The Centre for Environment, Human Rights and Development (CEHRD) joins the Human Rights community and partners all over the world to celebrates this year’s International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. Violence against women and girls is a human rights violation that remains all too pervasive in every part of the world. Too often, it goes unreported and unpunished, sometimes with deadly consequences. It is one of the most widespread violations of human rights. Every year on 25 November, the United Nations (UN) marks the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. This day was first commemorated in 1999 following a proclamation from the UN General Assembly. The Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women issued by the UN General Assembly in 1993 defines violence against women as “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.” Violence against women continues to be an obstacle to achieving equality, development, peace as well as to the fulfillment of women and girls’ human rights. It is a fact that the assertion of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – to leave no one behind – cannot be fulfilled without putting an end to violence against women and girls.
Statistics of the UN has it that one in three women worldwide experience physical or sexual violence, mostly by an intimate partner. Violence against women and girls is a human rights violation, and the immediate and long-term physical, sexual, and mental consequences for women and girls can be devastating, including death. Violence negatively affects women’s general well-being and prevents women from fully participating in society. It impacts their families, their community, and the country at large. It has tremendous costs, from greater strains on health care to legal expenses and losses in productivity. The World Bank recently observes that at least 155 countries have passed laws on gender-based violence, and 140 have legislation on sexual harassment in the workplace (World Bank 2020). But challenges remain in enforcing these laws, limiting women and girls’ access to safety and justice. Very little has been done to prevent violence, and when it does occur, it often goes unpunished. The Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey (2018) stated that 40% of women between the ages of 15 to 49 had experienced either physical or sexual violence. However, in 2020, there was a significant rise in cases of domestic and sexual violence experienced by women due to COVID-19 lockdown. Available records of reported cases indicate that between the months of January to May, there were over a thousand reported cases of violence experienced by women from each of the 36 States. In Rivers and Bayelsa States currently, there have been over 400 reported cases. These prevailing statistics emerge from CEHRD’s monitoring and documentation of violence against women. However, the fact that these incidences are under reported due to the stigma and blame attached to it is a serious cause for worry. There is every likelihood that unreported cases may be more than the ones reported. Again, CEHRD observes the inability of victims and their families to access essential services, which was heightened by the COVID- 19 lockdown in some of the States and the unavailability of psycho-social centres and health centres specifically for survivors of GBV.
This year’s theme ‘Orange the World: Fund, Respond, Prevent, Collect!’ aptly speaks to a call for global collective action to fund, respond, prevent and ‘collect’ violence against women and girls. What will define the Nigeria’s agenda to ending violence against women and girls? Only only 13 States of the federation have domesticated the Violence against Persons Prohibition Act despite its comprehensive nature in tackling gender-based violence. In Rivers State, the Bill is still pending on the table of the State Governor awaiting his assent since December 2019. While in Bayelsa State, the Bill is still before the State House of Assembly despite the fact that it has passed through the first and second reading and a public hearing since July 2020. In the States where the VAPP Act have been domesticated, there are still issues of implementation owning to lack of funding of the relevant institutions and lack of awareness of the law and reporting channels and bodies.
CEHRD therefore sees the domestication and enforcement of the VAPP Act in all the States of Nigeria as an agenda that will surely prevent violence against women and girls. This is because the Act is very holistic and protects women and girls in all ramification as well as ensuring there is effective remedy for them. The Act also specifies the role of relevant implementing institutions as well as the rights and services for victims. CEHRD is therefore calling for strong commitment and action from Local, State and Federal Government to fund, respond and prevent violence against women.
In line with the global theme for this year, CEHRD is calling on States yet to domesticate and the ones that have already domesticated the VAPP Act, to
1. Recognize the significance the law plays in mitigating violence against women
2. Improve funding for the provision of essential services such as health, social welfare, legal and law enforcement services
3. Provide essential services such as safe homes for women experiencing violence and increase financial supports for women
4. Increase funding for relevant agencies like Ministry of Statistics to effectively monitor and document cases of gender-based violence. The reports will help government effectively budget.
5. Government should intensify trainings of relevant agencies to enable them effectively respond timely and sensitively to violence against women
6. The Police and the Health sector should be trained on the VAPP
7. Relevant agencies at the State and Federal levels should key into the State budget at the appropriate time for the funding of GBV services and response.
8. Establishment of psycho-social centres all over the 36 States and the FCT for the rehabilitation of survivors of GBV
9. Government, Faith Based Organisations, Civil Societies, Religious groups must intensify campaigns violence against women using languages that are familiar to people.
About CEHRD’s Gender Programme
CEHRD gender programme aims to integrate equity into policies and practices. Through trainings, CEHRD supports community women to change culturally prescribed roles and become equal partners in development. CEHRD also provides institutional support such as trainings and workshops for organizations like the Police and Health Ministry in Rivers and Bayelsa States to ensure that their responses to GBV are proactive, ethical and effective. CEHRD again, coordinates critical stakeholders of GBV in Rivers and Bayelsa State in order to harmonies GBV response. CEHRD is in the forefront for the campaign for the domestication of the Violence against Person Prohibition (VAPP).