The Nigerian society has been described as patriarchal in nature with attendant unequal gender relations which casts women in a subordinate role to men. In many cultures, once the bride price is paid, a woman is seen as her husband’s property with a shared cultural and religious belief that the woman should totally submit, be obedient and deferent towards to her husband. This purportedly puts women in the same space as minors and possessions – the unmarried woman is seen as her father’s property (or of the oldest male) while the married woman is her husband’s property – which has inadvertently fuelled a culture of violence against women and girls (VAWG) rooted in centuries of male domination, gender inequalities and power imbalances.¢
As defined by the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women (un.org) issued by the UN General Assembly in 1993, violence against women is “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.” VAWG is one of the most widespread, persistent, and devastating violations of human rights in the world today manifesting in physical, sexual, and psychological forms, including: intimate partner violence (battering, psychological abuse, marital rape, femicide); sexual violence and harassment (rape, forced sexual acts, unwanted sexual advances, child sexual abuse, forced marriage, street harassment, stalking, cyber- harassment); human trafficking (slavery, sexual exploitation); female genital mutilation; and child marriage. It is as serious as cancer in the cause of morbidity and mortality among women of reproductive age, and a greater cause of ill health than traffic accidents and malaria combined. It remains an obstacle to achieving equality, development, and the fulfilment of women and girls’ human rights. Without putting an end to violence against women and girls, the promise of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – to leave no one behind – can remain fulfilled.
In Nigeria, VAWG is widespread with alarming figures as in other parts of Africa and shows no signs of lessening: 72% women have been sexually abused, 44% of girls are married before 18 years, 30% of women have experienced physical violence by age 15, and 25.3% of women have experienced female genital mutilation¢. Following the insurgency in the North-east, the rates grew even more alarming and further worsened during the lockdown phase of the COVID-19 pandemic with a 60% increase in domestic violence, 30% rise in sexual violence, and 10% increase in physical child abuse reported between first and second quarter of 2020. One such case of domestic violence was reported in April 2020, during the COVID-19 lockdown in Yobe state where Mr Abacha, a 22-year-old man was arrested by the police for hacking his wife’s (Halima Bulama, also 22 years old) right hand off with a machete. Her offence – disobeying his order not to attend the marriage ceremony of her relative in her parent’s home. Investigations revealed that the victim had sought permission from her husband to attend the event, and when he refused, she had gone ahead to attend the event after her husband had gone out. This gruesome act provoked outrage nationwide, sparking a renewed sense of urgency to end violence against women and girls. As part of global efforts to prevent and end violence against women, the UN Secretary-General in 2008, launched the UNiTE to End Violence against Women campaign, a multi-year effort aimed at preventing and eliminating violence against women and girls around the world, commemorated with 16 Days of Activism campaign running from 25 November (International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women) until 10 December under the theme: “Orange the World”, symbolizing a brighter future – a globe free of violence. The UNiTE campaign for 2020 commencing today, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women takes place under the global theme: “Orange the World: Fund, Respond, Prevent, Collect!” andcalls for urgent actions to Fund, Respond, Prevent and Collect data to address violence against women and girls in the context of COVID-19. The campaign calls for global actions to increase awareness, galvanize advocacy efforts, and share knowledge and innovations.
Although in recent years, the Nigerian government has made efforts to put in place laws to address violence against women and girls, such as the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women and Violence against Persons Prohibition Act 2015, these laws are yet to be domesticated across all 36 states, and there are still provisions that make it legal to engage in domestic violence against women. For instance, section 182 of the penal code provides that “sexual intercourse by a man with his own wife is not rape if she has attained puberty”. Additionally, discrepancies exist in the laws passed in the states. For example, marital rape is excluded from the legal definition of rape under the criminal code in the south and the penal code in the north which also provides that beating of a wife for the purpose of correction is legal. Major barriers to the domestication of these laws include gender inequality norms and perception of concepts around equality as foreign. These barriers trickle down to law enforcement agencies who often dismiss VAWG cases as family cases and seldom persecute offenders.
The International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women provides a good leverage to re- initiate conversations around violence against women and girls, remember its victims and survivors and further re-evaluate the effectiveness of interventions currently in place to address the problem. The time has come for us to “Orange the Country!” Now more than ever, the government, civil society, women’s organizations, young people, the private sector, the media need to join forces in addressing the global pandemic of violence against women and girls. Government needs to adopt and enforce laws that Prevent the occurrence and punishes all forms of violence against women and girls; and adequately Fund the adoption and implementation of multi-sectoral national plans of action that emphasize the prevention and response to VAWG cases. All stakeholders need to collaborate and Respond proactively to reported cases to ensure the safety of victims/survivors, and put in place a system that supports them, improves their physical, mental, sexual and reproductive health, and eases their access to justice. The media should push massive national and local campaigns via all communication channels, to educate women and girls about their rights regarding VAWG and encourage prompt reporting of cases to appropriate authorities. The civil society should work with the private sector and other national stakeholders to conduct multi-sectoral training and orientation on VAWG and the appropriate survivor-centred and rights-based approaches to war against it. VAWG remains largely unreported due to the impunity, silence, stigma, and shame surrounding it. Sufficient data is therefore needed to adequately address the problem and ensure decisions and appropriate actions are evidence-based. Organizations across all sectors should put in place appropriate technologies to promptly Collect, report, and analyse data to engender evidence-based interventions on VAWG.
If we will achieve peace and development as a nation, if we will ensure the protection of all human rights, NOW is the time for us to “Orange Nigeria”.
Editor-in-chief: Dr Folake Oni
 Sefinat A.D: The Nigerian Patriarchy: When and How; Cultural and Religious Studies, David Publishing, Sep.-Oct. 2014, Vol. 2, No. 5, 263-275
 Gender-Based Violence: An Analysis of the Implications for the Nigeria For Women Project (2019). World Bank Group
 MICS 2016
 Domestic and Gender Violence Response Team Personal Communication 2020