16 Days Activism and gender-based violenceprevention

The 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence remains a powerful force for change; even as this year’s theme: “UNITE! Invest to Prevent Violence Against Women and Girls” serves as a rallying cry for global collaboration and proactive measures to eradicate the pervasive issue, ENE OSHABA writes.

The 16 Days of Activism campaign spanning from November 25 to December 10, annually marks a period of heightened advocacy, education, and action to combat gender-based violence.

This year’s theme: UNITE! Invest to Prevent Violence Against Women and Girls, underscores the need for collective efforts and financial commitment to create a safer world for women and girls.

Gender-based violence

The United Nations General Assembly defines violence against women as “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual, poor psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or private life.

It encompasses, but is not limited to “physical, sexual abuse and psychological violence occurring in the family, including battering, sexual abuse of female children in the household, dowry related violence, marital rape, female genital mutilation and other traditional practices harmful to women, non-spousal violence and violence related to exploitation; physical, sexual and psychological violence occurring within the general community, including rape, sexual abuse, sexual harassment and intimidation at work, in educational institutions and elsewhere; trafficking women and forced prostitution condoned by the state, and wherever it occurs.

Globally, gender-based violence is one of the most pervasive violations of human rights that affects women and girls and has severe physical, mental, social, economic, and sexual and reproductive health impacts on victims and survivors.

In Nigeria, VAWG is widespread and available data shows that at least one in four girls and one in 10 boys experience sexual violence before the age of 18. There is also indication that there has been an increase in reports of GBV cases across the country.

Empowering women, girls as panacea

At the core of the theme for the 16 Days of Activism is the acknowledgment that true prevention involves empowering women and girls.

It follows that through education, access to economic opportunities, and dismantling patriarchal structures, the cycle of violence can be disrupted.

The 16 Days of Activism has become a platform to amplify the voices of survivors, highlight success stories, and inspire a future where every woman and girl can thrive without fear.

Speaking during a youth and women empowerment workshop, organised by Estymore Multimedia, National Programme Officer, UN Women Nigeria, Ms Patience Ekeoba, stated that the theme for this year’s celebration could contribute to the ongoing efforts to redirect the energies of women and youths to stamp out sexual and gender-based violence, particularly against women and girls.

According to Ekeoba, women and girls in Nigeria still suffer from gender-based violence both in politics, harmful traditional practices, education and in marriage.

“Violence against Women in Politics (VAWP) is a form of violence that further prevents women from fully and equally participating in formal politics and decision making.

“The UN special rapporteur on violence against women defines VAWP as “violence including in and beyond elections, consists of any act of gender based violence, or threat of such acts, that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering and is directed against a woman in politics because she is a woman, or affects women disproportionately.

“VAWP is human and civil rights abuse that hinders the achievement of SDG 5 and SDG 16.25. The consequences of violence against women in politics are far-reaching, preventing women from political participation as well as threatening female activists, journalists, and human rights defenders, and their access to public life, and deterring young women from aspiring to a political future,” she said.

Blueprint Weekend findings indicated that in Nigeria, women and girls also suffer from harmful practices such as female genital mutilation and early marriage, with many girls forcefully taken out of school due to socio-economic pressures and cultural stereotypes.

“Thirty-eight per cent of Nigeria’s out of school children are girls and thus represents 3.85 million of the 10.19 million children out-of- school in the country.

“Statistics on early and forced marriage reveal a bleak situation in northern Nigeria as 67.6 per cent of girls in the North-west and 56.6 per cent of the North-east are married before their 18th birthday.”

It follows therefore, that government at all levels must ensure that the national strategy to end child marriage 2016-2021 engages multi-sectoral, multi-faceted activities needed to bring about successful elimination of this harmful practice against girls so they can reach their full potential.

Combating VAWG

Ekeoba, while stressing the need to address the rising cases of violence against women and girls, said that multiple actions were required to combat VAWG.

She stressed that Nigeria needed strong legislative and policy frameworks, amongst other indices, to achieve this.

“The Nigerian constitution, the Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act (VAPP) 2015, and the Child Rights Act (CRA) 2003 are key laws that guarantee the safety of women and girls. The constitution sets the legal age of marriage at 18 and this is reinforced by the CRA.

“The VAPP, which is the most comprehensive framework, provides protection for all citizens including marginalized groups and punishment for perpetrators. The VAPP is also the first federal law which prohibits female genital mutilation in the country.

“We need passage and domestication of the VAPP and CRA in every state in Nigeria, because offenders fear the law especially when it bites,” she maintained.

Continuing she stressed the need for strong and functional institutions, noting that Nigeria has several formal and informal institutions that hold direct and indirect responsibility for violence against women and girls, sexual and gender-based violence, and sexual reproductive health rights which provides a full overview of the various roles and mandates.

