Gender-Based Violence: An Unspoken Trend In The 21st Century BY MARGARET JOHN

In Breaking News, Columnists, International News, Opinion

When one speaks of violence, it is often associated with physical activities of force and use of arms, one that results in destruction of lives and properties. However, there is more to violence than this. Beyond deaths and injuries, there are various forms of violence which are highly prevalent in the society that procure psychological injuries. One of these is Gender-Based Violence (GBV). What is Gender-Based Violence? What are its effects and how deep has it eaten into the fabric of the society?

Gender-Based Violence is any verbal or physical act that results in bodily, psychological, sexual, emotional and economic harm to somebody just because they are female or male. Gender-based violence is said to happen because one person chooses to exercise power and control forcefully over another person. When people do not know how to solve conflicts peacefully or how to build and maintain healthy relationships based on mutual respect, it often results in Gender-Based Violence.

Gender-Based Violence can occur domestically in the home or neighbourhood, at a workplace or business center or even on the street. Although both men and women experience gender-based violence, majority of GBV is directed at women and girls. It is a phenomenon that is deeply rooted in gender inequality; and as long as there is an imbalance of power between men and women, Gender Based Violence will continue.

Gender-Based Violence is a highly prevalent issue in our society today that affects the individual, families and the community at large. However, it is not often taken seriously, mostly because some of the issues faced as a result of Gender-Based Violence are caused or made worse by policies, laws and practices that are in place, or by the fact that good existing policies, laws and practices to prevent Gender-Based Violence are not implemented, and also because it is not openly discussed in our communities. It so happens that when we treat Gender-Based Violence as a private issue, we license it to continue.

This should not be the case. Instead, there should be a support system setup to respond to people facing Gender-Based Violence of any kind. Individuals who have been abused or denied opportunities find it difficult to integrate fully into the usual community life. GBV survivors often face stigmatization and discrimination. When we support GBV survivors, we encourage more of them to come forward and receive the help they need. We also show that GBV is of a serious concern in our community that deserves our attention.

Research has proven that GBV is both a cause and a consequence of HIV in that, people who have experienced violence especially sexual violence are at a higher risk of contracting HIV, and people who are living with HIV/AIDS are more likely to experience acts of violence in forms of discrimination and stigmatization. A study Adapted from National Centre for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine found out that 90.5% of Health Care Workers had previous HIV/AIDS training and the overall mean knowledge among these physicians was interpreted as moderate. However, the mean attitude score among the group – 110.6, interpreted as in indication that this group of physicians harboured some negative attitudes towards patients with HIV/AIDS. This finding of a negative attitude towards people living with HIV/AIDS was confirmed by the fact that 95.3% of the participants had also previously refused to provide care for HIV positive patients. This deprivation of health care to the patients is a form of GBV meted by the health care workers.

Another form of GBV is Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C). This is the cutting of a small, sensitive part of the female genitals (clitoris) as a form of circumcision, done as a cultural practice in many parts of the world, including Nigeria. It is seen as an important element of maturation for the girl/woman in the community and is believed that it helps in the preservation of the girl’s virginity as well as maintaining fidelity among the girls. This however is false because Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) has no health benefits. Quite contrary, it causes grave harm to girls and women in many ways including; severe pain, excessive bleeding (heamorrhage), fever, urinary problems, infections, increased risk at childbirth, even death and many more long term problems.

According to the Nigerian Population Commission (2014), an estimated 19.9 million Nigerian women have undergone FGM; meaning that 16% of the 125 million FGM survivors are Nigerians. Research has shown that Female circumcision is more prevalent in the Southern zones than the Northern zones according to the Nigerian Demographic and Health Survey (2013). Cross River State in the South-South region of Nigeria recorded the prevalence rate of 32.2%, ranking third highest in the region. What most people do not know is that FGM is a direct violation of human rights and there are laws against this practice. But as it is said, many perish for lack of knowledge.

Cross River State Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) Law: A law to prohibit girl-child marriage and female circumcision or Genital mutilation in Cross River State, No.2 of 2000. Upon the commencement of this law, no person shall circumcise or mutilate the sexual organ of any female, whether or not her consent is obtained. Anyone who allows any female who is either a daughter or a ward to be circumcised or have the genital organ mutilated, is guilty of an offence and shall on conviction be liable to a fine of not less than 10, 000 naira or to imprisonment not exceeding two years for a first offender and to imprisonment not exceeding three years without an option of fine for each subsequent offence.

