JDPC AS THE VOICE OF THE VOICELESS, VIOLATED PERSON
(A paper delivered by Rev. Fr. Raymond Anoliefo on 28th November,2015, at the Flag-Off Seminar organized by the Justice, Development and Peace Centre, Lagos, to mark the 2015 International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and 2015 International Human Rights’ Day.)
Representative of His Grace, Alfred Adewale Martins, the Archbishop of the Metropolitan See of Lagos, our Guest Speaker, the amiable Mrs. Titilola Akinlawon, learned Senior Advocate of Nigeria, invited guests, distinguished gentlemen and ladies of the press and our very own members – able representatives of JDPC units across the Deaneries of the Archdiocese of Lagos, I welcome you all.
Annually, the United Nations sets apart sixteen orange days from the 25th day of November to the 10th day of December in commemoration of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and International Human Rights’ Day. The purpose is to link the protection of women’s rights to the overall need to promote laws for the enforcement of the fundamental freedoms which every human person is entitled to by the very fact of his or her existence. This year, the Justice, Development and Peace Centre, Lagos has decided to address not only the peculiar situation of women as victims of violence, but violence against persons in all forms. This is helped by the recent passing into law of the Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act, (VAPP) 2015. We have therefore lined up three programmes over the course of the sixteen day timeline to highlight and discuss the elements of the scourge which is eroding our society and consequently our national development.
Our families are torn by violence. Our communities are destroyed by violence. Our faith is tested by violence. We have an obligation to respond. Violence — in our homes, our schools and streets, our nation and world — is destroying the lives, dignity and hopes of millions of our sisters and brothers. Fear of violence is paralyzing and polarizing our communities. The celebration of violence in much of our media, music and even video games is poisoning our children. Beyond the violence in our streets is the violence in our hearts. Hostility, hatred, despair and indifference are at the heart of a growing culture of violence. Verbal violence in our families, communications and talk shows contribute to this culture of violence. Pornography assaults the dignity of women and contributes to violence against them. Our social fabric is being torn apart by a culture of violence that leaves children dead on our streets and families afraid in our homes. Our society seems to be growing numb to human loss and suffering.
Our society has over time adopted a culture of trampling on women in the name of traditions, which, arguably, were not the original practice or intention of our forefathers. In recent years our print and mass media have become replete with stories of violence and abuse – parent to child; adult / adolescent children to parents; caregivers to infants / children; teacher to pupil; pupil / student against fellow pupil / student and workplace violence inclusive; sexual exploitation and abuse in form of rape, incest, lecturer-student harassment and vice-versa, trafficking in persons and sexual slavery – the list is endless. The result is the instability present in the basic family unit and which now erodes all spheres of human living.
As Director of JDPC Lagos and a parish priest, I am opportuned to wear many hats. Through the JDPC Legal Desk and my parish office, live incidents of the above examples call for intervention by way of counseling, engagement with law enforcement agents to legal representation for victims.
Some Key facts for our consideration:
- Violence against women – particularly intimate partner violence and sexual violence against women – are major public health problems and violations of women’s human rights.
- Recent global prevalence figures indicate that 35% of women worldwide have experienced either intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime.
- On average, 30% of women who have been in a relationship report that they have experienced some form of physical or sexual violence by their partner.
- Globally, as many as 38% of murders of women are committed by an intimate partner.
- Violence can result in physical, mental, sexual, reproductive health and other health problems, and may increase vulnerability to HIV.
- Risk factors for being a perpetrator include low education, exposure to child maltreatment or witnessing violence in the family, harmful use of alcohol, attitudes accepting of violence and gender inequality.
- Risk factors for being a victim of intimate partner and sexual violence include low education, witnessing violence between parents, exposure to abuse during childhood and attitudes accepting violence and gender inequality.
