By Bilikis Bakare
According to the United Nations, gender-based violence, interchangeably used with Violence Against Women or at times domestic violence, is any act of violence that results in or is likely to result in physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women/young girls, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty whether occurring in private [domestic] or public life. Gender-based violence is a global phenomenon and not limited to Nigeria. It occurs in various cultures, and affects people irrespective of their economic status.
The primary targets of gender-based violence are women and adolescent girls. They also suffer exacerbated consequences as compared with what men endure. As a result of gender discrimination and their lower socio-economic status, women have fewer options and less resources at their disposal to avoid or escape abusive situations and to seek justice.
In her journey through life, the female gender when lucky enough to be spared- female fetus are still being aborted in some societies- undergo a lot of harrowing experiences, the chief among which is exposure to violence. At least one in three girls and women worldwide has been beaten or sexually abused in her life time. Consequently, they suffer sexual and reproductive health consequences, including forced marriages and unwanted pregnancies, unsafe abortions and resulting deaths, traumatic fistula, and higher risks of sexually transmitted infections and HIV. Not too long ago in Lagos, a senior secondary school student with an ambition of becoming a medical doctor, was forcibly married off to an older man, who had defiled her before being rescued by the state Ministry of Women Affairs And Poverty Alleviation. Also in Kano State, northern Nigeria, a 14-year old girl poisoned her husband and three of his friends because she was forced to marry him.
Violence against women can be physical, sexual or psychological. Other types can be in form of neglect and abandonment and economic disempowerment. Physical violence can occur both in private and in public and it includes but not limited to such acts as slapping, kicking, stabbing, shooting, hitting, pouring acid or any corrosive substance and murder. Other forms are harmful traditional practices and female genital mutilation.
It is a common practice these days for husbands to turn their spouses to punching bags and often times vent their anger and frustrations on the latter. They label their wives as witches whenever they experience downturn in their economic lives or lose their jobs. Consequently, the wives suffer for the situations they did not partake in creating in the first place. In most cases, the charlatans turned prophets and spiritualists are the major culprits. Similarly, if a woman earns more than the man, there may be conflicts in the home leading to domestic violence because the man may be feeling inferior and may believe the only way to assert his authority in the home is by becoming violent.
Sexual violence, on the other hand, is the abuse of women™s bodily integrity and this includes incest, indecent assault of young girls, rape, sexual harassment and child pornography. Incest which had hitherto been an abomination in Africa, in the olden days, is now common as even fathers now sexually abuse their young daughters.
But, perhaps, the most common form of sexual violence against the women folk is rape. Rape is having sex with a woman without her consent. Today, the rape epidemic in our society reflects the extent to which women™s human rights are flagrantly being threatened. Our laws and collective attitudes toward this weapon of domination and repression call to question not only our sense of justice but our level of civilization. Like a scourge, the regular cases of reported rape in the country™s media and confirmed statistics from some states are threatening to smother the essence of the society. Each day, the media are awash with weird stories with varying degrees of ludicrousness; from child defilement to the rape of old women. Nobody, not even infants, is safe from the evil rampage of these randy felons.
Psychological violence is a form of gender based violence which are often not immediately obvious to the eye. It happens when a person uses words or actions to control, frighten, isolate or take away another person™s self respect, causing severe psychological trauma. It can include put downs, name calling or insults, constant yelling, keeping victim from seeing friends or family or controlling what she wears, where she goes, who she sees etc.
Over the years, there have been agitations on how to stop domestic violence against women and children, but in 2012, the Lagos State House of Assembly made a bold move and passed into law, a bill to provide protection against domestic violence. Some states have also passed a law against this social menace but none of them have fully tested its efficacy.
Many victims of domestic violence usually lack the courage to seek legal redress on the violation of their rights due to lack of positive response from the society as the problem is often dismissed as a private one even by law enforcement agents and the fear of being exposed to more intense form of abuses. Domestic violence is so entrenched in our society that even the victims condone such violations of their rights as some perceive it as sign of love and the socio-religious belief that a broken marriage or relationship is a mark of failure in life. And also because many women and girls depend on financial resources of their husbands, father or families, they are forced to put up with domination for fear of the withdrawal of this financial support.
Therefore, in order to tackle this hydra-headed monster, women and girls should be sensitised and educated to draw a line between true love and abuse, should know the difference from being submissive and being out rightly stupid. Empowerment of women to avoid total dependence on their male counterparts is also very important as they will be able to take care of themselves and their children in cases of separation from their abusive spouses.
Society should desist from stigmatizing and humiliating victims as women in Nigeria face humiliating rules regarding evidence in court when it concerns violence against them. The victim of rape must provide the bed sheet slept on during the case of rape, pant worn must be presented unwashed and also medical report which in most cases are difficult to obtain because of the nature of our health facilities.
The issue of gender-based violence is a social malady that requires holistic approach and solution from all stakeholders. The civil society groups, traditional and religious bodies, women rights groups, law enforcement agencies, all tiers of government and families must all work together with a view to stemming the tide of this dreadful societal ill.
•Bakare is of the Features Unit, Ministry of Information and Strategy, Alausa, Ikeja.
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