2 December 2012

Nigeria: Why Violence Against Women Must Stop

Among the challenges facing the women folk in the society, abuses in the form of sexual violence and sheer brutality are the worst that have continued to defy solutions. Blessing Ukemena and Uche Uduma write.

November 25th every year is marked all over the world as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women as declared by the United Nations (UN). On this day, most governments, international organisations and NGOs are encouraged to organise activities designed to raise awareness about the problem.

Since 1981, women activists have consistently marked the day. The date came as a result of the brutal assassination, in 1960, of the three political activists also known as the Mirabal sisters in the Dominican Republic, on the orders of Dominican ruler Rafael Trujillo (1930-1961). The sisters Minerva, Dede, Patria and Maria Teresa Mirabal, grew up in a relatively upper class, cultured environment where they got married and had families.

Influenced by their uncle, they started a political movement against Trujillo, who had been the president of the country from 1930 to 1952, and afterwards, became its dictator. They eventually formed a group called the Movement of the Fourteenth of June (named after the date of the massacre Patria witnessed), to oppose the Trujillo regime.

They distributed pamphlets about the people killed by Trujillo, and obtained materials for guns and bombs to use when they finally and openly revolted. On November 25, 1960, three of the sisters, Patria, Minerva, and Maria Teresa, and a driver, Rafina de la Cruz, were visiting Patria and Minerva's husbands who had been put in prison. On their way home, they were stopped by Trujillo's henchmen. The sisters and the driver were separated and clubbed to death.

Their bodies were gathered into a Jeep where the corpses were later run over along the mountain road in order to make it look like an accident. Dedé Mirabal, who did not accompany her sisters on the trip, had lived to tell the gory stories of the death of her sisters. As of 2012, Dedé lived in Salcedo in the house where the sisters were born. She worked to preserve her sisters' memory through the Museo Hermanas Mirabal which is also located in Salcedo and was home to the women for the final ten months of their lives.

According to Mrs. Adekemi Ndieli who is the National Programs Officer, United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and Empowerment, 16 days of every year have been set aside to draw attention to the issues that women face in the area of violence against them in Nigeria and all over the world.

With support from the Ministry of Women Affairs and organizations such as the International Federation of Female lawyers (FIDA), the DFID and the Security Council, a lot will be done this year to let Nigerians know the importance of this issue with the aim of putting an end to all forms of violence against them.

Amina, (surname withheld) is one of the victims of sexual abuse in Nigeria. She is an indigene of Kogi state, who narrates her tale of how this life and indeed men have been unfair to her. It all started, according to her, when things took a bad turn in her family especially when one of her sisters developed high blood pressure which resulted in a stroke. Her family spent all the resources in treating her all to no avail. Things got so bad for them that they had to move from the city to their village in Kogi.

She says, "When my family couldn't cope with the hardship that befell us, one of my aunts came to assist us. She promised to help me get a job in Lokoja so that I will be able make money and even send some home. The first day I arrived Lokoja, she took me to a place and asked me to stay there and wait for her, while I was there ,a man came and told me that my sister told him to take me to her house.

I followed him thinking we were going to my sister's house. Immediately I entered the house, he locked me inside the house, stuffed my mouth with cloth and raped me several times despite the fact that I was a virgin. I later found my way to the house crying and told my aunty what happened. She was so furious with me and asked if I was a baby.

Few months after this wicked incident, I noticed that I was pregnant. I was still able to located the man who did the wicked act and confronted him, he simply didn't talk to me. I later travelled to my village and told my parents, they followed me to see the man who still didn't say anything either My so-called aunty was equally not helpful and because my parents were not enlightened to follow the matter, they left it like that. That was how I gave birth to the baby.

Shortly after that, I met another man, Usman Ibrahim who promised to marry me. Everything seemed so perfect for me because I had learned hair dressing and also working in a local government in the state. I was so excited with my life, everything was so blissful when we started, The wedding bell was almost ringing when things took a different turn. The first wife began to make trouble and that led to a rift between us. The man later abandoned me and our baby.

It became so hard that I found it difficult to raise my first child and here I was with a second baby. Feeding became a big issue for me and the children. When I or any of the kids take ill, there will be no one to the rescue. Along the line, I became ill and returned to Abuja. One man who couldn't stand my condition was Isah Kachako, who sells fish at the fish market in Kado. He was really happy when he realized that I was hard working, so he decided to assist me.

Along the line, he got interested in me, and promised to marry me; he became very familiar with my family that everybody knew him as the man that wanted to marry me. He rented a house and a shop for me and not long after, I got pregnant by him. I was excited because the doctor told me that I was carrying a set of twins.

I went to him with the good news but surprisingly, he was not happy rather, he took me round the city, looking for where to abort the baby but the doctors said if I abort the baby, I will die. I left the pregnancy and I finally gave birth to the twins".

While continuing her narration, she broke down uncontrollably in tears but resolved to continue saying, "It's not my wish to bring my problem to the public, but it is so painful that every day, when I sit down to reflect on what I have suffered in the hands of men, I wonder why I was born.

Since I gave birth to these children, my business has gone down, I am in huge debts and I can't even pay back the money I borrowed from people. All the men that impregnated me have abandoned me and their children. If they see these children, they will not even recognise them. I have been going to them for help but they don't want to help me.

After begging one of them to bring feeding money for his daughter, he only gave me a little quantity of cassava flour. Is it only cassava flour that will sustain his child? I have suffered terribly and I can't bear it on my own anymore." She lamented.

The national programme officer UN women, Mrs. Adekemi Ndeili got reaffirmed the committment of UN women in ensuring that the rights of women are protected. According to her, the UN is not a service provider but supports service provider within the country. In view of this, they have had success stories with similar victims in the past. She says, "A month ago, a particular woman who was beaten by her husband called me, so I referred her to FIDA and she is being taken care of now".

Another lady, who was severely brutalized by her husband to the extent that her lips and tongue were split into two came to us. We referred her to the Ministry of Women Affairs where she was connected to the police and medical practioners and now she is undergoing treatment".

She says that there are many cases of violence committed against women but unfortunately, many of such are not reported, thus part of what will be done during the days set aside to mark the elimination of violence against women is according to her, "To train enumerators who would be participating in the 2013 National Demographic and Health Survey NDHS.

The NDHS is a veritable research tool in the compendium of research survey materials that look at different demographic indices in the country and recently the National Population Commission and other partners thankfully accepted to include the chapter of gender based violence in it." She stated.

She emphasised that these enumerators need to be trained to be able to identify violence against women in all its forms, they need to be able to refer the women to those that can help them, thus contacts of FIDA offices across the country will be given out as lawyers will be available to help so that the victims can have succor in that area.

For the sake of Nigeria's future, she says, violence is a matter that should be taken seriously. "It should no longer be treated as a trivial issue because it has been long that this matter had been trivialised and that's why there is no law addressing it and people just see as one of those things but no, because it affects our community, our finances, national accounting, it affects the health services because when a woman is away from work for days because she has been battered, for example, by her intimate partner or raped, of course, that's going to tell on our GDP at the end of the day". She said.

Violence against women happen all over the world but it is a practice that has to be stopped. A woman should be treated with respect wherever she finds herself because this is her fundamental human right.

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