national
    constitution in Kenya is one example that has brought
    about unprecedented rights for women, including the right
    to oversee property-related transactions, manage family
    land and resources and retain a portion of land to live on
    and cultivate if widowed or divorced

  2. We should also consider bringing greater attention to violence that is perpetrated by
    a partner or spouse. Stella Mukasa, Director of Gender
    Violence and Rights at ICRW, told the story of a woman who was forced by her husband to breast feed his dog’s litter. When she sought help from the community, her claim was ignored because abuse from a spouse was not considered to be a violation of a woman’s rights.

  3. To promote gender equality in schools and widen access to
    education for girls. It has been proven time and time again that girls enrolled in school are less likely to be married early and become pregnant. If that weren’t reason enough, girls that obtain higher levels of education are more likely to
    find employment and become empowered as a result of
    their financial contributions to the family and community

  4. Providing women with access to legal representation andopportunities to pursue justice against perpetrators of
    violence through the formal legal system.

  5. Putting an end to forced early marriage and premature pregnancy, the leading cause of death of girls between 15 to 19 years of Age.

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