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Gender-Based Violence: The Raging Shadow Pandemic

Gender-Based Violence: The Raging Shadow Pandemic

November 25th of every year marks the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women around the world plus it's 16 days activism, and this year is no different, as the United Nations launched the 2020 UNiTE Campaign themed; "Orange the world: Fund, Respond, Prevent, Collect!". A campaign geared towards the eradication of GBV, which is deeply rooted in gender inequalities.

Prior to COVID-19 pandemic, Gender-based Violence (GBV) has been a rather disturbing and heartbreaking issue, with organisations, countries and activists continually putting measures in place to combat it. World Health Organization estimated that, "Globally, 1 in every 3 women have experienced physical or sexual violence, mostly perpetrated by an intimate partner". UN women estimated that in the past 12 months prior to COVID-19 pandemic, 243 million women and girls aged 15-49 years were subjected to sexual and/or physical violence carried out by intimate partner". This data has only increased following the COVID-19 pandemic owing to strict lockdown measures imposed by the government to curtail the spread of the disease.

Nigeria is not left out from the horrors of GBV as a study commissioned by the Ministry of Women's Affairs and social development in conjunction with UNPFA(United Nations Population Fund) Nigeria, with support from the Norwegian Government, revealed that 28% of Nigerian women aged 25-29 have experienced some form of physical violence since age 15.

During the lockdown, there were reported cases of a surge in domestic violence especially in regions with strict lockdown measures, like Lagos, Ogun States and the Federal Capital Territory. The recorded increase by the International Growth Centre (IGC) showed that in these 3 states, an increase of 297% was seen, which showed a rapid rise from 60 in March to 238 cases in April. In states with less strict lockdown measures, like Benue, Ebonyi, etc, an increase of only 53% was recorded.

It should be recalled that during this period, the media was also replete with gory news of rape and murder, and one such prominent one was the rape and murder of 22 years old Uwaila Vera Omozuwa, an 100L student of UNIBEN. Also, the rape and murder of 18 years old Barakat Bello shortly after. 29 years old Azeezat Shomiyiwa and 21 years old Grace Oshiagwu also suffered similar fates not too long after. And the demoralizing stories continued. 

In a statement released by UN President and Humanitarian Coordinator in Nigeria, Edwin Kallon, he revealed that, "3 of every 10 women have experienced physical, sexual, economic,of psychosocial violence because of their gender". He further stated that, "Though these 3 women knew their perpetrator, only one of them knew about health support available, and only one would approach the justice system as the other two are shameful, and would not speak out of the fear of stigma from community, family, and friends who might place the blame on them for 'not being more careful' or for 'dressing improperly'". 

Gender-based Violence occurs in various forms such as; sexual violence, psychological violence, stalking, forced marriage, child marriage, female genital mutilation, intimte partner violence, homicide and domestic abuse, dating violence, amongst many others. GBV following the COVID-19 pandemic, is known to be equally as damaging, with a lasting consequence on social and all-round development. Hence, the need to combat the crippling ill before it extinguishes the entire human race.

Society and traditions also have a role to play in GBV as reports have shown that despite the adoption of the United Nation's Convention on the Elimination of all forms of discrimination against women in 1985, as well as policies like National Gender Policy of 2006, inequality stills remains yet to be tackled. This is largely due to unhelpful cultural and structural practises that greatly marginalize women's participation in all spheres of life. This, without a doubt, has influenced the surge in GBV as women are mostly viewed as citizens whose voices do not deserve to be heard, and some traditions and societal rul go as far as giving women barbaric titles such as"properties of husbands", hence should be disciplined in whatever form should any wrongdoing arise. Julia Godunova, the Deputy Head of the Board of the Eurasian Women's Network on AIDS, spoke about studies in Eastern Europe and Central Asia that shows that more than 79% of women who survived violence do not seek help because of perceived shame. Aisha Alhassan, the former Minister of Women's Affair, further alluded to this "perceived shame" or "silence culture" in a statement released during a news briefing in Abuja to mark the 16 days of activism to end violence against women and girls. She stated that, "women and girls may suffer violent acts in household and within the family which could be habituated by socio-cultural attitudes and traditions".

GBV is a grievious crime against humanity and a grave infringement on the human rights of women and young girls. This heinous act is not restricted to only offline violence but has over the years extended to online violence (more prominent following the COVID-19 pandemic) and appears in the forms of; online bullying, cyberstalking, hate speech, defamation, public shaming, sex trolling, zoom bombing, amongst many others. While men are also victims of online violence, it rapidly becomes sexualized hate or threats where women are concerned. This merely shows the deeply-entrenched gender inequalities in our society.

GBV in Nigeria prior to COVID-19 pandemic, has been heralded by a lack of or inadequate coordination amongst stakeholders, poor implementation of legal policies, etc which has hampered government and civil society efforts to address gender based violence. The little efforts put to combat GBV have been further impaired following the lockdown measures carried out to curtail the spread of the coronavirus. This made survivors unable to access centres and shelters, leaving them to depend on the "little" help from hotlines to receive support. Also, the mobilization of police unit in enforcing lockdown, led to shrinking capacity to respond to calls for help. Postponement of court proceedings have also gravely contributed to the surge in GBV, as protection (of victims) and restraining orders against perpetrators were absent, leaving the victims to live in perpetual fear.

Closure of schools also increased the incidence of child marriages and teenage pregnancies, especially in areas where girl child education is undervaluer, as families were forced to make sacrifices by marrying off their daughters to alleviate economic constraints. 

There is a no gainsaying that the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic threatened to bury the little progress made in tackling GBV. Nevertheless, Nigeria must take constructive and deliberate efforts to promote a more gender inclusive society, where the rights of women and girls are protected and equal opportunities for all is upheld.

Also, conscious efforts should be made in documenting data and fostering transparency on GBV, in order to bring to light the grave impact of this crippling ill on societal development.

Government should also place priorities on women and girls right by funding women's right organizations, through the Ministry of Women's Affairs to allow for swift response and better help provision to victims and/or survivors. 

Government should unceasingly mount pressure on all States to embrace and implement the Violence Against Persons Prohibitions Act, a policy enacted in 2015 in response to the long standing problem of gender based violence in Nigeria. Currently, only 16 out of 36 states have adopted legislation needed to implement the VAPP ACT. This is not good enough as State-level remains critical in tackling GBV. State laws will provide the legal support needed to punish the perpetrators of the act as well as provide support to victims or survivors in whatever means necessary.

Furthermore, public education on "silencing the 'hush-hush' culture", by speaking up should be preached both offline and online with a strict adherence to the promise on anonymity, amongst others.

State and Federal tasks force and legal system should be charged with the honourable responsibility on tackling GBV through prevention and protection(of victims) and punishment of offenders.

The health sector plays an important role and must be fully equipped, have skilled health workers at the forefront of handling GBV cases in the aspect of adequate care of victims, reliability on timely response and collection of GBV evidence. 

Most importantly, we should all remember that the fight against gender inequality belongs to us all and the subjugation of one gender should be abhorred. Irrespective of gender, class, race or creed, we should all come together to eradicate this social ill from our society and the world at large.

#Say "NO" to GBV

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