Dec. 10 of every year is globally marked as Human Rights Day. The day was proclaimed in 1948 by the United Nations General Assembly, via the Universal Declaration of Human Right.
The day was set aside by the United Nations to affirm the inalienable rights of every human being, regardless of race, colour, religion, sex, language, among others.
Nigeria since 1995, established the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), to promote, protect and enforce human rights issues in the country.
However, even with the establishment of the NHRC, the country is still faced with a high rate of Gender-Based Violence (GBV) problems.
According to the UN, GBV is any act that results in or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such act, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.
GBV, however, is not just about women’s issues, but affects all sexes, even though women are more vulnerable.
Gender-based violence in Nigeria remains a challenge, that significantly constraints women’s opportunities, as most of them suffer sexual harassment, physical violence and harmful traditional practices, among others.
According to the Federal Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development and the United Nations Population Fund UNFPA, 28 per cent of Nigerian women aged 25-29 experienced some form of physical violence from the age of 15.
And 45 per cent of women who experienced violence, never sought for help or told anyone about the incident due to fear of discrimination or lack of access to help facilities.
Also, women and girls with disabilities are more likely to experience GBV and less able to escape, less likely to speak up, less likely to be believed and less likely to find help services.
To tackle the issues and garner support to end GBV, Mercy Corps Nigeria, with support from the DFID, initiated the Girls Education Challenge (GEC) Fund, which is implementing the Educating Nigerian Girls In New Enterprises (ENGINE) programme to address barriers to girls’ education and gender inequalities.
The programme is focusing on 18,000 marginalised girls in Kano, Kaduna and Lagos states, as well as the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
It also facilitates Child and Vulnerable Adult Protection in the four states, working with various stakeholders, including federal and state governments, and line agencies.
Under the programme, beneficiaries are trained on reporting protocols for GBV, while families, schools, communities are enlightened on identifying, reporting and managing various forms of abuse and human rights violations when they occur and how to avoid reoccurrence.
Mercy Corps Nigeria, along with Society for Women Development and other relevant stakeholders in Kano, Lagos, Kaduna states and the FCT, is participation in the implementation of ENGINE ll.
Oluwawemimo Onikan, Communication Officer of ENGINE, said the first phase of the programme which ran from October 2013 to March 2017, was able to support over 24,0000 marginalised girls between the ages of 16-19 to improve their learning outcomes and economic status in the four states of Kano, Kaduna, Lagos and FCT.
Onikan added that ENGINE ll would run till September 2020 and is providing numerous interventions to ensure that the girl-child is safe.
The interventions include boosting learning; providing opportunities for girls to build functional literacy and numeracy skills, provide them financial support and scholarships.
According to her, the programme also promotes child protection training by building the capacity of community leaders, traditional rulers, teachers, principals and government officials on how to identify and respond to GBV cases.
She noted that people were now more aware and enlightened, thereby helping to break the culture of silence which hitherto emboldened perpetrators of GBV in the society.
“Communities and organisations like the Hizba in Kano, vigilante groups have also keyed into the initiative and took it upon themselves to curb the menace of GBV.”
Onikan noted that Kaduna State had the highest number of cases reported by survivors, while the state now has sexual assault referral centres, where they can report and access medical and legal support.
The Nigeria Demographic Health Survey 2013, and ICF International 2014 indicate that 28 per cent of women in Nigeria aged 15–49, experienced some form of physical or sexual violence; 11 per cent experienced physical violence within 12 months prior to the survey.
Also, according to a survey conducted by the National Population Commission with support from UNICEF, six out of every 10 children experienced some form of violence.
The survey was conducted on 4,203 children aged 13-24 with 1,766 females and 2,437 males, based on physical violence, sexual violence and emotional violence.
“Before the age of 18, one in two children experienced physical violence, one in four girls and one in 10 boys experienced sexual violence, while one in six girls and one in five boys, experienced emotional violence,” the report indicated.
In Kaduna State, 662 cases of abuse against women and children were recorded at the four sexual assault centres in the state, in October 2019 alone.
Out of the 662 cases, 373 were received at Gwamna Awan Specialist Hospital, Nasarawa; 104 at Sir Patrick Yakowa Memorial Hospital, Kafanchan; 114 cases at Yusuf Dantsoho Specialist Hospital, Tudun Wada and 71 received at Gambo Sawaba Hospital, Zaria.
The sexual assault centres provide medical consultation on individual cases and assist with psychosocial management of victims and their families.
Linda John, a GBV survivor in Abuja, said she got married at the age of 18 to a man who promised to send her back to school as she dropped out due to her parent’s poor financial status.
“My parents were not financially buoyant and my dad was asthmatic, that is why I agreed to marry the man, hoping that he would send me to school as he promised, but things started changing two weeks after our marriage.
” He started maltreating me and refused to send me back to school. I got pregnant and he locked me up for days without food, I only took water, and as a result, I had high blood pressure, “ she said
John said that whenever she escaped to her parent’s house, her husband followed her, and assaulted her and her parents.
According to her, the inability of her parents to return the bride price paid on her by the husband, made her endure the hardship in order to save her parents from shame.
The survivor, however, commended ENGINE for coming to her community to sensitise and enlighten them on issues of gender-based violence, saying it gave her confidence to speak out.
She said that the programme helped her and her family return the bride price to her former husband and that she sued him for molestation and assault.
” Thanks to ENGINE ll, I am now back in school and I’m doing well,” she said.
Similarly, a community leader in Bwari Area Council of FCT, Mr Akanle Sunday, said members of the community have been suffering different forms of abuse, but were silent due to lack of awareness.
He noted that with the sensitisation by members of the ENGINE ll programme, his community was more aware and enlightened and survivors were able to speak out and get help.
“Thanks to ENGINE ll, cases related to gender-based violence in my community have dropped by 25 per cent,” he said.
With the active participation of stakeholders, GBV would be greatly reduced in the country.