The duty of governments to protect women from violence is explicitly stated in the UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women (CEDAW). Nigeria ratified this declaration in 1985. Under this convention, governments, including that of Nigeria, have an obligation to not only ensure that its agents and officials do not commit violence against women, but also to protect them from violence committed by private individuals and bodies.
Until recently, very little attention had been paid to fulfilling this obligation. In reality, women continue to face barriers in seeking redress and accessing justice for gender-based crimes committed against them.
A step towards implementing the provisions of the convention, however, was finally taken when the House of Representatives showed its commitment to representing the people by the recent passage of the Violence Against Person's Prohibition Bill (VAPP) in 2013. After years of waiting, they have demonstrated a willingness and commitment to address this problem.
What is surprising though is how long it took to pass this bill, despite the awareness of its relevance. One wonders why efforts to end violence against women are continuously sidetracked by the government's inability to prioritise this issue, despite frequent reports about women and girls being abused, beaten, raped and killed almost every day. As this continues, more and more surviving victims remain silent, because the current system is not serious about protecting them and more often than not, leaves them more vulnerable to abuse. Most of the people responsible for these crimes walk away and blot it out of their minds as if it were part of their daily "to do" list, knowing their actions will be met with little or no punishment.
In our opinion, this attitude illuminates what is the central moral challenge of the Nigerian society. Physical and emotional brutality remains the lot of a large percentage of women and girls and is steadily on the increase. The government systematically fails to protect women, who can no longer count on getting the protection they need, even in the most horrific circumstances. The credibility gap in the system is worsened by the absence of a safety net of protection and empowerment that women can fall into.
We urge all to change their mindset about the status of women and this must be accompanied by institutional reform. It has been said that the way in which any nation treats its women holds the key to its social and economic advancement or otherwise and when it is incapable of protecting the rights of a group of people who represent half of the population, it fails to function as a society. We are, therefore, calling on the Senate to aid this much-needed change by expediting action on the bill before it.