“These institutions include: law enforcement agencies, justice and legislative institutions, ministries departments and agencies, traditional and religious leaders, and the civil society organisations.

“Within the government there are key sectors with mandates related to SGBV and SRHR where each sector addresses different aspects including education, justice and security, health and social affairs.

“Notwithstanding the plurality of these agencies, the response and operations at federal, state and community levels remains weak and uncoordinated and lacks a comprehensive national coordination mechanism. This is mainly due to weak capacities; poor planning and implementation; lack of linkages and regular coordination elements; low leveraging on expertise and limited inter agency/ministerial protocol,” she stated.

“There is also no strong political will among many of the institutions to prioritise these issues. This is reflected in the allocation and release of funds including a lack of dedicated budget lines for most of these institutions, especially that of the ministry of women affairs coupled with poor procurement and accountability process, institutions struggle to produce quality services.

“Key evidence that demonstrates the weak coordination is the lack of data on gender-related expenditure, the absence of any joint action plans and priorities and a passive technical working group,” she added.

According to Ekeoba, these challenges were particularly evident in comparison to the functioning coordination in other rights such as HIV/AIDS, human rights and malaria.

She, therefore, called for the strong prevention and social norms framework that can address negative socio-cultural norms that supports VAWG driven by gender stereotypes and patriarchy where women and girls are seen as second-class citizens and those most marginalised such as women and girls with disabilities are very likely to be subject to multiple layers of discrimination. 

Budgeting for prevention

It goes without saying that the prevalence of VAWG calls for more attention on budgeting and investment as a strategic move to address the root causes of gender-based violence.

By allocating resources towards education, awareness campaigns, and support systems, the international community can actively prevent violence against women and girls. Investment extends beyond financial contributions, encompassing efforts to educate societies, challenge stereotypes, and empower women economically, socially, and politically.

Speaking during a webinar series, the Executive Director, Women Advocates Research and Documentation Centre (WARDC), Dr. Abiola Akiode-Afolabi, stressed the need for the government to factor in budget for addressing issues relating to VAW not just to the ministry of women affairs but other sectors too.

According to Dr. Akiyode-Afolabi, 

only one sector cannot deal with the issue of VAW, rather a multi sectoral approach to ending violence against women in sectors of health, education, women affairs, among others, was necessary.

The executive director also said investing in prevention means addressing root causes, dismantling harmful stereotypes, and empowering individuals and communities, to actively reject violence.

 adding that by supporting education, advocacy, and awareness initiatives, we contribute to the creation of a society where equality is not just an ideal but a lived reality.

She maintained that WARDC recognised the importance of fostering a world where every woman and girl could live free from fear, intimidation, and violence; Dr. Akiyode-Afolabi, therefore, assured of unwavering commitment to advocacy, Legal aid, research and documentation, to shed light on the intricate dynamics of gender-based violence by providing valuable insights that inform policies and interventions.

“All sectors must be involved and contribute to end violence against women and girls. The multi sectoral approach will avail all sectors to contribute and together the issue will be tackled wholesomely.

“The budget should cover for other sector to end VAWG because over time beyond having an action plan money is need to make the action plan work for example the SARC Centre in Sokoto state which is funded and is achieving a lot of progress.

“Together, let us unite and invest in a future where the rights and dignity of women and girls are upheld, and gender-based violence becomes an intolerable relic of the past.”

Way forward

While progress has been made in addressing VAWG, challenges persist hence the 2023 campaign serves as an opportunity to address gaps in existing strategies, learn from past experiences, and adapt to the evolving dynamics of gender-based violence.

The call to unite resonates across borders, emphasizing the importance of solidarity in the face of a challenge that knows no geographical bounds. From rural to remote villages, the 16 Days of Activism encourages individuals, communities, and nations to come together, fostering a collective consciousness that rejects violence in all its forms.

According to Akiyode-Afolabi, it is a moment to engage with diverse perspectives and ensure that the solutions crafted were inclusive and intersectional.

Experts have also advocated for local initiatives capable of driving change at the grassroots level. The 16 Days of Activism provides from community workshops to policy advocacy, the impact of localised actions ripples outward, contributing to the global movement against gender-based violence.

“As we embark on these 16 days of collective activism, let us remember that our commitment today paves the way for a safer, more equitable world for generations to come,” Akiode-Afolabi emphasized. 

 On her part, Ekeoba stressed the need for accessible and affordable gender-based violence services, adding that survivors face any interconnected challenges in accessing comprehensive, acceptable, quality services that are age-appropriate, gender responsive, user friendly and affordable.

She maintained that socio-cultural norms and beliefs that drive harmful practices, especially those that control women’s sexual and reproductive health rights, should be curbed.

“Girls especially face challenges in accessing services due to socio cultural norms that encourages stigma and discrimination. Access to justice for women to redress violations of their rights need to also be addressed,” she stressed.

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