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Ending Sexual Violence in Nigeria
I am a human rights activist and lawyer fighting to protect the rights of victims of human rights violations. I have worked with several human rights organizations, in addition to my private law practice, I run an NGO; Virtuous Women Empowerment International. For me, there has never been a more important issue than the quest to preserve the sanity of women and girls.
Sexual violence is widely under-reported in Nigeria due to victim ignorance, stigma resulting from lack of documentation, general societal acceptance of the act as a normal occurrence, and corruption, so available data tend to underestimate the true scale of the problem. Data on the prevalence of different forms of violence against women show the statistics for lifetime physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner: 16%, physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner in the last 12 months: 11%, sexual violence by a non-partner lifetime: 2%, child marriage: 43%, female genital mutilation/cutting: 25%.
However, there is a drastic increase in this menace due to the influence of media through visual graphic depiction of intercourse or nudity and moral decay in society. Sexual violence takes many forms and the contexts in which it occurs. The World Health Organization (WHO) in its 2002 World Report on Violence and Health defines sexual violence as: “any sexual act, attempt to obtain a sexual act, unwanted sexual comments or suggestions, or acts aimed at trafficking, or by otherwise directed against the person’s sexuality using coercion, by any person, regardless of their relationship to the victim, in any setting, including but not limited to home and work. Sexual violence is a neglected area in Nigeria and Africa as a whole, therefore it is imperative to encourage a coordinated movement against it.
There is a saying that it’s a man’s world, to me it’s not just a saying but in reality it’s so practiced; in law, jurisprudence is still often based on “reasonable male standards” that presuppose male bodies and experiences. A man is unlikely to be threatened by another man of roughly the same size and strength. However, women are most likely to be assaulted and killed by an intimate partner, most often a man.
In Nigeria, men’s bodies, experiences and needs are prioritized by society and many times women are dismissed and disrespected. Women and girls are viewed as property and raped at will with no sanction. There is no real respect and value for the sanctity of women and girls, even with increasing education and claims of civilization, sexual violence, unlike other crimes, is considered a pre-existing condition – Women and girls suffer disproportionately from these aspects; one cannot even imagine what they are going through as the situation is so pathetic. Sexual violence in Nigeria happens to women of all ages; it is an act of violence that is perpetrated by parents, carers, acquaintances, employers and strangers, as well as intimate partners.
There is a lot of physical violence, emotional abuse and non-consensual sexual interaction against the sexual integrity of women and girls that affects both countries in this modern age and happens daily in Nigeria; female genital mutilation, mandatory virginity testing by the father, prospective husband or teachers, forced prostitution and human trafficking for sexual exploitation, sexual intercourse by fathers with their daughters, sexual abuse of girls of the opposite sex, teachers, uncles and caregivers, addressing ladies in a sexually inappropriate manner, addressing a woman on the road, hitting a woman on her sensitive body parts in the name of “Hi” or courting a woman, this is rampant in our society, men do it lightly and get away Some have the idea that all women are loose and sex machines or prostitutes, while others have the idea that women are babies.
A man cannot have sexual contact with a woman unless she has given her consent. This consent must not be obtained by force, fraud, manipulation or misrepresentation. Moreover, intercourse between a father and his daughter or direct blood relation is not permitted. There is an age limit for girls to be sexually engaged, Nigeria’s Sexual Offenses Bill stipulates 18 as the age of consent. Therefore, sexual contact with an infant or adolescent is not permitted.
It is not uncommon for people’s general awareness to be minimal. This is largely a consequence of not being openly discussed.
Other causes of this evil are very bad parenting as a result of moral righteousness, women and mothers are shy to teach their children sex education, mothers threaten their daughters and do not establish a close relationship with their daughter to create an environment where they share what they go through sexually. Most mothers see their daughters as competition for their husband’s love and focus solely on themselves without taking the time to educate the girl about her sexuality. The child’s education is the responsibility of both parents; father and mother, most fathers neglect their responsibility to train their son to be responsible. In a family where the father disrespects the wife, lords it over her, assaults her and sexually abuses her, this son adopts this mentality in the society in his dealings with the female folk and the wife later. Innocent girls who are morally taught to obey their father and are not properly oriented to know that their fathers are not meant to sexually abuse them.
Lack of institutional support from the police and judicial system, general tolerance of sexual violence in the community, weak public sanctions against sex offenders, fear of being stigmatized, insulted and neglected by society and ignorance of the availability of help are some of the reasons.
When women and girls are sexually oppressed, businesses and government agencies suffer—from employee absenteeism, security costs, prosecution of alleged perpetrators, and increased poverty from a shrunken workforce of female citizens who cannot work at their full capacity. It also affects them psychologically, they can’t trust the opposite sex, fear of marriage or relationship, lowers their self-esteem (most feel worthless or because of social stigma placed on them).
In addition, sexual violence has profound short- and long-term effects on physical and mental health, such as increased risk of sexual and reproductive health problems, increased risk of suicide or HIV infection, homicide, forced abortion.
Also, in order to eradicate sexual violence, mothers should properly educate their women about sex, divine morality and observe them properly, churches, mosques should teach girls about incest and consanguineous sex, schools should educate girls about this issue and even male teachers should be checked. There should also be explicit legislation against sexual violence in whatever form it takes.
The mentality of men in Nigeria needs to change and to do that, the government needs to take a clear stand against it. The perpetrator of this evil must be arrested, tried and with a public example warn others. It is so funny that when there is a situation of sexual assault and it is reported to a police officer, he even sides with the perpetrators or dismisses the issue, the Nigerian police should be properly oriented.
Women and girls must no longer condone sexual violence in any form, but oppose it. Victims should report promptly to the police station and to the nearest human rights organization for prosecution and protection of their rights.
Often, violence against women and girls is encouraged by negative constructs of masculinity and masculinity that lead men to believe that they must possess certain qualities and exhibit behaviors that are superior to women. For example, physical strength and sexual power can be used as indicators of whether someone is a “real man” or not.
Most men do not knowingly commit acts of violence against women and girls. The main problem is that most men who don’t participate in the act remain silent and don’t hold other men accountable, much less discourage their language and behavior, which is why it’s so important for men of all ages to facilitate or start a dialogue with each other on violence against women and girls to change the attitudes and actions of boys and young men towards their female counterparts.
It also requires redefining traditional notions of masculinity that conflict with women’s interests and rights, and embracing the recognition of women’s rights. Women and girls must also be able to share their truths as survivors of targeted violence inflicted on them because of their gender. Real fears of social stigma and isolation can only be overcome by widespread recognition that violence against women and girls is tragically normalized. By giving survivors of gender-based violence emotional validation and non-judgmental support, we enable their abusers to act freely and with impunity.
Success in addressing violence against women and girls must be seen as a long-term, intergenerational endeavor. It is about transforming cultures and societies that support beliefs and systems that are harmful to women and girls and other vulnerable populations.
 UN Women, Global Database on Violence Against Women http://www.evaw-global-database.unwomen.org/en/countries/africa/nigeria
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