Increase in reporting of rape cases and sexual violence against Women and girls have been identified as clear pointer for political action against the acts.
This was made known in an Opinion piece jointly signed by the Nigeria’s Minister of Women Affairs, Pauline Tallen, the UNICEF Nigeria Representative, Peter Hawkins and UN Women Nigeria Representative, Comfort Lamptey.
The trio agreed that Nigerian communities and leaders are increasingly coming to terms with the scale of the problem and promising support to find solutions.
According to them, “breaking the silence on violence against women and girls has created a momentum and encouraged more families to come forward and report cases of rape and other forms of violence or abuse.”
The three expressed worry that violence against women and girls in Nigeria is becoming a pandemic-sized problem.
They observed that across Nigeria, women and girls are standing up, reporting their cases, and demanding local solutions to the problems of violence, including rape and sexual exploitation.
The trio cited the case of a particular Blessing, 13 years old, who is determined to be a lawyer and stand up against rape for other victims of rape.
“Last year, I was raped by my neighbour but I kept quiet because he threatened to kill me. When I finally told my parents, they pressed charges and the rapist was arrested but released on bail. The rapist lives near our family and he threatened my mother to drop the case. But my mother refused to settle and is pursuing justice in the court,” Blessing stated.
She said; “I want to be a lawyer because I don’t want other girls like me to go through a similar experience,” Blessing added.
Suffering in silence
The stakeholders further noted that, many other women and girls suffer in silence and shame because they are worried about their family’s reaction and social stigma.
“Like a woman in Sokoto, who was assaulted by her husband whilst in purdah and denied access to critical support; or a woman in Lagos who was raped and impregnated by her neighbour and forced to leave her home for fear of stigmatisation. Countless women and girls who are either ostracised or in community seclusion and at risk of violence still need to be reached,” they said.
The trio confirmed a shift in attitudes of major stakeholders against rape in Nigeria and applauded the trend as signs of hope.
“But we are finally seeing a slow shift in attitudes..These are signs of hope. Even within the Covid-19 pandemic, a proactive culture is developing, whereby community leaders, health and social service providers including the police are working together with unprecedented coordination to implement a zero-tolerance policy for violence against women and girls,”they stated.
The stakeholders identifies engagement of men and boys as strategy to address attitudes that perpetuate violence.
“Global solidarity campaigns such as HeForShe and #WithHer include men and boys as important allies in the gender equality movement, and in Nigeria, there is a surge of male champions actively and publicly pushing for justice for victims and survivors.
”Whilst ending the pandemic of violence against women and girls in Nigeria begins with encouraging more reporting, it is only the first step…It must also include a comprehensive review of the system from the girl’s and woman’s point of view,” they explained.
The trio called for more resources and training to improve services, to enable survivors of get free medical care, legal support and long-term counselling and supports.
According to them, ”the government has critical role to play in leading the way, providing the necessary systems and removing the obstacles to accessing services.
”But the government alone cannot solve this problem , it is the small but momentous changes at the family and community levels, the changes we are starting to see now, that will drive the real change and finally make Nigeria a place that is safe for women and girls.
They warn against trivialising the gains of the moment over the war against rape saying achieving lasting transformation for victims of rape is the ultimate goal.
”There is a long way to go before we realise the dream of a Nigeria where women and girls do not live in fear of being abused or raped. We must not squander this moment to make a lasting transformation for Blessing and for millions of other girls and women like her,” they added.