These laws have been made available to prevent this form of GBV in our communities but they seem to be ineffective because most people are unaware of what it entails, and ignorance in itself poses a huge barrier. Also, being aware of the laws does not yield positive results if members of the community do not find the need to speak against an age-long custom which they consider normal. This is to say that although the laws are there to end this violence, they can do nothing if not properly implemented. And these laws can only be implemented by members of the community who understand the dangers posed by the practice and see the need to speak against it. But how can they know when no one tells them? And how can they speak up when they feel violated and have been stripped every sense of self dignity. This is where advocacy comes in.

The problems faced as a result of GBV can be solved with advocacy through the help of the Government at all levels, civil society organizations as well as the general public. Advocacy plays a major role in restoring the dignity of the victims and giving them a sense of hope as survivors. It ensures that GBV survivors have access to services that can help them and helps to create an environment that is supportive to social change. Advocacy can be done at the local, state, national and international levels. The particular audience depends on the level. At the national level, GBV advocacy includes efforts to influence public policies, practices and laws through various forms of persuasive communications with those in authority. Although advocacy is one of the most important ways to influence policy makers to create laws and policies that protect and support non-violent families and communities, advocacy alone is not enough; however, it complements other strategies, such as case management and community mobilization activities.

Another way social change towards GBV can be achieved is through Community Mobilization. Community Mobilization for social change has to do with working with the whole community: women and men, elders, youths, children, authorities, service providers, religious organizations, traditional institutions and opinion leaders, etc; to begin a process of change. It has to do with using multiple strategies overtime to build support for GBV prevention; inspiring and creating activism among different community members and facilitating a public dialogue about gender, power and GBV.

Community Mobilization and Advocacy are complementary. Advocacy targets policy makers while community mobilization targets the broader community. When you mobilize the community against GBV, your advocacy becomes stronger. This way, you gain a deeper understanding of people’s attitudes and beliefs, and you generate evidence which is then communicated to policy makers.

Now, who is responsible for carrying out this advocacy and community mobilization? Advocacy and Community Mobilization is carried out by volunteers from youth-focused non-governmental organizations and community-based activists with the aim of eliminating Gender-Based Violence in their communities. These people undergo certain trainings on how to address members of the community on the dangers of GBV, the solution to it as well as appealing to those in authority; community leaders and stakeholders on the need to end GBV. They also help to encourage survivors of GBV, helping to gradually incorporate them back into the normal community life. These NGOs and activists do this not with force or intimidation but with persuasion, as well as planned out and practical strategies with the participation of members of the community, including survivors of GBV.

There are certain strategies one can engage when conducting community-based advocacy to achieve the desired goals. This is categorized in an 11-step advocacy process. These are;

  • Choose the issue related to GBV
  • Research and analyze the issue
  • Identify key actors and institutions
  • Analyze the policy environment
  • Develop advocacy objectives
  • Identify your target audience
  • Identify your allies
  • Choose your strategies/methods
  • Develop key messages
  • Create and implement your action plan
  • Monitor

(Adapted from CARE’s Advocacy Tools and Guidelines: Promoting Policy Change, REPSSI’s Psychological Support Advocacy Toolkit and YAHOrg’s Gender-Based Violence: An Advocacy Guide for NGOs and activists in Nigeria.)

Also, there are tools designed to help NGOs and activists examine the environment that they are working in, and think about strategies for addressing gender, power imbalances and GBV in communities, as well as how to discuss these issues. These tools include;

  • Learning tool 1: Force field analysis
  • Learning tool 2: Instructing, informing, questioning
  • Learning tool 3: Imagining change

Tools for discussing GBV include;

  • Problem tree
  • Power and skills
  • Exploring gender and culture
  • Ideal man and woman
  • Values clarification
  • Pre-assigned status
  • Daily activities

Facilitating a dialogue with adults is different from teaching school children in a classroom. Encouraging people to share their experiences with others to inspire learning and creative thinking in a community dialogue can be an effective way to engage people in a discussion about issues that affect their community. A community dialogue can generate new ideas and inspire people to think about things from a different perspective. To facilitate community dialogue, the facilitator needs to present an issue to a group of people and allow them to discuss freely, bearing in mind the group dynamics and encourage participation by everyone, particularly by those who do not normally speak up in public meetings.

Using the aforementioned strategies and tools, the facilitators can take the participants through step by step processes on how to combat Gender-Based Violence in the society, at home, workplace, schools, etc. when this is done, the law can now take effect, being that ignorance will no longer be an excuse to commit crimes associated with Gender-Based Violence including all forms of stigmatization and discrimination, and survivors of GBV can also regain a sense of living.

Remember, it doesn’t just affect the individual but it also affects the family and the society as a whole. So speak up against all forms of Gender-Based Violence and we will be one step closer to making the world a better place!

Margaret John writes from Calabar and is the House of Assembly Correspondent of CrossRiverWatch.

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