Violence against women and girls is a global human rights challenge which must be fought to a standstill, JOY YESUFU writes.
Since the outbreak of COVID-19, emerging data and reports from those on the frontlines showed that all types of violence against women and girls, particularly domestic violence, have escalated.
The trend is described as shadow pandemic growing amidst the COVID-19 crisis, which calls for global collective efforts to eradicate it. As COVID-19 cases continue to strain health services, essential services, such as domestic violence shelters and helplines reached capacity, more needs to be done to prioritise addressing violence against women in COVID-19 response and recovery efforts.
The United Nations (UN) secretary-general’s Unite to End Violence against Women campaign, a multi-year effort aimed at preventing and eliminating violence against women and girls this year focused on amplifying the call for global action to bridge funding gaps, ensure essential services for survivors of violence during the COVID-19 crisis, focused on prevention, and collection of data that can improve life-saving services for women and girls.
This year’s theme for the International Day for the Elimination Violence against Women “Orange the World: Fund, Respond, Prevent, Collect!” like in previous year’s, mark the launch of 16 days of activism that will end on 10th December, 2020, which is International Human Rights Day.
Several public events were coordinated for this year’s International Day. Iconic buildings and landmarks were also ‘oranged’ to recall the need for a violence-free future.
Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) is one of the most widespread, persistent and devastating human rights violations in the world today remains largely unreported due to the impunity, silence, stigma and shame surrounding it.
In general terms, it manifests itself in physical, sexual and psychological forms, encompassing: intimate partner violence (battering, psychological abuse, marital rape, femicide); sexual violence and harassment (rape, forced sexual acts, unwanted sexual advances, child sexual abuse, forced marriage, street harassment, stalking, cyber-harassment); human trafficking (slavery, sexual exploitation); female genital mutilation; and child marriage.
To further clarify, the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women issued by the UN General Assembly in 1993, defines violence against women as “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.”
The adverse psychological, sexual and reproductive health consequences of VAWG affect women at all stages of their life. For example, early-set educational disadvantages not only represent the primary obstacle to universal schooling and the right to education for girls; down the line they are also to blame for restricting access to higher education and even translate into limited opportunities for women in the labour market.
Gender-based violence can happen to anyone, anywhere, some women and girls are particularly vulnerable.
Violence against women continues to be an obstacle to achieving equality, development, peace as well as to the fulfilment of women and girls’ human rights. In all, the promise of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – to leave no one behind cannot be fulfilled without putting an end to violence against women and girls.
The UN secretary-general, António Guterres, in a statement issued on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women 2020, said that the international community needs to work to end the shadow pandemic of gender-based violence.
He said: “The global community needs to hear the voices and experiences of women and girls and take into account their needs, especially survivors and those who face multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination. We must also prioritise women’s leadership in finding solutions and engage men in the struggle.
“Actions must involve predictable and flexible funding for women’s rights organisations, who so often act as first responders during crises. It is critical that services for survivors of violence remain open, with adequate resources and measures in place to support health, social and justice responses.
“These measures should not only focus on intervening once violence against women has occurred. They should work to prevent violence occurring in the first place, including through addressing social norms and power imbalances. Police and judicial systems need to increase accountability for perpetrators and end impunity.
“On this international day, let us redouble our efforts to eradicate gender-based violence forever,” he said.
The chairperson of International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA) Abuja branch, Mrs. Rachael Adejoh-Andrew, during an advocacy walk by the organisation as part of activities to commemorate 2020 International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, urged all the 36 states of the federation to domesticate the Violent Against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) Act to curb Gender-based Violence (GBV) since some abusers hide under culture to perpetrate the act.
She said that widowhood practice, spousal battering, forceful ejection from home, spousal abandonment, forced dependence (sometimes men tell their wives not to work, they force the women to live on them) are different forms of abuses that must be criminalised.
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The FIDA chairperson further said that once states adopt the VAPP Act, no one will hide under culture and abuse anyone as they will be prosecuted accordingly.
Mrs. Andrew said: “We discover over time that one of the tools men use to perpetrate domestic violence on women is when the women don’t have earning power, so all of these things are crimes. The law that captures it at the moment is the VAPP Act and that is why you see that across the states, across the nation, there is a push, there is a yearning that this law be adopted in all the states of the federation so that people will know that they just can’t wake up and behave to people anyhow and hide under culture.
“Because if you talk about widowhood practices, for instance, people hide under culture and say, ‘that is how we do it in our place’ but by the time there is a legislation which criminalises it, it becomes irrelevant whether you know about the provisions of that law or not, so long as you default that law, you will be caught under it and you will be prosecuted and brought to face the wrought of the law.
“There are sentences attached to each of those offences once a conviction is secured,” she said.
She also said if everyone comes together as stakeholders to condemn the act, with a willingness and zeal on the part of those who are to implement the law, this menace will be curbed sooner than expected.