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Private Grief

I have listened to and intervened in many cases involving Violence against women both at work and at home. Everywhere I look I see evidence of this abuse and the hurts of those who have the misfortune of suffering such pain or neglect.

Violence against women has been defined to mean “all acts perpetrated against women which cause or could cause them physical, sexual, psychological, and economic harm, including the threat to take such acts; or to undertake the imposition of arbitrary restrictions on or deprivation of fundamental freedoms in private or public life in peace time and during situations of armed conflicts or of war;” [Article 1(j), Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa 2003]. Article 2 of the Declaration of Elimination of Violence Against Women cites ‘physical, sexual and psychological violence occurring in the family’ as an example of the types of violence suffered by women.

While it is easier to identify physical violence when it occurs due to the scars, marks, bruises and broken bones that need to be fixed; it is a lot harder to deal with emotional violence. This is because the scars are internalised, hidden and sometimes difficult to express.

I was on radio today, International Human Rights Day to talk about ending gender-based violence and to mark the end of the 16 days of Activism against violence against women. In each of the 3 stations in Lagos, Nigeria that I was on, I was asked the same question: Would gender-based violence ever stop?

The answer to that question is yes it can, but the solutions to the problem are complex, diverse and relative to the case at hand. We need the political will, the social acceptance and realisation of the victim that abuse is not normal and that they have the courage to seek help.

About a year ago I interviewed a toddler who was sexually assaulted by a neighbour. The parents initially were keen to prosecute but after much persuasion from the perpetrator’s family and church members, they decided to drop the case. Currently, I’m monitoring a situation of arbitrary arrests of women for being out late at night. These women are harassed and forced to admit they are prostitutes to justify the act of the law enforcement agents.

Then there was Alice** (Not her real name) who contacted my organisation for advice. I had a few counselling sessions with her and discovered that she felt trapped in a violent marriage and was beaten regularly by her husband. I spoke to her, adviced her on her options, told her she could get a protection order by the court under the Lagos State Protection Against Domestic Violence Law 2007. She agreed that applying to the Court for protection would be a step in getting the beatings to stop. However, a few days later, she called me to cancel further action in her case.

So, we do have people reporting but majority are not willing or ready to take the next steps that will free them. It is almost as if their grief is so personal, so private, intimate that they only want to keep it to themselves and suffer in silence. My advice always is that everyone should take control of their lives but the courage to do so is another case entirely.

Major reasons for gender-based violence are:
1. Negative cultural or religious perception of women
2. Poverty/Financial instability in the family
3. Impunity – few prosecutions or ineffective punishments against perpetrators of violence against women.
4. A woman’s lack of economic independence
5. A woman’s low level of schooling and education

The insensitivity of the criminal justice system to women can also isolate women and discourage them from coming forward.

Conclusion and Recommendations

Society is becoming desensitized to issues of violence against women. This apathy and lack of understanding of long term effects of violence leads to amazingly high levels of tolerance for such violence against women.

The legal framework is crucial in ensuring that such violence against women is prevented, and where they occur are punished. Solutions and actions that we can all take are:

• Review existing criminal and civil laws and judicial procedures with a view to improving treatment of victims of domestic violence particularly and access to justice
• Harmonise and create a single protocol guiding the procedures of the clinics, police etc in treating domestic violence cases
• Coordinated action and partnership among the relevant state agencies i.e. health, law enforcement, ministry of justice and NGOs
• Adopt model legislation for replication in all the states and at national level – e.g. the VAPP bill in Nigeria
• Fast-track courts
• Support the creation and maintenance of victim support centres, shelters for domestic violence victims and rehabilitative centres where perpetrators may be evaluated and trained on non-violent behaviour
• Improve the legal aid system including providing a special fund for the prosecution of domestic violence cases
• Consider the possibility of giving the Federal and State Attorney Generals special powers to prosecute in the public interest cases of domestic violence.
• Strengthening community projects and activities
• Sensitise the public through awareness creation using popular media,
• Conduct research on the causes of violence and how to prevent them
• Maintain statistics and analyse trends in domestic violence reporting, prosecution and adjudication
• Education/Training on VAW, dignity of the person and human rights
• Support the community projects and activities by NGOs working towards the elimination of domestic violence and counselling for victims.

This story was written for World Pulse’s Ending Violence Against Women Digital Action Campaign.

World Pulse believes that women's stories, recommendations, and collective rising leadership can—and will—bring an end to gender-based violence. The EVAW Campaign elicits powerful content from women on the ground, strengthens their confidence as vocal grassroots leaders, and ensures that influencers and powerful institutions hear their stories.
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Comments

Leslie Stoupas's picture

Public awareness is so crucial!

Dear Osai,

Thank you for such a comprehensive article on violence against women, the challenges they face in reporting this violence and the list of things that must be done to help the public perception of this violence in society. I am glad you noted emotional and psychological violence as well. Social and cultural attitudes that promote the idea that women are inferior make it possible for violence to happen, so as you point out so well, changes must take place at these very root levels! Keep up the excellent work!

Leslie Stoupas

Osai's picture

Re: Public Awareness is so crucial

Dear Leslie,

Thanks for taking time to read and comment. We need change to happen soon.

Best wishes,
Osai

Twitter: @livingtruely

olutosin's picture

Welldone my sister...

Thanks for this article and continue working......How are you?

Olutosin Oladosu Adebowale
Founder/Project Coordinator
Star of Hope Transformation Centre
512 Road
F Close
Festac Town
Lagos-Nigeria

https:

Osai's picture

Thanks Tosin! I am very well.

Thanks Tosin! I am very well. How are you doing? Lets keep up with the work.

Thanks again.

Best wishes,
Osai

Twitter: @livingtruely

Greengirl's picture

Keep up the good work.

I very much appreciate your article because it is very informing and all encompassing. It reveals so much about overlooked but gray areas of Violence Against Women. Just like your heartwarming smile, your work speaks volumes and it is obvious that you are committed to reaching out to victims.

Best Wishes,

Olanike

Osai's picture

Thanks

Dear Olanike,

Thanks for your kind words. I hope to garner more interest in ending gender-based violence especially at local or community level.

Best wishes,
Osai

Twitter: @livingtruely

Ngekwi's picture

Beautiful Dear

What a beautiful work. Let’s keep writing for it will surely bring changes in our societies.
Thanks for the information
Remain blessed
Ngekwi

Osai's picture

Thanks Ngekwei

I appreciate you taking time to read & comment. Thanks!

Twitter: @livingtruely

aimeeknight's picture

Thank you, for being a

Thank you, for being a powerful advocate for women. Your story was informative and also emotionally compelling. Great work, keep writing!

"One shoe can change a life" ~ Cinderella

Osai's picture

Thanks Aimee

With your support and others we can achieve a lot. Thanks!

Twitter: @livingtruely

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