Building capacity to protect women against electoral violence


AS part of efforts aimed at helping media practitioners have better understanding of gender-based violence, United Nations Women in collaboration with Nigeria Women Platform for Peaceful Election (NWPPE) last recently held a one-day capacity building and interactive seminar for 50 participants drawn from 10 states. Held in Abuja, the seminar had participants from the six-geopolitical zones of the country, including the FCT on gender-based violence and gender sensitive reporting.  

  While outlining the basis for the training, chair Nigerian Women Platform for Peaceful Elections and President, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, Nigeria, Joy Onyesoh, explained that the training sought to increase the understanding of media practitioners on gender-based violence in Nigeria. She said her organisation was inaugurated on December 11, 2014 in conjunction with UN Women and Democratic and Good Governance Department of UNDP. 

  Onyesoh noted that the mandate of the platform was to support women’s full participation for the peace and stability of Nigeria before, during and after the elections. 

  She said the body would be observing the forthcoming election from the women situation room, which would rely solely on the raw information gotten from the field on the day of the election. This, she said, would be the first time in the country when election would be observed and monitored through this tool.

  Her words, “The women situation room is actually a very active room where you have diverse women and men from different fields monitoring the elections in different states. This is the first time we would be utilising the tool of women situation room to observe and monitor elections in Nigeria.  Of course, it has been happening in other climes.   

  “What we are used to in Nigeria is the civil society situation room. So, the women situation room is like the civil society situation room but the only difference is that we are monitoring violence against women during the elections and after the elections.  In fact, we are monitoring violence against women in the whole electoral process”.

  Onyesoh explained that a Nigeria women situation room was modeled after the Liberia women situation room, adding that it was only in Liberia that a women situation room had been introduced. After the Liberia example, Onyesoh said African countries like Senegal, Sierra Leone and the most recent Kenya has adopted the tool.  

  She added that the Nigeria women’s platform was like the steering committee of the women situation room with the committee comprising of frontline women organizations like Nigerian Association of Women Journalists (NAWOJ) and other women organizations. She said the choice of members of the committee was based on previous individual works done on women. She said the training also sought to find out the challenges journalists faced when reporting on violence against women and how to overcome same.

  “The interactive session will help us to know what you have been reporting on violence against women and what you consider as newsworthy items on violence against women; the kind of difficulties and challenges you have in getting information and what processes you need to go through before you can do your reportage. It will also help us when we are advocating for policy change”.

  Onyesoh said the platform would monitor elections in 10 states – Anambra, Imo, Enugu, Rivers, Kaduna, Gombe, Benue, Lagos, Plataea and the FCT. She disclosed that the platform would continue to engage with participants even after the elections to generate data that could assist to make some positive changes in subsequent elections in the country.

  She urged participants to highlight the broader implications of violence against women and the impact of gender based violence on society in their reportage.

  According to Onyesoh, “We want to partner with you; we want to collaborate with you during this electoral process. You are the ones on the field and we know you get more information than we would. The women situation room will rely on the information from you. We want to build on your own information and the data generated will help us in our women situation”.

  She said the reason why gender based violence is attributed to ill-treatment of women alone is that 95 percent of the times women were the group of people violated. 

  “We realised that even though we have two genders, the one that receives most of the violence are women. In categorising different types of violence, we have been able to identify three. We have the physical and sexual violence, economic violence and the psychological violence”.

  Participants were shared into different groups to discuss the three broad categories of gender-based violence. Issues bothering on rape and domestic rape were discussed extensively and some male participants raised questions on whether a man can be raped by their wives.  

  It was concluded that no women could successfully rape her husband although it was conceded that while some men were growing up, they had been molested by their nannies, house maids who were older than them and sometimes senior aunties, most of which were never reported or talked about.  

  This act, it was argued, usually had negative effects on some men who may turn out to be aggressive on women and most times prompt them to abuse women around them.

  While differentiating between election observers and monitors in her discussion on election observation and reporting from a gender perspective, resource person and coordinator of the workshop, Mimidoo Achakpa explained that there was a clear difference between the two terms although they were often confused with one another and used interchangeably.  

  Citing Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) as an example, Achakpa said it was the only body anyone could refer to as election monitor whether it chooses to use its regular or ad hoc staff for the electioneering process.

  Her words, “A monitor is a body that is saddled with the responsibility of anything that has to do with elections and it’s backed by law. That is the role INEC is playing and it is only INEC that has the power, the authority and the right to deploy its workers be it ad hoc or permanent staff to the field as monitors. The workers go through all the administrative processes of any given election. In Nigeria only INEC and its duly authorised personnel are empowered to monitor elections, because INEC is backed by law; it has an act establishing it to carry out these administrative functions”.

  She went further, “There is a fundamental difference between a monitor and an observer. An election monitor is an integral part of the election management structure and has a role in the administration of any given election. An election monitor exercises some lawful authority over the conduct of the election as well as over officials involved. Observers on the other hand do not have any role in the administration of the election or any control or oversight function”. 

They only come to see what the situation is pre-election, during and post-election. This group, of course, comprises of the media and non-partisan civil society groups”.

  Issues were also raised on relationship of the media in relation to security operatives.  Some participants complained about their sour experiences during past elections with security operatives who hinder them in their roles. 

  In her response, Onyesoh said the platform had held a meeting with the Inspector-General of Police who she said had given assurance that the media would be adequately protected. However, participants were not favourably disposed to this promise as they insisted that such could not be banked upon given the highly charged political atmosphere in the country at the moment.  

  On the general safety of journalists, Onyesoh said discretion was the rule of the game as participants needed to be alive first to report the story.

  Her words, “When you are on the field, you are in charge of your own personal security even if you are working for an agency. You need to use your discretion to know when to stop. You need to be alive to report the news. Another guide is for you not to work alone; it is important you work with others, be in the company of others.

“We have built an alliance with the IGP, INEC and other stakeholders. Everyone is at alert; they are all watching. The important thing is that you don’t expose yourself to harm because you want to collect information. That is not necessary. Violence is an integral part of the society; there will always be violence but what we are trying to do is to minimise the rate of violence”.

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