Gender Based Violence: A Cancer In Our Society

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Tina Phineas with students after educating them on Gender Based Violence

BY TINA PHINEAS

Martina (Not real name) is a full time housewife. She is 37 years old and has three children aged  seven, four and a six months old baby. She married Yusuf, a driver. Initially, she thought his controlling behavior was a sign of his love for her. The first time he hit her she was pregnant, which led to a miscarriage. Yusuf, later on apologised and promised not to hit her again.

However, his controlling behavior became increasingly serious and, according to Martina, he is always aggressive.

She tried to get used to the violence by living in a way that would not provoke Yusuf’s temper but he always gets angry for nothing, and gives her the beating of her life. Martina has lost three pregnancies as a result of beating she received while pregnant.

Apart from that, Yusuf does not provide food for his family. She goes to the market, engage in buying and selling of grains with the little money she has, to get little profit which she uses to feed her family.

Martina is not only been abused physically by her husband, she also suffers sexual abuse.

“A month after I put to bed my first baby (a still birth) through caesarean section, my husband came to my room demanding sex, when I said no because my wounds were not yet healed, he beat me up and had his way. I have learnt not to refuse him whenever he comes knocking even if I have just given birth,” she narrated.

Martina now thinks that somehow she may be responsible for the violence she was being subjected to.

She said: “In my culture I am my husband’s possession, he owns me and I have to endure everything because I am his wife.”

She cannot leave Yusuf because he will take away her children from her. “My husband has married and divorced two wives before me, today their five children are living with his parents and are really suffering, whenever I look at them, I know the same fate will befall my children if I leave their father, thus I have to suffer in silence for my children’s sake,” she said.

This is the story of Martina and many other faceless women out there who suffer in silence for one reason or the other.

Gender Based Violence (GBV) is an issue that can be compared to world ills like world crises—global terrorism, fragile economies, inadequate health care, troubled schools, corporate greed, and a host of others.

GBV is the most extreme expression of unequal gender relations in society. It is first and foremost a violation of human rights, and a global health issue that cuts across boundaries of economic wealth, culture, religion, age, and sexual orientation. It is a human rights violation, a public health challenge, and a barrier to civic, social, political, and economic participation. It undermines not only the safety, dignity, overall health status, and human rights of the millions of individuals who experience it, but also the public health, economic stability, and security of nations.

An estimated one in three women worldwide have been beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime. Although statistics on the prevalence of violence vary, the scale is tremendous, the scope is vast, and the consequences for individuals, families, communities, and countries are devastating.

While GBV is disproportionally affecting women and girls, it also affects men and boys. Wherever GBV occurs, it is a major obstacle for the achievement of gender justice, posing a serious threat to democratic development and public health, and is a critical barrier to achieving sustainable development, economic growth and peace. If women, girls, men and boys are not safe, they cannot be full citizens nor fully participate in the development of their own society.

Gender-based violence is a violation of human rights. This is reflected in international agreements such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women and emphasised in the UN Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing 1995. The problem, as the Nigerian experience has shown, is an extremely serious one, to the extent of its persistence, despite its ban by Section 34 (1) of the 1999 Constitution, which guarantees the rights of all against torture and other in human or degrading treatment.

Matters have not been helped by a regime of laws, and socio-cultural practices that discriminate against women and girls. Hundreds of thousands of women are brutalized in their homes and on the streets each year. A similar number of girl children forcefully undergo female genital mutilation. A countless lot of women and girl children suffer verbal and psychological abuse. Besides, numerous girl children are coerced into marriage, often with men the age of their fathers. A lot of women in many parts of Nigeria, are under compulsion to keep bearing children even at the expense of their health, while those who cannot have children suffer various forms of oppression, humiliation and abuse. Thousands of women have died from injuries sustained during such abuse. Lack of access to proper medical attention during child-birth has caused the death of many others. Many have contracted disease from rape, and many girl children have suffered damage to their sexual and reproductive organs during childbirth at a too-early age.

“Bad as these are, they are only the tip of an ice-berg. The consequences of this could be quite enduring, especially where there is a genuinely palpable absence of protection for the fairer sex. For a victim of rape, while the fear of contracting such diseases as HIV/AIDS, having unwanted pregnancy or miscarriage, are quite obvious, the psychological consequences of sexual violence manifest in a wide range of behavior, which often take a long time to unfold. The victim may experience fear of death, anger, guilt, depression; in some instances, interpersonal relationship may suffer.

Violence against women has subjected millions of Nigerian women to a life of oppression, exploitation and abuse – reducing them to second-class citizens in many respects. A lot of them merely live from day to day, and neither have control over their destiny, nor are able to explore and develop their personal and social potentials. This tragedy has been the result of violence against women not only in Nigeria, but in most African countries and in the world over

The cause of this violence is founded in gender-based inequalities and discrimination. GBV is the most extreme expression of these unequal gender relations in society, and a violation of human rights, as well as a main hindrance of the achievement of gender equality.

