The Constitution of Nigeria provides for equality under the law and guarantees the right to protection from inhuman and degrading treatment. International instruments, such as Universal Declaration on Human Rights (UDHR) the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination (CEDAW) which Nigeria has signed and ratified and the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights already written into Nigeria law also guarantee these rights to all Nigerian citizens.
Women are therefore entitled to protection against inhuman and degrading treatment, however this is rarely the case.
Violence against women and gender inequality result from a complex array of interwoven factors, these include harmful gender norms and traditions and social acceptance of violence as an accepted means of conflict resolution. Violence against women is often embedded in social customs that allow it to be perpetrated with impunity – even, in many cases, without being considered as violence, let alone a crime. The provision of the Penal Code (PC) (criminal law applicable in the Northern part of Nigeria) encourages domestic violence against women. It allows for the beating of a wife for the purpose of correction. Section 55 (1) (d) of the Penal Code stipulates, “Nothing is an offence, which does not amount to the infliction of grievous harm upon any person and which is done by a husband for the purpose of correcting his wife. Ahusband and wife being subjected to any natural law or custom in which correction is recognized islawful”1 . The attitude expressed in the Penal Code has made its way across Nigeria, aided by a culture of silence and stigma for the victims.
Activist Bayo Olupohunda in an article for The Guardian titled Women as endangered species2 enumerates some of the more recent violent incidents against women in Nigeria. The horrifics tales include: one in Enugu State where a man sets his wife and children ablaze, the controversial Abia State University rape case where five students ganged raped a female victim, the case in Lagos where a young man stabbed his wife severally times until she bled to death and last but not least a man who shot his girlfriend to death because he suspected she was cheating on him. These are just the cases reported. Most cases of extreme violence against women go unreported because either the victims are too ashamed to pursue justice, denied access by the police or refused by the judiciary.
Cases of police intimidation and brutality abound in Nigeria. Police not only refuse to investigate domestic violence, but often encourage women to go back to their husband. Women who report rape are told they are responsible or they brought it on by flirting, dressing skimpy or drinking. Sometimes it is the police officers themselves who do the raping. Many women particularly sex workers have reported sexual assault and rape while in police custody. Many women become pregnant in prison cells. There have also been reports of torture and extra-judicial killings by police.
Officially, rape is rare in Nigeria. In a country of over 150 million people, there were just 1,952 cases in 2009, according to federal police statistics posted on a website called Nigeria Police Watch. But a 2006 Amnesty International study entitled Rape - the Silent Weapon, found that rape of women and girls by the police and security forces was "endemic" in Nigeria and that reporting on rape was thought to be "sporadic, piecemeal and inconsistent".
In the oil rich Niger Delta, rape is exacerbated by the conflict gripping the region as a result of the oil resources. Militancy and protests against oil company operations and pollution of the environment have led to a government crack down by police and soldiers. Rumours of sexual harassment, rape, intimidation, beatings and destruction of homes by the Joint Task Force abound.
Militants from the Niger Delta area in Nigeria
In most cases women have no say in the decisions leading to conflicts and in conflict resolution but they bear the brunt of the effects. As seen in the Niger Delta, during violent conflicts, women and girls are further at risk of various forms of violence and rape that may result in physical disability, pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV, among other harmful side effects, including permanent physiological trauma.
The Global Burden of Armed Violence 2011 (Chapter 4: When the Victim is a Woman) states that roughly 66,000 women are violently killed around the world each year, accounting for approximately 17% of total intentional homicides. It also highlights the fact that the level of brutality against women has been heightened through the systematic use of rape as a weapon of war and perpetrated by soldiers, some of who may be infected with HIV. Indeed, the widespread and systematic targeting of civilians and the use of rape is a striking aspect of recent armed conflicts in Sub-Saharan Africa 3, the conflict in the Niger Delta being no different.
Authorities in Nigeria, and across the continent have consistently failed to exercise due diligence in preventing and addressing issues of violence against women by both state and non-state actors. This has led to an entrenched culture of impunity. Conflict and militarism exacerbate the situation. They act as breeding grounds for all forms of violence against women as a result of the attendant insecurity and proliferation of arms. It is obvious that efforts must be made by state and non state actors to take decisive action during “wartime” as well as “peacetime” not only to critically address root causes of conflicts and insecurity, but also to ensure that reported cases of violence against women are addressed and perpetrators brought to book. This will not only deter potential offenders but will generate hope in the system for victims of violence who are suffering in silence.
By Dorothy Akwugo.
Dorathy Akwugo Isu is from Afikpo, Ebonyi State in Nigeria. She graduated from the University of Nigeria Nsukka with a Bachelors degree in Sociology/Anthropology. After her mandatory National Youth Service year in Abuja during which she won an award for meritorious service for a community development project, she fed her interest in development work by volunteering for some local NGOs in Abuja while working first with the Federal Capital Territory Authority and later the Ministry of Finance as a consultant on a UNDP & DFID funded anti-corruption project. She eventually went back to the University of Nigeria for a Masters Degree in Development Studies. Dora currently resides in Nigeria where she works as the Director Programmes at the Int’l Centre for Women Empowerment and Child Development, an NGO that is focussed on women’s reproductive health and rights, women empowerment and pro-bono legal services for women and girls who are victims of violence and abuse in Nigeria. She is a member of the White Ribbon Alliance for Safe Motherhood and a HIV Youth Peer Educator Master Trainer. Dora is an advocate for women empowerment and firmly believes that all women are entitled to the same rights and opportunities as men irrespective of culture and religion. In her free time, she enjoys singing and listening to music, reading novels and travelling.