A more recent analysis of WHO with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and the Medical Research Council, based on existing data from over 80 countries, found that globally 35% of women have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence. Most of this violence is intimate partner violence. Worldwide, almost one third (30%) of all women who have been in a relationship have experienced physical and/or sexual violence by their intimate partner, in some regions this is much higher. Globally as many as 38% of all murders of women are committed by intimate partners.
Intimate partner and sexual violence are mostly perpetrated by men against women and child sexual abuse affects both boys and girls. International studies reveal that approximately 20% of women and 5–10% of men report being victims of sexual violence as children. Violence among young people, including dating violence, is also a major problem.
Some Risk factors
Factors found to be associated with intimate partner and sexual violence occur within individuals, families and communities and wider society. Some factors are associated with being a perpetrator of violence, some are associated with experiencing violence and some are associated with both.
Risk factors for both intimate partner and sexual violence include:
- lower levels of education (perpetration of sexual violence and experience of sexual violence);
- exposure to child maltreatment (perpetration and experience);
- witnessing family violence (perpetration and experience);
- antisocial personality disorder (perpetration);
- harmful use of alcohol (perpetration and experience);
- having multiple partners or suspected by their partners of infidelity (perpetration); and
- attitudes that are accepting of violence and gender inequality (perpetration and experience).
Factors specifically associated with intimate partner violence include:
- past history of violence;
- marital discord and dissatisfaction;
- difficulties in communicating between partners.
Factors specifically associated with sexual violence perpetration include:
- beliefs in family honour and sexual purity;
- ideologies of male sexual entitlement; and
- weak legal sanctions for sexual violence.
The unequal position of women relative to men and the normative use of violence to resolve conflict are strongly associated with both intimate partner violence and non-partner sexual violence.
- VARIOUS FORMS OF VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN
Violence Against Women is referred to 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 private life.” A study conducted in Nigeria spanning the years 2006 to 2014 identified the following situations as constituting violence against women:
- Domestic violence: Usually, this form violence occurs within the home, carried out mostly by male members of the family against women and children. These acts include, among many others, marital rape (forced sex), beating, verbal abuse, incest, FGM, forced marriage, child marriage, femicide, denial of human rights (e.g. choice of spouse, education, right to economic power), denial of food even during pregnancy and denial of relaxation time.
- Emotional and psychological abuse: These… are not necessarily physical … include all forms of cruelty by the use of derogatory words and purposeful attempts to make a woman feel incompetent, worthless or inferior.
- Sexual harassment: consists of covert or overt acts or words referring to a woman’s sensitive body parts and the treatment of women as sex objects. These acts of violence usually take place in public or private places and happen to women at all levels of the social strata. Sexual harassment may include refusal of or threat of loss of employment, withholding of promotion/benefits due to a woman’s refusal of sexual advances.
- Rape: Simply put, rape is any form of sexual intercourse without mutual consent between those involved, or with a minor. Rape can happen anywhere and is usually perpetrated by known and often trusted person(s).
- Trafficking: This involves the procuring and transfer of women and girls with or without their consent for commercial sex work, forced domestic labour, or other slave-like practices, both within and outside the country.
- Forced prostitution: This is when women are compelled to use their bodies to get gain for their male relatives or for their bosses in many ways, for example, providing sex in order to secure jobs for their husbands or contracts for their employers.
- Some widowhood rites: In some cultures, a widow is forced to drink the water that is used to wash the husband’s corpse. In addition, the widow may be shaven clean of all hair on her body, especially during the burial period of her husband. Some cultures do not permit widows to own or retain any of the deceased husband’s property. In fact, widows are not permitted to retain their own property or joint property acquired while the husband was alive. Often, widows are accused of being the cause of their husbands’ deaths. In some cultures, widows are an inheritable part of the husband’s property, while some cultures force the widow to marry a relative of the husband if she is still to be considered as part of the family.
