From Esther Akaa, Lafia
Cases of sexual assaults occur daily because people take advantage of the vulnerability of the victims in times of the hardship they face. It could be in the IDPs Camps mostly occasioned by the lack of food, water and other basic necessities of life.
This is the sorry story of a 16 years old girl commonly known as Grace Samuel.
Grace Samuel , (real name withheld) who was sent to Lafia, the capital of Nasarawa State at the age of nine years. She was to stay with her uncle, Mr Yohanna Musa (real name also withheld), who is a Police Officer serving in the Criminal Investigative Department (CID) of the police command in the state.
The decision to send young Grace Samuel to the uncle became compelling due to her desire for formal education. Her father who could have sponsored her education died and his demise became a huge setback as her mother could not take care of her educational needs.
The mother and miss Samuel agreed on the decision to stay with her uncle at the age of nine.
At the beginning all seemed to be moving on well with the little miss Samuel as she was enrolled in school. Unknown to many, the girl turned out a victim of sexual abuse. Her uncle turned her into a sexual toy, raping her on a daily basis. And for fear of stigmatisation, she maintained a dignified silence until she became pregnant at the age of 15 .
The victim’s so called uncle, who wanted to cover up his crime, took her for an abortion and unfortunately, the abortion developed complications that almost claimed her life.
It was a whistle blower, who, reported the case to the International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA), and the Sexual and Gender Based Violence Response Team (SGBV) in the state, who mobilised and facilitated the police which led to the arrest of the suspect.
In order to save the life of the victim, the team alongside the Police took the victim to the hospital and paid for her treatment. Unfortunately, she lost the six months old baby.
Also, the Nasarawa State Ministry of Justice paid the bill for a DNA test as part of investigations into the case and the victim was discharged and reunited with her family.
Sadly however, while the investigation on the case was ongoing, family of the victim withdrew the case.
This, perhaps, represents the several thousands of unprosecuted cases of sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV) in Nigeria.
One of the main causes of the prevalence of gender and sexually related violence in the most populous black nation in Africa is a “culture of silence.” This is due to a confluence of cultural norms and traditional beliefs that support the idea that those who are the victims of such atrocities should not talk about what happened to them. This idea is further reinforced by the fear of stigmatisation or reprisal from the community, as was the case with Grace Samuel.
The risks of GBV against women and girls are hightened by climate change-related issues like flooding, herdsmen/farmers crisis, drought, early and forced marriage.
Additionally, women and girls may have limited access to GBV response services and experience intimate partner violence, sexual violence, and limited time to respond to such emergencies and displacement.
Every year, the international campaign, which usually begins on November 25 —the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women — and ends on December 10 (Human Rights Day), focuses on a specific themes, and this year’s is, “Unite! Invest to prevent violence against women and girls”.
This calls on citizens to show how much they care about ending violence against women and girls by sharing the actions they are taking to create a world free from violence towards women. This year’s campaign also calls on governments worldwide to share how they are investing in gender-based violence prevention.
Speaking in an interview with The Voice, the FIDA Chairperson in the State, Barr Rabiatu Addra called on victims of GBV to speak out in order for them to get justice.
She said, a lot of women and girls are being abused sexually on a daily basis especially in the midst of climate change challenges such as displacement caused by flooding and farmers/herdsmen crises.
She said, “In such places, some of these children, especially girls are faced with sexual harassment and rape.
“We have had cases of sexual assaults such as rape because people take advantage of the vulnerability of the victims considering the hardship they face in the IDPs which include lack of food, water and other basic necessities of life. Some of the victims are lured into doing immoral things because they want to feed and take care of themselves.
“Although women are vulnerable to sexual assaults but they can help themselves by speaking out when they are abused in order to get help. If victims don’t speak out, they cannot get help. They should not be ashamed because it is not their fault that they are sexually abused by insensitive people.
” The biggest challenge we have with rape cases is that the families are always afraid that the victims are going to face stigmatisation. Victims should be bold enough to speak out and allow us to prosecute those people.
“Another issue that should be addressed is for the enforcement of the laws that are meant to protect women and children against Gender-Based Violence. For instance, the Violence Against Persons Prohibition Law of Nasarawa State, which protects people against rape, assault and other forms of violence.
“If the laws are enforced, if one, two, three, without anybody coming to beg, and those people are thrown into prison for a lifetime, which is the penalty for rape under the VAPP law, then, it will serve as deterrent to others who may want to do same.
“We should do a lot of sensitisation and enlightenment on Gender-Based Violence to encourage women and children to speak out to be able to get help and if these matters are prosecuted and the perpetrators brought to book, it will go a long way in taming the scourge of violence against women and girls in our society.”
She, therefore, called on victims of GBV to report such cases to FIDA, saying that the organisation remains committed to fighting for the rights of women and children who are undergoing any form of domestic violence.
The Executive Director, Gender and Community Empowerment Initiative, Dorcas Iorkusa, while speaking recently at the 2023, 16 days of Activism, “Unite, Invest to Prevent Violence Against Women and Girls” in Nasarawa State, organised by the League of Women Voters (NILOWV) in collaboration with Nigeria Association of Women Journalists ( NAWOJ), said women must unite to fight against Gender-Based Violence in the society.
Iorkusa said the increase in the number of GBV in the country called for deliberate actions to be taken to stop the menace .
She stated that empowering women through agriculture and skills acquisition would enable them to contribute to the upkeep of the family thereby reducing violence perpetrated against them due to economic hardship.
“We have a lot of issues affecting women, especially climate change effects but when they engage in agriculture, they will be able to feed their family and also sell part of the produce from the farms and take care of their needs.
“We are also urging women not to keep quiet when they are abused. They should speak out so that they can find help. That is why we are sensitising them, even find help,” she said.
On her part, Head , Gender , School Health Services and Elderly Care, Nasarawa State Ministry of Health, Mrs Esther Yonah said the state government was committed to eliminating GBV, thus it has implemented policies aimed at protecting women and girls against all forms of violence.
She said the State Ministry of Health in collaboration with the Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development has embarked on sensitisation programmes in schools across the state to educate and counsel the girls on the need for them to speak out when they are abused sexually.
Also speaking, the State Coordinator of NILOWV), Mrs Veronica Ogbole said NILOWV in collaboration with NAWOJ organised the Programme to create awareness on the need to eliminate all forms of violence against women and children and educate them on their rights as enshrined in the Nigerian constitution .
She said women are made to engage in voting during elections but were not given enough opportunity to participate in politics, calling on the government to implement the 35 % affirmative action to enable women participate actively in politics.
“We have been campaigning for how many years now but these GBV committed against women has not decreased, rather it seems to be on the increase and people are now linking it to poverty.
On her part, NAWOJ Chairperson in the State, Hajiya Hadiza Umar said women journalists are always ready to amplify the voices of women and girls by writing impacting stories that help in eliminating GBV in the society.
She however noted that many women and children who are abused do not tell their stories, urging them to speak out to enable journalists write their stories.