Gender-based violence (GBV) is a global epidemic, as it crosses every social and economic class, ethnicity, race, religion, sex and level of education; it also transcends international borders. Most affected are women, the girl-child and other vulnerable groups. Its focus include forced marriage, rape, traditional harmful practices, sexual harassment, intimidation at work and in educational institutions, forced pregnancy, forced abortion, human trafficking and forced prostitution.
GBV is heightened in conflict and post-conflict settings, in displaced persons camps and refugee camps and following a natural disaster. Research shows that 35 per cent of women and girls globally experience some form of physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetime, with up to seven in 10 women facing this abuse in some countries.
Facts available on the United Nations website also indicate that an estimated 133 million girls and women have experienced some form of female genital mutilation in 29 countries in Africa and the Middle East, where the harmful practice is most common.
Also, worldwide, more than 700 million women alive today were married as children; 250 million of them were married before the age of 15. Girls who marry before the age of 18 are less likely to complete their education and more likely to experience domestic violence and complications in childbirth.
Moreover, roughly half of today’s 60 million forcibly displaced people are women. Many who flee wars and violence are often exploited by unscrupulous smugglers, and frequently suffer gender discrimination and xenophobia in host societies. A World Development report (2012) on 10 selected risk factors facing girls and women, rated rape and domestic violence more dangerous than road accidents, war, cancer and other deadly diseases.
Violence against women and girls is one of the most common abuses of human rights, and to stem the tide, countries have made some progress in addressing violence against women and girls. According to a UN’s 2006 In-Depth Study on All Forms of Violence against Women, 89 countries had some legislation on domestic violence, and a growing number of countries had instituted national plans of action, Nigeria inclusive.
In addition to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the 1993 Vienna Declaration on Human Rights and the 1995 Declaration of the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, China, specified actions to protect women from discrimination and violence.
Similarly, a 1993 UN General Assembly Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women called on governments to condemn such violence and to refrain from using customs, traditions or religious beliefs to avoid their obligations to end it. These agreements serve as the framework for the mandate of the UN special rapporteur on violence against women.
In 2003, African governments adopted a protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights in which they committed themselves to end discrimination and violence against women. The protocol came into force in November 2005 after ratification by 15 states.
In Nigeria, May 25, 2015 was a landmark in the struggle for justice for victims of GBV as former President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan passed into law the Violence against Persons Bill. The new law prohibits female circumcision or genital mutilation, forceful ejection from home and harmful widowhood practices.
It prohibits abandonment of spouse, children and other dependents without sustenance, battery and harmful traditional practices. The bill provides a legislative and legal framework for the prevention of all forms of violence against vulnerable persons, especially women and the girl-child.
This, therefore, puts to an end the 14-year advocacy that passed through three sessions of the Nigerian National Assembly.
In spite of this, violence against women and girls is on the increase. There is hardly any day without the news of child sexual molestation, rape, physical and emotional assault.
Quite a number of cases come to mind; the celebrated Ese Oruru vs. Yunusa Dahiru case of forceful marriage, conversion to Islam and abduction.
According to the Lagos State government, the state Ministry of Justice recorded 427 cases of rape in 2012. The state Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Ade Ipaye, expressed worry over the alarming cases of rape. This number is not, however, reflective of the true statistics on rape as most rape incidents are not reported to the police, because cases on rape are not reported due to stigmatisation. There were over 20 reported cases in Ibadan, the Oyo State capital, monthly, according to a News Agency of Nigeria report in 2013.
A survey by a correspondent in Ibadan showed that the menace is fast assuming a dangerous dimension with reported abuse of minors. He said that aside from the fact that it has become an aberration, under-aged girls are now major targets of rapists, leaving their victims with horrible experiences.
Various forms of sexual violence, including coerced marriage or wife inheritance, female genital mutilation, forced exposure to pornography, rape by intimate partner or strangers, unwanted sexual advances, and sexual abuse, occurs, especially in vulnerable groups. However, most of these cases are not reported.
Evidently, there is a need to urgently put an end to violence against women and the girl-child, and other vulnerable groups in the country, and this is the responsibility of all, both the government and the governed.
- Dr Oti is a lecturer in the Department of Sociology, Faculty of Social Sciences, Lead City University, Ibadan.