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25 November, 2012
Honorable Hajiya Zainab Maina,
Minister of Women Affairs
Annex 3, New Federal Secretariat
Shehu Shagari Way Central Area, P.M.B. 229 Garki,
Dear respected and entrusted Minister of Women Affairs,
RE: Agency for Eradication of Gender Based Violence
There is no doubt that you are fully aware of the severity and seriousness of gender-based violence which plagues our great nation. Proposed solutions to the continuous problem have not helped or halted this dire plague of violence which remains within Nigeria. We are writing this letter to advocate the implementation of specific legislation to protect women against sexual and gender-based violence and ensure that Nigerian women benefit from full equality before the law. Statistics inform us that specific acts and legislation has not alleviated the problem. To complicate matters, a majority of territories do not have the specific mandates or laws protecting women, and the dark side of crime suggests that most domestic acts of crime go unreported because of the shame and social stigma and fail not only in the home, but also in police investigation, religious counseling, as well as other “help-oriented” agencies. Sexual violence is on the increase, the law aids impunity as offenders are not prosecuted and the burden of proof weighs heavily on women. The law is negatively and institutionally skewed against women seeking prosecution. To stem the tide of the vicious and abhorrent crimes against women, let us look more closely at the statistics and the legal aspects of this wave of protected atrocities in order to understand why sweeping and national legislation is needed beyond doubt.
One in Three Nigerian Women/Girls within the ages of 15-24 have been the victims of domestic violence. 50% of women have been subject to abuse from husbands and most believe that the law will not protect them and endure this abuse: A shocking and staggering 97.2% are not willing to report to police. Such statistics suggest a shameful “conspiracy of silence” with an “entrenched culture of impunity” for perpetrators of domestic abuse. Continually shocking are married women’s acceptance of wife-beating indicating that educational and social systems may enable such practices. For example in the South regions up to 92% of women find the practice acceptable. Such statistics beg for more analysis and consideration at the civil, legal and educational levels. Violence is a cross cutting theme which affects all women in Nigeria in all contexts.
Suggestions have been made that much of the blame can be placed on plural legal systems in Nigeria. As the Nigeria CEDAW NGO Coalition and Research (Madhi, 2011) have found the current laws do not provide women and girls with adequate protection. Although there have been some signs of progress such as the Violence against Women Prevention, Protection and Prohibition Act of 2002, only 4 States have enacted domestic violence laws (Ebonyi, Jigawa, Cross Rivers and Lagos), and only 6 have enacted legislation against FGM (female gender mutilation): Enugu, Edo, Bayelsa, Delta, Cross Rivers and Ogun. In essence, the legal literature relies on statutory, customary, and religious laws to permit violence against women. The penal code (section 55(4) identified by CEDAW, in the Northern regions of Nigeria has been used to legalize ‘corrective’ beating of a child, pupil, servant or wife, as long as this does not cause grievous hurt. In similar fashion marital or spousal rape is excluded from definitions of rape in legislation in the North and under the criminal code in the South, specifically Sec. 295 of the Penal code.
These two legal factors and definitions may indeed be the root cause of gender—based violence by allowing such permissions of behavior. Differences in the definition of rape in State, Federal, Sharia and Customary legal systems create a plural justice system that potentially undermines women’s rights to seek legal redress. Due to the shame and stigma attached to such violence, as well as the plurality of definitions, and enacted legislations, the victim is penalized, rather than the perpetrator. To complicate matters under Muslim Sharia law, a rape victim will need a witness in order to prosecute. What Nigeria needs is sweeping reform similar in nature and as expansive and protection-oriented as the quite successful NAPTIP program.
Yet top-heavy legislation, while necessary, will not curb a behavior that has been institutionalized and to a large degree socialized as a “private matter.” The statistics on domestic violence acts are notoriously suspect: cases go unreported or settled financially out of court. To complicate matters CEDAW was rejected by the National assembly in 2007 and the 2008 WELA bill still needs to be enacted by 36 States. To these ends we propose sweeping reform in education, gender sensitivity training for police, and a uniform and specific legislative act to help end all gender-based violence in Nigeria. In addition, research and data are needed in all areas of this highly sensitive area which still remains a conspiracy of silence while women continue to suffer.
Under your guidance and counsel as Minister of Women Affairs, we propose the creation of an Agency for Eradication of Gender Based Violence, which would have the following ameliorating functions:
1. Conduct research and analysis on gender-based violence in Nigeria
2. Create support coalitions with other governmental and non-governmental agencies.
3. Sponsor and provide investigative and counseling services for victims
4. Campaign for effective and enforceable legislation throughout Nigeria
5. Sponsor a legislative Bill at the National Assembly for the proposed Agency with powers similar to NAPTIP
6. Sponsor Gender Sensitivity Training for Police, Legal Representatives and Courts
7. Sponsor a legislative Bill making Gender Equality Education and primary prevention techniques mandatory at all levels of Education in Nigeria.
8. Establish “Safe Havens” in select locations for victims
To these ends, we believe the criteria set forth above, will adequately and significantly address the problem of gender-based violence within our Nation and greatly improve the lives of women.
Princess Rosemary Mukoro
|Date:||28 January 2013|