By JOSEPHINE IGBINOVIA
The Executive Director of Project Alert on Violence Against Women, Mrs.Josephine Effa Chukwuma is one woman who has been in the vanguard of promoting social justice, especially for abused women and girls in Nigeria. As Nigeria joins the rest of the world to embark on ‘16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence’ from November 25th through December 10th , in this interview, Mrs.Chukwuma laments the weakness of the Nigerian criminal justice system, attributing it to the rise in acts of gender-based violence in the country. Excerpts:
A victim of a crime, be it sexual violence or whatever, can only move on to get healing when there is justice. But the problem is that there is no criminal justice for abused women in Nigeria. Where report is supposed to be made is the police station but since these women believe they cannot get justice but will be ridiculed instead, they recoil into their shells instead of letting out their experiences. Our criminal justice system needs to do a lot to build the confidence of people. They keep saying rape victims don’t come to report, but why would they come when they know they are unlikely to get justice?
If a little child at home runs to say “Mummy, daddy this person did this and that to me”, that child is doing that because he or she believes daddy and mummy could help fix the problem. But with our criminal justice system and women, it is a different ball game because these women are not sure of obtaining justice.
The attitude and response of the police, the delay in the judiciary 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 that has been in court for two years! We need to reform our criminal justice system so as to enable more women speak out!
We need to sensitize our police personnel so as to enable them do their work better. I believe there are a lot of laws on ground already in Nigeria which could serve as tools for ensuring justice on acts of violence. But the problem has always been the enforcement of those laws.
There’s always been law on rape, law on defilement, etc. both in the criminal and penal code. Lagos state also has a Law on Domestic Violence. In our own little way, to enforce this law, we are trying to sensitize the police, lawyers and all other law enforcement agencies capable of using these laws.
I however believe that the way forwards is having the political will. The change starts from me and you as individual in our families, workplaces and societies. Some people blame gender violence on culture, but I let them understand that culture is not cast in cement and block! If culture was cast so hard, we won’t be sitting in cemented, beautified or air-conditioned rooms because they are not part of our culture.
So, why is it those aspects of culture that affect women that we hold on to? Why do we embrace the ones that favour every other aspect of society, referring to them as development? So, it is all about us as a people collectively saying ‘no’ to violence.
The theme for this year’s 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence, ‘From Peace in the Home to Peace in the World: Lets Challenge Militarism and End Violence Against Women’, is very relevant because violence begins from the home. And if not curbed, it spreads to the society. So we must start to address the problem from the home front.
I don’t need to over-flog the issue, because, we are all living witnesses to the spate of media reports of physical and sexual violence in the home, in recent times. The psychological aspect of violence in the home, though not immediately evident to the eye, is actually the most damaging, according to medical professionals. It borders on neurosis and severe depression, which could lead to physical violence.
Just like I said, the problem starts from the home front. I say this because in typical family settings where there are boys and girls, the boys are chided for crying, and are usually told: “Common, you’re a boy! You shouldn’t cry. A boy is not supposed to cry” It gets to a point where he feels he is not supposed to wash plates! These stereotypes continue until the boy is shaped into them. He begins to fight on the street, thinking that that is what it means to be manly
But I always tell people that nobody was born violent. The truth is that violence is an acquired, learned behaviour. And as such, through conscious efforts, it can be unlearned.
One of the activities we’ve put in place in commemoration of this year’s activism is the launch of a book titled Abused: Violence Against Women in South West Nigeria.
What informed the book was the need for us to have some statistical evidence and documentation on women’s fears and experiences on gender-based experiences in their lives. Facts in the book are gathered from abused women in the South West region of Nigeria. We are also embarking on programmes for the training of law enforcement officers in Lagos state. Also, we will be partnering with the Ministry of Youth Development in the sensitization of men and young boys.’