Female Genital Mutilation –
- CHILD ABUSE
Various attitudes towards children and young persons have been found to be detrimental to the emotional, psychological and physical well-being of children. They include physical and sexual violence, child marriages, exposure to inhuman treatment and emotional abuse, neglect and malnutrition, denial of access to basic education and exploitation through forced labour. Various laws have been in force, especially here in Lagos State which emphasize the best interest of a child to be of paramount consideration in determining the welfare of the child.
Intimate partner and sexual violence have serious short- and long-term physical, mental, sexual and reproductive health problems for survivors and for their children, and lead to high social and economic costs.
- Violence against women can have fatal results like homicide or suicide.
- It can lead to injuries, with 42% of women who experience intimate partner reporting an injury as a consequences of this violence.
- Intimate partner violence and sexual violence can lead to unintended pregnancies, induced abortions, gynaecological problems, and sexually transmitted infections, including HIV. The 2013 analysis found that women who had been physically or sexually abused were 1.5 times more likely to have a sexually transmitted infection and, in some regions, HIV, compared to women who had not experienced partner violence. They are also twice as likely to have an abortion.
- Intimate partner violence in pregnancy also increases the likelihood of miscarriage, stillbirth, pre-term delivery and low birth weight babies.
- These forms of violence can lead to depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, sleep difficulties, eating disorders, emotional distress and suicide attempts. The same study found that women who have experienced intimate partner violence were almost twice as likely to experience depression and problem drinking. The rate was even higher for women who had experienced non partner sexual violence.
- Health effects can also include headaches, back pain, abdominal pain, fibromyalgia, gastrointestinal disorders, limited mobility and poor overall health.
- Sexual violence, particularly during childhood, can lead to increased smoking, drug and alcohol misuse, and risky sexual behaviours in later life. It is also associated with perpetration of violence (for males) and being a victim of violence (for females).
Impact on children
- Children who grow up in families where there is violence may suffer a range of behavioural and emotional disturbances. These can also be associated with perpetrating or experiencing violence later in life.
- Intimate partner violence has also been associated with higher rates of infant and child mortality and morbidity (e.g. diarrhoeal disease, malnutrition).
- VIOLENCE AGAINST PERSONS
There has been a trend in our society to dismiss cases of domestic violence, child abuse and violence against women as family matters. Rape cases are treated with levity by law enforcement agents and authorities and consent is usually inferred where attacker(s) is personally known to the victim. Other cases of violence are more likely to be prosecuted in court than incidents of sexual and domestic violence.
JDPC Lagos is aware that here in Lagos State, efforts are on ground to take the issue of violence seriously.
- INTERNATIONAL EFFORTS
- The Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) Treaty simply mirrors the intention of other international instruments promoting fundamental rights and freedoms; a failure to protect women’s rights affects global development in every sphere. An extract from the preamble of the CEDAW affirms:
“extensive discrimination against women continues to exist” and “Recalling that discrimination against women violates the principles of equality of rights and respect for human dignity, is an obstacle to the participation of women, on equal terms with men, in the political, social, economic and cultural life of their countries, hampers the growth of the prosperity of society and the family and makes more difficult the full development of the potentialities of women in the service of their countries and of humanity …
Bearing in mind the great contribution of women to the welfare of the family and to the development of society, so far not fully recognized, the social significance of maternity and the role of both parents in the family and in the upbringing of children, and aware that the role of women in procreation should not be a basis for discrimination but that the upbringing of children requires a sharing of responsibility between men and women and society as a whole …“
- Although 143 out of 195 countries guarantee equality between men and women in their constitutions, in practice, discrimination persists directly and indirectly in the following forms:
- Laws and policies
- Gender – based stereotypes
- Social norms and practices
- Currently, the 5th Sustainable Development Goal (SDG 5) of the United Nations seeks to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls. SDG 5 targets an end to all forms of discrimination against all women and girls everywhere, elimination of all forms of violence against all women and girls in the public and private spheres, all harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation, ensure women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision making in political, economic and public life; undertake reforms to give women equal rights to economic resources, as well as access to ownership and control over land and other forms of property, financial services, inheritance and natural resources, in accordance with national laws.
