LOUD WHISPERS: A Time For Anger

I attended the Voice of Women Conference in Abuja recently, organized by Women’s FM Radio, the only women’s radio in Nigeria. I challenged the audience to think about the question, ‘Are you in the right P.L.A.C.E?’. If we are not Passionate about what we do, if we have little or no Leverage, if we are not Angry enough to push for change, if we do not have the required Capacity for the positions we aspire to and if we do not have the right kind of Energy, it is hard to take our aspirations to the next level. Today I want to talk about Anger. I have been quite angry for a while about the intense and unrelenting levels of violence against women and girls in Nigeria. From age 0 to Ninety, no woman or girl is safe. I am not the only one who is angry. Recently, there has been a lot of outrage about the fate of thirteen-year-old Ochenya Ogbanje who died after years of sexual abuse at the hands of her Uncle and his son. She is one of many. Too many. Ochenya’s death lit a fuse which has seen many women and men spring into action – through marches, protests and loud calls for justice, the anger at the death of yet another young girl is palpable, and will hopefully serve a purpose.

Gender based violence is no respecter of age, class or education. Conventional statistics put victims of violence at 1 out of 3 women. Violence leaves women scarred and scared for the rest of their lives.  It diminishes the capacity of women to fulfill their potential. It destroys families and communities. It affects our economy. It increases HIV/AIDS rates, transmission of STDs, 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.

If we are committed to ending, or at least minimizing violence against women and girls, we should be prepared to engage in challenging and transforming all the institutions and processes which continue to undermine the progress of women and girls. Our ultimate goal should be changing the stories of abuse and violation, and increasing the number of choices that women have.  How can we give girls like Ochenya a different story?

We need to address the structural and underlying causes of violence against women. Institutions which predetermine the status and roles of women should be redefined. Educational, religious, cultural and social spaces ought to be sites of empowerment and transformation, not tools for the abuse of women. Women’s economic empowerment and their full and equal participation in public and political life are also vital for addressing the structural causes of violence against women and girls. We also need to stop fueling practices, superstitions, beliefs and stereotypes that undermine the physical and emotional well-being of women and girls.  Religious institutions have a key role to play. They should be places where women and girls are valued and respected, and where their potential is not limited by manipulative interpretations of religious texts.

 The role of families is very important.  Parents should raise their daughters with a healthy dose of self-respect and self-esteem. Girls and boys should be raised with an understanding of equal responsibilities, obligations and mutual respect. Families of victims should not accept the ‘Rape and Beg’ syndrome. It fuels impunity and does not bring closure. We also need to step up work with men as allies. Boys and men need a new understanding and definition of masculinity. Our societies need strong men who can be providers, carers and nurturers of values that embody respect and accountability. There should be no place for those who derive their power from the abuse and intimidation of women and girls. It is also important for parents, religious leaders, and friends to stop making marriage sound like an iron- gated prison for women from which there is no escape, and which has to be endured till the day they literally die from abuse.

There have been some attempts made to address violence against women in Nigeria, through the adoption of relevant laws at Federal and State level. The Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act (VAPP) of 2015 is a critical law that requires domestication and implementation in all the States of the federation. However, implementation and enforcement of these laws remains woefully inadequate, creating the basis for a pervasive culture of impunity. We still have significant gaps and challenges, and there is a chronic lack of institutional capacity to enforce laws and policies.

There is also a need to scale up Inter-agency collaboration to provide counselling, psycho-social support, therapy and rehabilitative services for survivors of gender-based violence. We badly need competent health care services, counselling and therapy facilities, well-resourced shelters and half-way houses, and skilled personnel all working together with a common goal.

One of the greatest impediments is combating the culture of impunity. Our law enforcement agencies and criminal justice system need to be more proactive, because with things as they are now, chances of securing convictions in cases of sexual assault are very slim. When cases fizzle out due to a combination of lack of forensic evidence, lack of commitment on the part of law enforcement, indifference of the judiciary and pressure from the families and associates of suspects, this prevents other victims of sexual assaults from coming forward, and leaves perpetrators with a feeling of invincibility, paving the way for future attacks on other victims.

The agencies who are the first to deal with victims of sexual assault such as the police and health care providers, should have the capacity to handle cases with the utmost sensitivity, there should be appropriate tools to collect forensic evidence such as Rape Kits (which most States do not have) and those who have this training need to be kept within the system for as long as is feasible.

All our best intentions will amount to nothing if communities do not own the issue of violence against women and girls. Every abused woman or girl is someone’s mother, daughter, wife, sister, and friend. Communities, especially in rural areas, should be sensitized to work with relevant bodies on a range of intervention strategies such as mediation, counselling, reporting incidents of abuse, legal literacy, aiding the criminal justice system, and providing a strong support network for survivors of abuse. Communities should not take laws into their hands, but they should be prepared to support the implementation of laws and not obstruct justice which is what happens in many instances.

