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Stopping violence against women, 10 years after

By Itoro Eze-Anaba

It is 10 years since the United Nations recognised November 25 as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.  On this date a decade ago, the Mirabal sisters were violently assassinated in 1960, by the dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo in the Dominican Republic.

In commemoration of this violent assassination, the Feminist Encuento for Latin America and the Caribbean held in Bogotá, Columbia declared this date the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.

However, it was not until 1999, after extensive lobbying and organising by women’s groups that the United Nations officially recognised November 25 as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. This resolution by the UN finally pushed violence against women to the public arena and firmly established the fact that violence against women is no longer domestic, or private.

All over the world, November 25 is celebrated not only to draw attention to violence against women but also as the beginning of the 16 day activism on violence against women which ends on 10th December, the human rights day.

Women’s rights groups in Nigeria, like their counterparts all over the world, are also marking this day, carrying out various activities to draw attention to the various aspect of violence against women and their destructive impact not only on women but on the community.  Perhaps it is proper to pause and ask, to what extent have women in Nigeria benefited from this Declaration? Have women fared better since the UN declaration?

One does not need to think deeply before responding negatively to this question. Women and girls in Nigeria have continued to be victims of gender based violence.

The only positive development for women is increased media reportage of issues concerning women.  Media reports are filled with incidents of violence against women, especially domestic violence. While men are sometimes victims, women and girls are on record as being the most vulnerable to domestic violence.

Cases of domestic violence are so rarely reported that it takes the death of a female victim before such cases are reported.  An instance of this was the battering to death of a house wife Patricia Azuka by  the husband. Patricia  was reportedly   thrown down from her one story-building apartment in Ajao Estate Lagos by her husband, on December 14, 2000.

She landed with her head on the concrete floor and sustained a deep cut on her head and injuries to her spinal cord and neck. He reportedly took her to Igbobi Hospital, a government owned hospital, where he lied that she was involved in an accident.

He left the hospital without paying any deposit or leaving an address. She died a few days later. It took a protest march by women in Lagos for the police to arrest her husband and even at that, he was said to be in protective custody, for fear of being lynched by women!

Since then, there have been several other cases of death resulting from domestic violence. Children are not spared either. It is heartbreaking to listen to stories of incest and sexual abuse from young girls who ordinarily should be protected by these perpetrators.

I will never forget the day a woman walked into my office and told me that her husband has been sexually abusing their first daughter and now the second daughter is pregnant for him. His own child! This is not an isolated case. It is happening right under our noses and we are pretending it cannot happen in Africa. At least that is what one very senior and respected journalist told me.

Existing law and procedures are heavily tilted against the victims. Where the parents or guardians are brave enough to pursue legal proceedings, they have to face the herculean task of corroborating evidence to prove sexual assault. In most cases of sexual assault, the law requires corroboration of victims’ testimony without which the accused is set free.

Since sexual assault is hardly carried out in the open, the requirement of corroboration, according to the definition of Nigerian courts, cannot be met. As a result of this, many accused persons are set free which further traumatizes the victim and prevents other victims from speaking out and seeking redress. Moreover, the burden of proof of lack of consent in rape allegations is with the prosecutor. This means that the victim herself has to prove she did not consent.
Efforts to carry out law reforms in the area of domestic violence and violence against women generally have been fruitless, especially at the national level.


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