It is vital to promote the rights of all individuals and reduce GBV while mitigating its harmful effects on individuals and communities. Unless women, girls, men, and boys fully enjoy their human rights and are free from violence, progress toward development will fall short.

In the midst of tales of physical, sexual and psychological assault on women and girls being swept under the rug in the name of “locker room” banter, let’s get one thing clear: Sexual violence in Nigeria and the world over is real and a global health hazard.

I’m not quite sure what is more deplorable and unimaginable: the fact that  assault happens to one in three women worldwide or that someone cannot grasp that these are violations to fundamental and basic human rights. Please note that, violation includes verbal sexual harassment including unwelcome comments of a sexual nature, whistling, leering or making obscene gestures. Yes, that’s right, they are all violation.

Laws alone do not cure social cancers; they have to be addressed on the level of social consciousness at the local and community levels. After all, 125 countries have laws on sexual harassment but without dedicated enforcement of these laws, they are ineffective. Behaviors stem from accepted ideology, a high-powered patriarchal system. In Nigeria, some have accepted the ideology which elevates the male sense of sexual entitlement. Look at it this way, generations to come will continue with practices passed onto them as valid, unless they find them to be invalid and work to change them.

Annually, according to the World Health Organisation, at least 2 million Nigerian girls experience sexual abuse with an estimated 80 percent of Nigerian women having experienced some form of sexual harassment. Nigeria falls within the list of the top ten countries with the highest rape crime in the world. When survivors of sexual assault do not seek professional help, perpetrators go unpunished. Some survivors are silent due to threat (35.5%), deceit (24.1%), physical violence (28.7%), money (9.8%) or alcohol (2.1%).

Nigeria has legislations against sexual harassment and this can be found in Section 7 of the Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act which states that, “a person who compels another, by force or threat to engage in any conduct or act, sexual or otherwise, to the detriment of the victim’s physical or psychological well-being commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a term of imprisonment not exceeding 2 years or to a fine not exceeding N500,000.00 or both”.

The sad reality is that many of the people who have experienced sexual assault do not even know these laws exist to protect them and when they do know, they are uninformed as to how to seek the appropriate means of reporting and accessing justice. Those who experience sexual assault, all over the world hold onto hurt and experiences that they should not be carrying because they should not have experienced the violation in the first place.

To address this social ill, it is recommended that we all first accept that responsibility rests with the entire community. It is important to note that prevention starts with addressing the cultural values and norms that tolerate physical and sexual assault.

Search For Common Ground  (SFCG) partnered with journalist and  Civil Society Organisation’s (CSOs) in Adamawa and Borno states to bring such issues of Human Rights abuse to an end.

Ending gender-based violence (GBV) and ensuring women’s security is a priority for SFCG, a priority reflected in central objectives of

·          Increase awareness of the scope of the problem and its impact

·         Improve services for survivors of violence

·         Strengthen prevention efforts

In Search’s work an important point of departure is that GBV is preventable, which entails a focus on the root causes of violence and on possibilities for change. Entry points in addressing GBV is that gender-based violence is a violation of human rights, and that tackling GBV is crucial for poverty reduction and economic development.

GBV is furthermore a key to protect sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), and reverse the spread of HIV. It is also a security concern and a prerequisite for sustainable peace.

When defining effective strategies to end a priority is to make efforts to prevent GBV. Given that GBV is linked to gender-based power inequalities, key in GBV prevention are efforts to increase gender equality and transformation of gender norms. Prevention strategies entail a shift from “victims” to “survivors” with a focus on women and girl’s empowerment and agency, efforts to increase women’s political and economic empowerment and sexual and reproductive rights, and to incorporate men and boys in the work.

The strengthening of legal and policy framework is also of outmost importance, as are efforts to bridge the gap between law and practice and to end the impunity for GBV.

For us to reduce GBV to the barest minimum,we particularly need men to speak out against violence against women. From the statistics of GBV cases, men are the main perpetrators of violence against women. I am not suggesting that the majority of men are involved in this activity. Indeed I am absolutely certain that the vast majority of men are as appalled by this violence as I am. What it does mean however is that if we are to win this fight, men must take the lead. All good men must take a stand against this violence and refuse to turn a blind eye to what is occurring in their community, society or country. They must be supporters of change, and take active steps so change can happen. They must not make excuses for other men who perpetrate violence.

In this context it is important for all stakeholders in the Nigerian project to work together in the fight to end gender based violence.

A simple way to help reduce violence against women and girls is to start a conversation about violence against women and girls. You can do this at home with family and friends, in the workplace, within social circles, on social media, or as part of your role as an influential leader in your communities. We need to change the culture of violence and silence, and speak out against GBV in Adamawa, Nigeria and the World.

PHINEAS is New Nigerian’s Adamawa State correspondent.

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