By Omolara Otuyemi
According to the United Nations (UN), Gender-Based Violence (GBV), 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. GBV 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 resource at their disposal to avoid or escape abusive situations and to seek justice.
GBV can be physical, sexual or psychological. It can also be in the form of neglect and abandonment and economic disempowerment. It includes, but not limited to, such acts as slapping, kicking, stabbing, shooting, hitting, pouring of acid or any other corrosive substance on victim and, of course, murder. Other forms are harmful traditional practices and female genital mutilation.
Perhaps, the most common form of GBV 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 a washed 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 on the prowl.
Domestic violence is also a common aspect of GBV. These days, it is not unusual for husbands to turn their spouses to punching bags and oftentimes 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 inventing 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.
In Lagos State, statistics have shown that 30% of girls from age 15-49 have become victims of gender based violence, either sexually, physically and emotionally, but most prevalently sexual violence. 2020, in particular, ushered in a spike in GBV. This, probably, is due to the COVID-19 pandemic and its attendant effects on peoples’ sources of livelihood.
For instance, at the peak of the pandemic, before the lockdown, reported cases of domestic violence in the state were relatively low compared to when the lock down was implemented. In the first half 2020, the Lagos Police Command recorded 32 cases of sexual based violence in the state. It was also reported that 1 in every 4 girls before attaining the legal age of sexual consent have been a victim of sexual violence. And this has spanned amidst the pandemic.
In view of the evil it portends and dangers associated with it, the administration of Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu has demonstrated sufficient resolve to frontally confront the social vice in the state. In the forefront of the war against GBV is the wife of the State Governor, Dr Ibijoke Sanwo-Olu, who has declared zero tolerance to all forms of gender based violence.
Currently, diverse methods geared towards eradicating the monstrous crime of Gender Based Violence are being deployed by Dr. Ibijoke Sanwo-Olu, with the support of relevant government’s agencies, in a renewed onslaught against Sexual and Gender Based Violence in the state.
With the active role of the Ministries of Women Affairs and Poverty Alleviation (WAPA), Youth and Social Development, Justice, Education, Health and Information and Strategy, Lagos State Judiciary, the State Police Command as well as the Lagos State House of Assembly, the government is battling GBV through a multi-dimensional approach. This includes legislation, public enlightenment campaigns and proper implementation of existing laws against GBV among others.
Many GBV 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 forms of abuse. Domestic violence is so entrenched in our society that even the victims condone such violations of their rights as some perceive it as a 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 husband, father or families, they are forced to put up with domination for fear of the withdrawal of this financial support.
Therefore, in Lagos State, for instance, the government and its partners have continued to sensitise and educate women to draw a line between true love and abuse. Similarly, several empowerment programmes aimed at creating credible sources of livelihood for the women are being constantly organised by the government.
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.
Otuyemi is of the Features Unit, Ministry of Information and Strategy, Alausa, Ikeja