By Ade Olu
Sexual and Gender Based Violence, SGBV, especially those directed at women and girls have become everyday concerns to well-meaning citizens all over the world.
To this end, the global community has earmarked November 25 to December 10 every year for the commemoration of Sixteen Days of activism on the Elimination of Violence against Women and Girls.
In a message to the flag-off of this year’s activities in Awka, Anambra State, the Executive Secretary, National Human Rights Commission, Mr Tony Ojukwu, noted with regret that despite the provisions of the 1999 constitution, the Violence Against Persons Prohibition, (VAPP) Act as well as international documents and conventions aimed at promoting, protecting and enforcing the rights of all, incidents of violence against women and girls have continued across the country.
Mr Ojukwu noted that the COVID-19 pandemic and its attendant lockdown, precipitated a surge in cases of violence against the women folks, which according to him, reflected in the number of reported cases across the thirty-six states of the federation and the FCT during the lockdown, which was put at 232 including rape, sexual assault, domestic violence and other forms of inhuman treatments.
“These violations are perpetrated with impunity as few violators, if any, are held accountable for the violations or abuse. Survivors of SGBV fear to report to their families or law enforcement agencies because in most of the cases, the alleged perpetrators are families, neighbours, or persons who may engage in reprisals”.
“Other concerns include social stigmatization from the community members and pressures from the family to drop the charges. Where the cases are reported to the law enforcement they are reluctant to conduct the investigations or blame the survivors for the acts perpetrated against them, thus forcing the survivors to settle the matter out of court or within families. The perpetrator is not adequately punished for the crime”. Mr Ojukwu regretted.
The NHRC Executive Secretary remarked that violence against women and girls is a human rights violation, which impacts negatively on their lives and adversely affect the realization of Nigeria’s obligations under the Sustainable Development Goals as well as other human rights treaties.
“Violence against women and girls aggravates poverty (SDG 1), hunger (SDG 2), health related issues (SDG 3), educations (SDG 4), gender equality (SDG 5) as well as peace and security (SDG 16). One of the main contributing factors to gender based violence is the deliberate misunderstanding of women and girls’ human rights, and the generalized society’s approval of cultural practices and attitude that violate women and girls’ rights”.
In a speech, the Coordinator, NHRC in Anambra State, Mrs Nkechi Ugwuanyi, explained that the sixteen days of activism on Elimination of Violence Against Women and Girls, is an annual international campaign initiated by activists at the inaugural Women’s Global Leadership Institute in 1991, which is used as a strategy by individuals and organizations the world over to call for the prevention and elimination of violence against women.
“From January to November, this year, we have recorded over four hundred cases of violence against women and girls across Anambra State. Complaints came via phone calls. We recorded some during visits to detention facilities while several complaints were officially launched in our office. That tells you how worrisome the matter is. It bleeds my heart that we have human beings whose delight is to see that women and girls are treated violently and their inalienable rights abused with impunity”.
Mrs Ugwuanyi however assured that the Commission would not rest on its oars until the incidents are reduced to the barest minimum in Anambra State.
In a goodwill message, the Chairman, Nigeria Bar Association, Ihiala Chapter, Barrister Vitalis Ihedigbo, pledged the readiness of the bar to play its expected roles towards nipping violence against women and girls in the bud.
He however pointed out that professional and thorough investigations by the Police are always strong bases for getting justice for victims of violence.
“From the data supplied by the Police to RoLAC, my own local government area, Ihiala, has the highest number of sexual related crime. I was shocked. And not only Ihiala, Anambra State also ranked among the highest in the country. This is a very disturbing statistics for us as a bar. To this end, we are happy to partner with the National Human Rights Commission on this sixteen days of activism.
We promise our collaboration with you. At the committee of the chairmen of the eight branches in the state, we have set up complaints desk being manned by vice chairmen of all the branches. We call it the human rights desk so that people can take advantage of such creation to seek redress. We are also poised to render probono services to as many as need it”. Barrister Ihedigbo promised.
Apart from the official launch of the event, the sixteen day event had been a road walk to Nkwo Amaenyi market to sensitize the populace on various issues associated with violence against women and girls as well as a visit to the Office of the Chief Judge of the State, Justice Onochie Anyachebelu to further advocate for judicial intervention in tackling the problem.
Receiving the delegation, the Chief Judge, who was represented by the Deputy Registrar of the State Judiciary, Mrs Vivian Udedike, appreciated the Commission for its efforts towards ending violence against women, noting that its recommendations during its last visit had been adopted.
The Commission had during the visit among other things recommended: access to speedy justice in cases of gender based violence, especially rape, ending the culture of blaming the victims, and enforcement of existing laws, acts and regulations.
The aim of the round table discussion to identify factors that trigger gender based violence in Anambra State, analyze existing legal instruments meant for the promotion and prosecution of violence against women and girls and chat a way forward for the campaign to end all forms of violence against women and girls.