For this agenda of minimizing violence against women and girls, we need strong political will. Political will models the way for a culture of impunity to end, and there are examples we can draw lessons from. Lagos State, for example, has an impressive array of resources to address GBV such as specially trained police personnel, shelters, and a large number of civil society organisations working on various interventions. Even though these resources are rather inadequate, at least there is something to build on. In Ekiti State, from 2010-2014, there was a clear demonstration of political will to combat Gender-Based Violence. A Gender Based Violence Prohibition Bill was signed into law in 2011, and the Management Committee which was responsible for the implementation of the law spent the next three years establishing partnerships with a range of stakeholders so that the law would mean something in the lives of Ekiti women and girls. One of the provisions of the Ekiti GBV Law was an innovation called the Survivors’ Fund which was used to help survivors of violence rebuild their lives. In addition, a Sex Offenders Register was opened in Ekiti State in 2013, the first of its kind in Nigeria, before Lagos State followed suit in 2014. During this period, the Family Court was established as well as a Social Inclusion Center which is a shelter for women and children fleeing violent situations. It is sad that the Management Committee for the GBV Law has not met or functioned over the past four years, something that made me angry when I learnt of it. Hopefully, the existence of a range of progressive legislations and policies in Ekiti State provides a context within which progress can be made in this area with the right kind of leadership and strong political will.

As we begin this year’s 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence global campaign (November 25th-December 10th) let us remember that we can all make a difference, no matter how small. We however need to get angrier. How many more of us need to die? How many more need to be kidnapped, raped, and abused?  Remember the statistics – one in three. It could be you or someone you love.

 

Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi is a Gender Specialist, Social Entrepreneur and Writer. She is the Founder of Abovewhispers.com, an online community for women.  She can be reached at BAF@abovewhispers.com

 

 

 

 

 

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16 Responses to LOUD WHISPERS: A Time For Anger

  1. Olumola Gift November 26, 2018 at 4:28 pm

    I saw the video on instagram and facebook and also watched live on IG while you spoke at the event. It is important that we get hungry and angry for things to change. we need to set the right things in place and enable our girls to enjoy the world .

    Reply
  2. Godwin Spencer November 26, 2018 at 4:29 pm

    I will say that this 16 days of activism is even too small for us to be active. We should be active everyday and every time. We should speak up for our women and girls.

    Reply
  3. Olushola Aderanti November 26, 2018 at 4:31 pm

    Apart from Ekiti State, which other state have been able to do this? Let’s answer this question. When we have the so called big men in the society sleeping with girls before they get jobs, or men marrying 18 year old or less and nothing will bed done to them instead they will say the woman had a choice, what about the man? Is he not mad?

    Reply
  4. Waterman November 26, 2018 at 4:32 pm

    Congratulations on the award ma, I am happy, it is well deserved one and I watched the video also on Above Whispers IG page. You spoke so passionately and indeed, we should all be angry to make a change. That is the right place

    Reply
  5. Kelechi Ufuoma November 26, 2018 at 6:18 pm

    There is more to be done, there are lots of things to be done, we need to get up, and work.

    Reply
  6. Femi Diipo November 27, 2018 at 11:24 am

    Yeah we should be angry, very angry. It is time to work collectively for a change and end to violence against women. We need to keep talking about it, keep engaging people and letting boys and men know the abomination of the act.

    Reply
  7. Dom Dom November 27, 2018 at 11:34 am

    There can’t be safety or peace for anyone until our girls and women are safe from violence and abuse. This is not just women issue, it’s everyone’s and we must fight together to have this better society. I’m angry and I’m ready to keep acting against this menace. Let’s keep up the anger, let’s keep fighting and talking about it. Violence against girls and women must stop

    Reply
  8. Lanre Philips November 27, 2018 at 11:36 am

    Thank you for always honoring women and thank you for the job you have been doing all these years. When i see what our women have become in this society it is annoying. They are not appreciated enough, so many things are against us but who do we run to? we would listen to our plight? and sometimes, we ourselves form cliques and we refuse to be a helping hand to our fellow women. It is time to be angry and push for a better society for women and girls.

    Reply
  9. Constance Idemudia November 27, 2018 at 11:38 am

    May our work never be in vain. The truth is, those working hard are lesser to those who are just collecting grants and constantly showing themselves on social media as warriors. Well done mama.

    Reply
  10. Ayishat Idris November 27, 2018 at 11:42 am

    It is worse in the north. They will marry our girls off and when you try to fight for her rights, they will say he is most powerful man and he is supporting the family anyway. The girls who want to be educated are killed, kidnapped. In fact, it is a long road to freedom for our girls and those of us who have been rescued, we are even scared to start so we can live.

    Reply
  11. Olakunle Olajide November 27, 2018 at 3:51 pm

    I can seriously sense the anger in this piece. I don’t know why it is really hard for this nation to tackle GBV. It is so rampant and we can’t still bring the perpetrators of this act to justice. This is annoying and it is high time the Government pass the laws you stated above. I am strongly with it.

    Reply
  12. Gloria Uduak November 28, 2018 at 5:32 pm

    I pledge my support to tackle this menace, and my questions what are the female law makers doing ehn? what? we can see what other african female lawmakers are doing what are our own doing in the house?

    Reply
  13. Veronica Imaseun November 29, 2018 at 4:54 pm

    The question is, where are we? what do we need to do properly? how can we enforce laws? Howww??? There are so many questions to be answered and dealt with strategically so we don’t just talk and talk and this thing keeps going on.

    Reply
  14. Latoya Philps November 29, 2018 at 5:00 pm

    We all must be angry. I think Erelu and the Above Whispers team should do a video about this. Of cos, we saw it live on instagram but do a specific video that we all can share and listen to and feel the anger. This will help push up for everyone. We all must get angry about this.

    Reply
  15. Eric Onuoha December 1, 2018 at 4:44 am

    Violence against women and girls should not be taken lightly. We really need law enforcement to curb such act.

    Reply
  16. DSEED December 2, 2018 at 4:59 pm

    No to violence against women and children and not girls alone. Enough is enough.

    Reply

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