In 1991, activists at the first Women’s Global Leadership Institute from the Center for Women’s Global Leadership (CWGL) Rutgers University initiated the ‘16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence’ campaign. The campaign, setup to challenge violence against women and girls (VAWG) has since then been commemorated globally every year onward by the international community from 25 November (Elimination of Violence against Women International Day) to December 10 (Human Rights Day) across different annual themes. In Nigeria, 30 years after, the global campaign continues to be used as a platform by individuals, organizations, public and private institutions to increase knowledge and awareness, rouse advocacy efforts, amplify voices, and share best practices or innovations towards preventing and ending all forms of gender-based violence against women and girls in Nigeria.
Violence against women and girls (VAWG) as a division of gender-based violence (GBV) continues to be of great concern globally and in Nigeria. In its different forms of rape and sexual assault, intimate partner violence (IPV), female genital mutilation (FGM), forced or early marriages etc, VAWG has widespread effects spanning physical, psychological, sexual and reproductive health, and economic impact on victims regardless of ethnic group, age, religion, or social class. Globally, approximately 1 in 3 women and girls will experience an episode of violence in their lifetime. In Nigeria, country-specific statistics are staggering and even exacerbated in some locations due to increased rates of security disruptions, insurgencies, and religious clashes especially in conflict-prone areas. According to NDHS 2018 and UN Women, 31% of women and girls in Nigeria between 15-49 years have been physically abused, one-third of married women are experiencing intimate partner violence, one-fifth of women and girls in internally displaced (IDP) camps have experienced sexual violence, and a whopping 99% of VAWG victims or survivors generally never sought any help from institutionalized options (i.e health workers, lawyers, or police).
In line with global best practices, strategies have been deployed to reduce these high rates of GBV in Nigeria. These strategies include widespread community sensitization programs and awareness campaigns on VAWG matters as well as and service delivery access pathways. Other strategies include availability of GBV referral and crisis centers and safe homes where medical and psychosocial care is delivered in collaboration with local and international partners; training/capacity building of GBV service providers and responders; capacity strengthening of institutional structures and systems across different levels and multisectoral actors to improve GBV coordination, implementation, and linkages for efficiency and sustainability of interventions amongst others.
Although substantial progress has been made so far, efforts at eliminating VAWG is still slow and far from being successful in the country. Furthermore, the outbreak of the COVID pandemic in the year 2020 also introduced some set back to the progress already being made. Like many other countries in the world, Nigeria has in battling the COVID 19 pandemic seen a sharp rise in GBV/VAWG cases across the country. In what the UN referred to as the “Shadow Pandemic”, the ripple effect of COVID saw a 56% increase of reported cases in just about 2 weeks of in-country lockdown and as much as a 130% increase within a month of total lockdown across states in Nigeria. Among the many reasons for slow country-level progress at VAWG elimination include sub-optimal coordination and synergy amongst GBV stakeholders and multisectoral actors; poor implementation of program strategies and frameworks; deep-seated socio-cultural and religious-based gender discriminatory norms; re-prioritization of sector resources towards COVID programming, and of course the unintended consequence of insurgency and humanitarian crisis that make women and girls in IDP camps continuously prone to VAWG etc. This slow progress boosted by negative influences such as COVID and insurgency could continue unless we take intentional steps to deter it.
Although widespread, VAWG can really be prevented and eliminated in our society. This fact is the focus of the 16 Days of Activism commemoration theme “Orange the World: End Violence Against Women Now” for the year 2021. As Nigeria joins the global community to celebrate 30 years of strides this year, we need to intentionally “Orange the World” so VAWG can be done away with. We must work to apply ourselves individually and collectively in partnership with global and local communities, using locally driven solutions to sustain the strides made these past 30 years. A few of the inclusive ways we can make the difference both individually and as a community include:
- Increasing awareness and strengthening community capacity to speak up, refer, report and address GBV community cases by continuous widespread public sensitizations on GBV especially in hard-to-reach or conflict-ridden areas
- Renewed political will and commitment from governments, private organizations, and individuals at national, state and community levels to drive GBV programs and coordination across relevant MDAs
- Innovative country-specific practices and policies to be introduced and enforced through dedicated public and private funding and support
- Religious communities across our nation’s faith divides must unite and amplify voices to end VAWG within their spheres of influence
- Continuous capacity strengthening for GBV service providers/responders alongside increased availability, accessibility, and quality of GBV service, referral, and linkage centers on-demand to victims
- Increase dedicated funding and resource mobilization for GBV program implementation at different levels of the spectrum of active and rehabilitative care and support, as well as providing psychosocial and economic empowerment support for victims and survivors
- Strengthening of systems and capacity of providers/responders to provide on-demand on-site and remote support regardless of physical constraints such as lockdowns
- Active male involvement at different levels leading and championing the call for a socio-cultural shift of dominance over the female sex often regarded as ‘weaker’ sex
- Optimization of multisectoral collaboration; the justice, medical and psychosocial support sectors need to prioritize provision of on-demand survivor-centered client-specific care and support alongside timely visible prosecution of offenders as a warning to other defaulters
- Intentional real-time near-time GBV reporting, tracking, data documentation and management to support data-use for action
We must continue to speak out and challenge discriminatory practices against women and girls. Family units and the community at large will have to be vigilant to address and speak up against all forms of VAWG especially in conflict-ridden locations. We need to intentionally break the culture of silence on seemingly culturally acceptable practices that allow forms of VAWG thrive. Our religious and social biases no longer need to fuel an enabling environment for VAWG. We must drive a cultural shift that allows victims and survivors break the silence on their ordeal, and support public education on consent, gender equality, and empowerment.
Thanks to the steps taken by the activists at CWGL 30 years ago, we are making progress. The pandemic may have slowed things down, but we can rise as Nigerians collectively, creatively, and consistently contributing our own quota to ensuring a more inclusive country for our women and girls; one that protects their basic human right to be safe from harm inflicted by another human. The government needs to be more intentional in establishing and enforcing policies and enabling environment for the dignity and safety of female citizens in conflict crisis locations. As Africa’s largest economy and most populous nation, if Nigeria gets it right with VAWG intervention, our continent maybe best placed to make significant impact in the global fight against VAWG and GBV issues.