- SDG 5 advocates the use of enabling technology, in particular information and communications technology, to promote the empowerment of women. SDG 5 also promotes advocates that nations adopt and strengthen sound policies and enforceable legislation for the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls at all levels.
The SDGs are silent on the need to eliminate violence and violation in all its forms in every strata of society. This does not mean they are unimportant. It simply means that efforts should be made to address the issues which form the causes and effect of violence as they infringe on the fundamental human rights of individuals. In fact SDG 16 advocates “the promotion of peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, providing access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.” This cannot be achieved unless the issues of violence are addressed in our local communities.
- IMPLEMENTATION OF LOCAL LAWS
Over 20 years after the UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women, 1 in 3 women still experience violence physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner. In fact, on the local front, the Beijing Conference is regarded as the result of extreme feminism.
An example of how the effectiveness or otherwise of local laws can create frustrations for victims of crime is mentioned in Ekhator, Eghosa Osa’s article.
“Rape is a “sex-specific offence which can only by committed by men on women” in Nigeria (Imasogie, 2010:14). Section 357 of the Criminal Code Act states that: Any person who has unlawful carnal knowledge of a woman or a girl, without her consent, or with her consent, if the consent is obtained by force or by means of threats or intimidation of any kind, or by fear of harm, or by means of false and fraudulent representation as to the nature of the act, or, in the case of a married woman, by impersonating her husband, is guilty of an offence which is called rape.”
Undoubtedly, this means that women who are in abusive marital relationships have absolutely no protection under the law. This supports the notion that upon marriage, a woman becomes a mere acquisition of her spouse with no dignities.
Research shows that women are also capable of perpetrating domestic violence against their spouses, children and domestic staff. It would not be out of place to mention that workplace violence exists in the white- and blue-collar sectors, there have been instances. A casual observer would notice the appearance of more disfigured and dismembered persons on the streets of Lagos. The internet has also become a double-edged weapon for either attacking or exposing violence. Videos of rape scenes have gone viral for the purpose of silencing victims. Children and youths have also been lured to their deaths or destruction via the use or misuse of social media.
In 2015, progress has been made by the passage into law of the Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act. Many comments have been made on its potential effectiveness to curb the scourge of violence and punish offenders. The Act seeks to eliminate violence in private and public life, classifying situations of violence as follows: Physical violence; Psychological violence; Sexual violence; Harmful traditional practices; and Socioeconomic violence. For effective implementation it is hoped that State Houses of Assembly will domesticate this Act by signing same into laws for the various states as it currently applies only to the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, so as not to remain mere words on paper. 
“Specifically, The VAPP Act comprehensively dealt with one of the most vexed forms of sexual violence, rape, from which existing penal laws protected only females and limited to vaginal penetration. It has expanded the scope of rape to protect males and to include anal and oral sex as well as protect the identity of rape victims… Other innovations in this Act include the prohibition and punishment for stalking, substance attack, criminalizing incestuous conducts, protection order for victims and persons under threat of violence, and compensation for victims of violence. It provides … a register for convicted sexual offenders, which shall be maintained and accessible to the public. Importantly, the Act contained provisions on effective remedies, including the rights of victims to assistance. According to section 38, “Every victim is entitled to receive the necessary materials, comprehensive medical, psychological, social and legal assistance through governmental agencies and/or non-governmental agencies providing such assistance.” Victims are entitled to be informed of the availability of legal, health and social services and other relevant assistance and be readily afforded access to them. Furthermore, it provides that: “Victims are entitled to rehabilitation and re-integration programme of the State to enable victims to acquire, where applicable and necessary, pre-requisite skills in any vocation of the victim’s choice and also in necessary formal education or access to micro credit facilities.”
JDPC Lagos lends its voice to the fact that victims must speak up and overcome the fear of stigmatization. However, awareness is also important for the authorities to whom a victim would report. Law enforcement authorities, including the police and the judiciary should receive training on the provisions of the Act.
