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Unique Nigerian style: Keep quiet until disaster happens

The fate of the girl child in Nigeria is in fact very disheartening. This is because, from childhood through to adulthood, she is considered inferior to her male counterpart; to whom she must also remain, at all times, subservient and even ‘sheepishly’ obedient. Thus, while in other climes an offender might get punished for intimidating, beating or emotionally traumatizing a woman, such treatments must lead to either loss of life or permanent bodily harm before it makes news in Nigeria. This lukewarm attitude to the ill-treatment of women largely perceived as “socially acceptable” and “a family matter” rather than a criminal offence, has only further fuelled the menace as a result, instances are grossly under reported, poorly documented and hardly investigated—at least until a major disaster happens.

While it is appropriate to commend the efforts of law enforcement agencies, non-governmental organizations-NGOs, and of course donor agencies at combating man’s injustice to mankind in this regard, the continuous rise in domestic violence which is almost rubbishing their efforts, has given rise to a myriad of questions: Who is responsible for the rise in domestic violence in spite of various efforts? Is anybody working to stall violence before it degenerates to loss of life? In fact, why must we wait until somebody dies or is deformed before such cases are treated as criminal offences? 

Women lack commitment to prosecute— LEDAP
”The limitation has been the commitment from the women. That’s why the menace is on the increase. They lack the commitment and will to pull through. Although the justice system has its own issues, most of the time, it is the unwillingness on the part of the women that factors more in the unsuccessful prosecution of offenders,” said Adaobi Egboka, a legal practitioner who is Executive Programmes Director at Legal Defence and Assistance Project, LEDAP, a non-profit organisation which delivers pro bono legal services to survivors of human rights abuses, in response to Woman’s Own inquiry into why a major disaster happens before cases of domestic violence make headlines. According to her, most victims end up withdrawing their case files once advised by family members and friends against prosecuting “the father of their children”. Domestic violence This is in spite of efforts to make the women understand the man might only at first get a restraining order to stay away from them for a while, while he undergoes counselling. At the moment however, a lot is happening in terms of prevention and intervention, Egboka said. She went on: “Apart from awareness and letting the women know that domestic violence is a crime, because most times, women do not even identify it when it starts, we’re also teaching them what to do to prevent it from getting worse because we believe there must have been emotional and psychological violence before physical abuse sets in. Economic empowerment strategy: “For us at LEDAP, we also try to link up with organizations and partners who carry out economic empowerment programmes because we realize that most of the time, domestic violence occurs because women are not economically empowered but are solely dependent on their husbands. So, when some things happen, they do not want to report because they do not want to lose their source of livelihoods (husbands). As a form of legal strategy also, we sensitize women about the Domestic Violence Laws, like the one in Lagos State. Unfortunately, most women are not aware of this law. We have simplified it and also distributed it to many women.

”Nigeria’s society too patriarchal- UNFPA 
Explaining why the efforts of NGOs appear to be only a drop of water in a mighty ocean, Mrs Nkiru Igbokwe, Gender Specialist, United Nations Fund for Population, UNFPA, a notable funder of NGOs, blamed the highly patriarchal nature of the Nigerian society for the rise in domestic violence rather than any form of inefficiency on the side of NGOs. “We work with NGOs to carry out prevention and intervention schemes and also support legislations that seek to discourage perpetrators. Also, we carry out mobilization and community dialogue while we also work with religious and traditional leaders. “Although progress is being made to reduce the epidemic, the patriarchal nature of this country has been a major challenge. It is male-dominated and as such, men have all the power—economic, political, cultural, etc. And when a person has enjoyed an advantage for so long, it is difficult to let go in any way. They(men) will of course see it as power over-take,” Igbokwe said. We’re futuristic in our approach — Voices for Change “We have also not limited our mode of operation in this fight,” Ruth Okonya, one of the coordinators of Voices for Change, V4C, a Department for International Development, DFID, programme which funds local NGOs working to combat domestic violence in Nigeria, added. The voices for change coordinjator also explained we have actually structured our intervention to tackle certain social norm areas, targeting ages 16-25. The reason is because we are being futuristic. We feel it is easier to work with young people when you can still shape their minds and thinking. We take them through life skills when talking about violence. We expose them to the different forms of violence so that even when somebody doesn’t raise his/her hand to hit them, they understand there is violence. Many of them now know when they are in abusive relationships. “As a way of reaching out to women who are already in abusive homes, we sponsor other organisations to provide counseling, care and support such as temporary safe houses.” 
Justice system too slow — Expert
Another expert who spoke on anonymity however blamed the upsurge in domestic violence on the Nigerian justice system. “The attitude and response of the police, the delay in the judicial system, etc. are not helping at all. As a matter of fact, justice delayed equals justice denied. For instance, we have a girl in our shelter whose case of sexual violence has been in court for two years! We need to reform our criminal justice system so as to enable more women speak out and get justice! We need to sensitize our police personnel so as to enable them do their work better,” she said. Our sensitization is yielding results- Justice for All Arguing also that the activities of stakeholders have been of significant effects, Mr Godwin Odo, an expert with Justice for All, J4A, a UK government Department for International Development, DFID, sponsored programme,told Woman’s Own that the level of stigma hitherto associated with assaults such as rape no longer obtained. “Now, in places such as the Mirabel Centre being run by Mrs Itoro Eze-Anaba, we have close to about 2,000 people in the last two and half years who have come forward to say they have been victims of rape. Trained professionals If the sensitization was not working, you won’t have people coming forward willingly to talk about their experiences and seek help from trained professionals in these areas,” he said. Government should do its own part- J4A, LEDAP Reiterating that more still needs to be done to augment the efforts of NGOs and other stakeholders in combating domestic violence however, Odo of J4A suggested the need for government to, either through the National Orientation Agencies or federal and state Ministries for Women Affairs, join in the fight. Odo also called on the Federal Ministry of Education to incorporate studies on Domestic Violence in the curriculums of both secondary and tertiary institutes of learning. In addition, Egboka of LEDAP identified the need for traditional and religious leaders who are in actual fact the first port-of-call in domestic crisis situations to identify domestic violence as a criminal offence and not a “family issue” which “must be shrouded in secrecy”, so that more women do not die in silence.

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