Campaigning for Gender Justice – Challenges and Opportunities
A young woman was brutally gang raped by men believed to be students of Abia State University in Nigeria and the act posted online (http://goo.gl/Yezdy). A girl of 6 years old was sexually molested and arrested by the police for questioning instead of the perpetrator. A young mother is dead as a result of horrific knife wounds inflicted on her by her husband – a case of domestic violence. These are real cases of women and girls that come before us regularly, indicating the unbelievably high tolerance for sexual and gender based violence (SGBV) in Nigeria considering that we are not in a ‘conflict situation.’
Cultural and religious values discourage women and girls from talking about SGBV and a lot of stigma is attached. The poor legal response to investigating, prosecuting and punishing SGBV offenders further victimise the victims, expose them to ridicule and discourage them from obtaining justice. The major challenge is breaking the cycle of silence within the community on SGBV. Another barrier is limited access to justice within the legal system.
A young bride is expected to be pure, a virgin without blemish in character. It is therefore a big shame to discuss rape of women as in the eyes of the community, rape impacts negatively on women’s chances of getting married or reduces their respect in the community. A big step to changing this perception is through awareness raising campaigns, engaging with community leaders to cooperate with NGOs and legal officers to resolving SGBV. However, most of these cases are dealt with informally and in many cases compensation in kind or money are paid by offenders to escape justice. No one thinks about the mental and physical health of the victims. Training is offered to justice and law enforcement officers to respond in a gender-sensitive manner to reports and cases of SGBV. However, where access to lawyers and other support is lacking, many victims, give up before prosecution begins or concludes.
Social media and advocacy tools can help to draw local, regional and global attention to the issues. Resource Exchange on PulseWire and resources available elsewhere online can provide information on how to implement the cultural and justice reforms necessary for stopping SGBV. In particular, planning an action online with the support and advice of other community members can help develop strategies to articulate our demands for reform and build support for victims of SGBV. Increased reporting of such cases, followed by sustained monitoring of the legal process can lead to gender justice for the victims.