Fresh vista for war against gender-based violence

Image source eni

Image source eni

On daily basis, violence occur with little or no legal restrain within our communities. Wives are beaten by their spouses; jealous suitors bath their girlfriends with acid; little girls are raped by men old enough to be their grandfathers and they continue to walk the streets without any consequence, while their victims sulk and live with the trauma, shame and other psychological effects.

Because of cultural and religious restraints, often times victims are not encouraged to come forward to seek legal redress. Those who dare end up frustrated by the tortuous journey to attaining justice which , most time is in favour of the assailant. In Africa they say ‘it is a man’s world’

A report from the 2008 Amnesty International, which paints a demoralizing picture of how violence strives in all spectrum of the Nigerian society, said “On a daily basis women are beaten and ill-treated for supposed transgressions, whipped and even murdered by members of the family. In some cases, vicious acid attack leaves them with horrific disfigurement. Such violence is too frequently excused and tolerated in communities, and not denounced. Husbands, partners, and fathers are responsible for most of the violence against women.”

Certainly, the occurrence of gender-based violence has become common in the country. More so, over the years Gender Based Violence (GBV) has not been visited with commensurate punishment it deserves due to weak and inadequate legislation as well as poor enforcement structures and mechanisms.

On the other hand, the level of tolerance of GBV is hinged on social, religious, cultural and traditional beliefs and practices and this discrimination is mostly suffered by women. Also, the resultant effect of this combination of factors is impunity on the part of the offenders as well as some measure of laxity on the part of law enforcement agencies.

The laws to punish GBV are archaic or too weak to address the problem. It was in response to this situation that efforts were made to change the law through the enactment of new laws, which will take all the aforementioned circumstances into consideration.

Chairman, Legislative Advocacy Coalition on Violence Against Women (LACVAW), Dr. Charmaine Pereira, said the coalition will help in pursing the goal of pushing for a National Bill prohibiting violence against women, stressing that Violence Against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) Bill is as a result of a 14 years long process of activism in civil society that started as a legislative advocacy workshop on violence against women in 2001 in Abuja.

She further said that the Bill was first presented to the House of Representatives in May 2002, titled Violence Against Women but was rejected and another name change was required. Later it became Violence Against Persons in 2008 when it was harmonized with eight other Bills on Gender Based Violence (GBV) in the National Assembly.

“One of the outcomes of our effort was the change in the name of the draft bill from the violence Against Women Bill to the Violence Against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) Bill. This was to ensure the protection of a greater number of people and gain wider acceptance for the passage of the bill into law,” she said.

She further explained the relevance of the Bill, as a need to provide information in a way that promotes better understanding of the Bill by recording areas of potential disagreement in the bill, with a view to highlighting its importance and the impact on the people it seeks to protect.

“The VAPP Bill is a coordinated and comprehensive response to address various forms of violence against persons and to protect against the identified and evolving forms of violence. The provisions of the Bill and indeed its approach in addressing new and evolving forms of violence are worthy.

“It is recognized that the existence of the law itself would not on its own put an end to Gender Based Violence, some of which is borne out of deep cultural and traditional practices. It is certain that increased support to draw awareness to the existence of the law and the penalty on conviction would serve as a deterrent and thereby reduce the incidence of violence.

“Further commitment from the law enforcement agencies and the judicial arm of government would also aid the procedures which would help accomplish quick conviction.”

The bill law, which was signed into law by former President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, towards the tail end of his administration, prohibits all forms of violence against persons, providing maximum protection and effective remedies for victims and punishment of offenders.

Secretary-General of WRAPA, Hajiya Saudatu Mahdi, said that the Bill seeks to abolish or reduce to the barest minimum possible, occurrence of gender based violence in the Nigerian society, particularly in homes, public spaces or even in conflicts situation and also seeks to address violence by state actors.

She noted that the newly enacted Act seeks to prohibit “spousal battery, forceful ejection from home, forced financial dependence or economic abuse, harmful widowhood practices, female circumcision or genital mutilation, substance attacks, harmful traditional practice, political violence, child abuse, rape, and violence by state actors.

According to her, women are usually more victims of violence than the men, noting that the violence in the North East region affected the women folk more than the men.

“The violence in the North East had affected a lot of women as they suffer from one trauma or the other.

“Victims of such violence should be entitled to comprehensive medical, psychological, social and legal assistance by accredited service providers and government agencies and their identities must be protected during court cases,” she further said.

Mahdi commended the efforts of the government, especially the former President, Goodluck Jonathan, for ensuring that the bill got to a final stage, noting that it as ‘an historic action for which he will be forever remembered’, she added that a lot is still needed to be done at the state level.

“The length of time it has taken LACVAW to get this far is an indication of how deeply violence against women is tolerated in the society. Whilst a new law prohibiting violence is not sufficient to change this situation, it is necessary to send a message that the state accepts its responsibility to ensure that impunity for such action no longer prevails.

“As we celebrate the birth of the VAPP Act, LACVAW implores us to gear up for the more difficult task of popularizing the law, so that women, counsels and response institutions become aware of its availability, close monitoring for compliance with provisions and award of its protection and reliefs for survivors as well as ensuring accountability for perpetrators in order to end impunity.“ Ultimately, the message that it is no longer business as usual relies on turning the letter of law into practice,” she added.

Mahdi said the struggle for the passage of the VAPP Law and other complementary legislations to prohibit violence against women and children should be sustained.

“We want to leave the stage confident that our daughters and the generation of girls, yet unborn will live in a society that is responsive and protective of human dignity,’’ she said.

She noted that the law is only applicable within FCT, but for it to become a national law it must pass through 23 states out of the 36 states of the federation. She said that 13 states have enacted related legislation, calling on its partners to continue to support the process of enacting anti-violence legislation at the state level in order to realize the vision of comprehensive national legislation prohibiting all forms of violence against all Nigerians wherever they find themselves in the federation.

Mahdi said recently the Plateau State House of Assembly had passed the Gender and Equal Opportunities (GEO) Bill, adding that it brings to five the number of states that had passed the law.
The Country Director of Ipas, Dr Nihinlola Mabogunje, also praised the former President Jonathan for signing the Violence Against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) Bills into Act.

Speaking in an interview with The Guardian, Ipas boss described the signing as a victory for women in Nigeria as well as Victory for women and men in Africa.

According to her, the action of the President is a clear indication that Nigeria is on the path to achieving equity. She prayed that God would continue to bless President Jonathan.

President Jonathan signed the bill into law barely four days to the end of his administration.

The Senate had on May 4 passed the Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act 2015 into law.

According to her, the law prohibits economic abuse, forced isolation and separation from family and friends, substance attack, depriving persons of their liberty, incest, and indecent exposure, among others.

In his remarks, Deputy President of the Senate, Ike Ekweremadu, who presided at the session where the bill was passed, said the passage of the bill would give protection to the vulnerable in the society and provide adequate punishment to those who take advantage of t

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