- A CALL TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE AND STOP VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN AND PERSONS IN GENERAL
Violence against women (VAW) is the most widespread and persistent form of violation of human rights. According to a 2013 study from the World Health Organization (WHO), at least one in three women worldwide (35 percent) will experience physical and/or sexual violence during their lifetime, usually at the hands of someone they know. This means more than one billion women worldwide are affected by violence against women otherwise referred to as gender-based violence.
Violence against women and girls is rooted in gender-based discrimination and social norms and gender stereotypes that perpetuate such violence. Given the devastating effect violence has on women, efforts have mainly focused on responses and services for survivors. However, the best way to end violence against women and girls is to prevent it from happening in the first place by addressing its root and structural causes.
Prevention should start early in life, by educating and working with young boys and girls promoting respectful relationships and gender equality/equity. Working with youth is a “best bet” for faster, sustained progress on preventing and eradicating gender-based violence. While public policies and interventions often overlook this stage of life, it is a critical time when values and norms around gender equality/equity are forged.
Prevention entails also placing a strong focus on prevention through the promotion of gender equality/equity, women’s empowerment and their enjoyment of human rights. It also means making the home and public spaces safer for women and girls, ensuring women’s economic autonomy and security, and increasing women’s participation and decision-making powers—in the home and relationships, as well as in public life and politics. Working with men and boys helps accelerate progress in preventing and ending violence against women and girls. They can begin to challenge the deeply rooted inequalities and social norms that perpetuate men’s control and power over women and reinforce tolerance for violence against women and girls.
Awareness-raising and community mobilization, including through media and social media, is another important component of an effective prevention strategy.
At a national level, UN Women supports a range of prevention activities, supporting research to get data on the attitudes, perceptions and behaviour of men and boys as well as young people related to various forms of violence; supporting advocacy, awareness-raising, community mobilization and educational programmes, as well as legal and policy reforms.
Women have to be provided with access to legal representation and opportunities to pursue justice against perpetrators of violence through the formal legal system. Apart from legislation, change can be effected thoroughly by educating the masses on prevention and conflict management strategies as a way of reducing the incidents of violence and abuse. Working to implement existing laws and reducing stigma is important in changing the mindset and mannerisms of our fellow Nigerians.
JDPC Lagos is a member of Campaign 2015+ (also known as Beyond 2015) – Inaugurated in 2012 to collaborate with other CSOs globally to promote public debates and discussions on human rights, economic and social issues for the development of the current Sustainable Development Goals. We are set to key into the objectives of the SDGs in order to promote
We are of the view that change can be effected through educating the masses on prevention and conflict management strategies as a way of reducing the incidents of violence and abuse. The above remedies have been proposed to help reduce and hopefully prevent gender-based violence and violence in all its forms.
The expected end is a change in the mindset and mannerisms of our fellow Nigerians.
 Ekhator, Eghosa Osa (2015). Women and the Law in Nigeria: A Reappraisal. Journal of International Women’s Studies, 16(2), 285-296. http://vc.bridgew.edu/jiws/vol16/iss2/18) Accessed on November 12, 2015.
 Temilola A. George – LETHAL VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN IN NIGERIA IFRA-Nigeria working papers series, n°43 15/01/2015 available at http://ifra-nigeria.org/IMG/pdf/lethal-violence-against-women-nigeria.pdf h
 Child’s Rights Law Of Lagos State, 2007.
 Women and the Law in Nigeria: A Reappraisal op. cit.
 A Synopsis by Women’s Aid Collective (WACOL) on the VIOLENCE AGAINST PERSONS (PROHIBITION) ACT, 2015, NIGERIA – http://www.refworld.org/docid/556d5eb14.html
 Ibid. See also The Violence against Persons (Prohibition) Act: A CHELD Brief
 The Violence against Persons (Prohibition) Act: A CHELD Brief, ibid.
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