Addressing Violence Against Nigerian Woman, Girl-Child
BY LOIS EFFIONG
The prevalence of violence against women and the girl-child in Nigeria is enormous, although efforts have been made by individuals and government at different levels to curb this menace. Even in the face of civilisation, the magnitude of the problem has been underestimated, still exposing the female folk to modern slavery, early child marriage, domestic violence, rape, gender discrimination, among others. The media in Nigeria is replete with stories of gender-based violence at home or in the streets, many of these with gory endings.
According to the World Health Organization, WHO, violence against women is an act of gender-based violence that results in physical, sexual or psychological harm to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty whether occurring in public or in private life. The definition connotes that violence against women is a form of social injustice by which women are forced into a subordinate position compared to men.
United Nations, states that “Violence against women is the manifestation of historically unequal power relations between men and women, which have led to domination over and discrimination against women by men and to the prevention of the full advancement of women.”
World over, there have been affronts on violence against women and the girl child to foster gender equality, and firmly kick against all forms of abuses and discrimination that deprive the female folk of their fundamental human right and privileges.
To raise awareness and trigger action to end this global scourge, The United Nations General Assembly, designated November 25 as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. The premise of the day is to raise awareness of the fact that women around the world are subject to rape, domestic violence and other forms of violence, with the central aim of eradicating these abuses and foster peace, security and a good sense of living.
Violence against women and girls is one of the most prevalent defilements of human rights. According to WHO global research, 35 per cent of women worldwide have experienced either physical or sexual violence. However, some national studies show that up to 70 per cent of women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetime from an intimate partner.
A study recently commissioned by the Ministry of Women’s Affairs and Social Development and the United Nations Population Fund, UNPFA, Nigeria with support from the Norwegian Government found out that 28% of Nigerian women aged 25-29 have experienced some form of physical violence since age 15.
Further reports launched jointly by United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund, UNICEF, and the Federal Government under the leadership of the Ministry of Budget and National Planning and the Federal Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development shows the negative impact of violence against the girl child on Nigeria’s economy.
According to the report, the economic impact of the violence against children in Nigeria is estimated to be about $6.1 billion, which is equivalent to about 1.07 per cent of the country’s GDP. This financial loss is from the cumulative loss of earnings due to loss of productivity, stemming from suffering associated with different degrees of violence, over time.
Permanent Secretary of the Federal Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development Mrs Ifeoma Anagbogu, said: “The cost of inaction is high when it comes to violence against children. Violence affects children’s health, education, and productivity. It is clear that we need to eliminate any form of violence against children – both from a moral perspective and an economic perspective.”
In the same vein, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Budget and National Planning Mr Olajide S. Odewale said: “The findings of this study point to the strong need for increased funding of interventions by government to reduce violence against children in Nigeria.”
With a population of over 180million, Nigerian females are not exempted in this widespread violation, caused by harmful traditional practices, non-adaptation of the child rights across states, financial factors, among others. The Centre for Health Ethics Law and Development, CHELD, a group comprising lawyers, doctors, health professionals, social scientists, economists, public health specialists, gender specialists and statisticians that promote public health in Nigeria and other African countries, believe many cases of violence against women in Nigeria are influenced by financial factors.
In its 2015 report on Violence Against Women in Nigeria and the Need for Women’s Fund, CHELD noted that these factors range from husbands preventing their wives from working or denying them funds for necessities such as children’s school fees, health services and even feeding.
Founder and Executive Director of CHELD, Cheluchi Onyemelukwe-Onuobia said: “For instance, several women I have talked to this year have had problems with insufficient funds to buy air time to make calls. Beyond this, financial issues prevent women from leaving bad and abusive situations. Many of the women have been prevented from working and earning any income to keep them financially dependent on the abuser.”
More so, non-adaptation of the Child Right Act across states is a catalyst to the widespread violation of the girl child in Nigeria. The Child Right Act 2003 is the national legal framework for child protection that has been enacted in the Nigerian constitution to protect the underage from discrimination and abuse.
According to national research conducted, only 23 of 36 states have adopted the Act. Implementation of the law is slow, paving way for more forms of violations, as the Nigerian female faces the brunt of the inactive local authorities who are unaware of their duties under the law. A national survey in 2014 found that six out of 10 children reported having suffered one or more forms of violence before reaching 18 years of age, with 70 per cent of those experiencing multiple incidents of violence. Nigeria has the largest number of child brides in Africa; 23 million girls and women were married as children.
Most Nigerian communities are guided by customs and traditions that negatively affect the female folk, subduing them to diverse forms of abuse and violation.
In a chat with AljazirahNigeria, a leader of a rural community in Cross River State, Chief Okon Udoh, emphasizes on female genital mutilation still practised in most communities. According to him, the girl child passes through severe pains for weeks before stabilisation, and some girls are considered weak when they die during the process.
He said: “Well, as a constituted authority in my village, it is an elder’s responsibility to preserve the culture and tradition of the community and ensure it is passed to the next generation. The girl-child from 0-15 years is forcefully mutilated, either partial or complete removal of the clitoris and then stitching back the area to allow rapid healing. Some girls die during the process, but it will not bring a halt to the tradition of our land.”
To address lethal violence against Nigerian female coupled with diverse surmounted pressure, the federal government, community heads, religious leaders among others, have significant roles to play.
Also, Woman Rights Activist Sarah Udoh stated emphatically that the need for mass enlightenment for women to fully know their human rights and when it is violated. She further said that there should be strong legal actions against violators of such rights and be brought to book no matter whose odd is gored.
She said: “Nigerian females should be properly enlightened on their rights and privileges in other to stop violence and abuses melted against them. Most women, especially in rural areas, are being victimised due to their ignorance of government social responsibility.
“In 2006, Nigeria adopted a Framework and Plan of Action for the National Gender Policy. Consequently, the federal and state governments adopted several legislative and policy instruments, including The Violence against Persons Prohibition Act of 2015, which prohibits female genital mutilation, harmful widowhood practices, harmful traditional practices and all forms of violence against persons in both private and public life. But when the victims are not tutored on the basics of their rights, how will they know when it is being violated, and the appropriate channel to report to?
“Even when some of the enlightened air out their frustrations and abuses, the offenders do not get to pay for their crimes due to their influential positions and status. This is a world over cry out for women. We are considered to be nation builders, but at the tail end we are mostly victimised, abused and violated on a daily basis.”
She added that: “The public should be sensitized on the disadvantages of early and forced child marriages. Even community members should be educated on their international and national human right laws as this will go a long way in eliminating violence against women and the girl child in Nigeria.”
The rate of female out-of-school children in Nigeria keeps increasing daily. According to national research, in the North-east only 41 per cent of eligible girls were educated up to primary education level, and 47 per cent in the North-west. This is to say that the girl-child lacks proper education, in turn, paving way for increased violence against them.
Proprietress of Good Success Academy, Mrs. Elizabeth Effiong, speaking with AljazirahNigeria, emphasises on the need for girl-child education in order to eliminate violence against the Nigerian female. She said: “In addressing violence and abuses against the Nigerian female, education is a solid foundation that should be made compulsory and funded. Women as nation builders add value to the society, and should not be assaulted in any form”
“Education of children, especially the girl child, goes a long way in boosting the socio-economic cum cultural status of women in the society. This will inherently empower women who are often disadvantaged by the undue attention paid to the education of male children over their female counterparts especially in the developing world.
“This imbalance, coupled with poverty and ignorance, has led to persistent practice in certain parts of Nigeria where children and teenagers, instead of being in the classroom are used for street hawking of petty wares by their parents or “care givers”, thus making them vulnerable to sexual exploitation and abuse. Child and women trafficking with the attendant risk of sexual assault and exploitation would be greatly curtailed if equal opportunity and free formal education will be provided for all the children.”