Tackling gender-based violence in Nigerian institutions
In the midst of misogynist commentary and tales of sexual assault on women being swept under the rug in the name of “locker room” banter, let’s get one thing clear: Sexual violence in institutions is real and a global health hazard.
U.S. First Lady, Mrs. Michelle Obama said it best in her response to the recently released Trump recordings, where he was bragging about sexual assault. She illustrated it best by painting a picture of the uneasy feeling of walking down the street and having a man yell out some random, obscene comment at you. Imagine the humiliation when your feeling is violated, your intelligence and very being getting undermined. Add to that, your inability to walk freely in public or open spaces without being grabbed, molested and disrespected. Trump’s use of sexual predatory language by openly bragging about sexually assaulting women and terming it a “Locker-room” banter cannot be ignored. If this is considered locker-room banter, then it is deplorable, horrifying and openly depicts how the rape culture persists and goes unpunished today.
I’m not quite sure what is more deplorable and unimaginable: the fact that sexual assault happens to 1 in 3 women worldwide or that someone cannot grasp that these are violations to fundamental and basic human rights. Please note that, violation includes verbal sexual harassment including unwelcome comments of a sexual nature, whistling, leering or making obscene gestures. Yes, that’s right, they are all violation.
Laws alone do not cure social cancers, they have to be addressed on the level of social consciousness at the local and community levels. After all, 125 countries have laws on sexual harassment but without dedicated enforcement of these laws, they are ineffective. Behaviours stem from accepted ideology, a high-powered patriarchal system. In Nigeria, some have accepted the ideology which elevates the male sense of sexual entitlement. Look at it this way, generations to come will continue with practices passed onto them as valid, unless they find them to be invalid and work to change them. Afterall, historically, African women were key community leaders and figures, major players in economic stability and considered equal partners with their male counterparts, but then came gender oppression with the coming of colonial rule (another topic, another day).
Due to this, some institutions adopted this male-only, gender hierarchical top down view on managing the power structures among the sexes in leadership which in itself lacked vision for real growth and left too much room for gender discrimination, gender-based violence and sexual assault in institutional settings. For this piece, ‘Institution’ is to be considered any formal gathering of people outside of the home with common purpose such as religious, educational, social or other.
Though women experience sexual assault at much higher rates than men and boys, they are also victims of sexual assault in institutions with 1 in 6 reported sexual assaults being a boy and 1 in 25 reported sexual assaults being a man.
Annually, at least 2 million Nigerian girls experience sexual abuse with an estimated 80 percent of Nigerian women having experienced some form of sexual harassment. Nigeria falls within the list of the top ten countries with the highest rape crime in the world. When survivors of sexual assault do not seek professional help, perpetrators go unpunished. Some survivors are silent due to threat (35.5%), deceit (24.1%), physical violence (28.7%), money (9.8%) or alcohol (2.1%).
However, sexual assault cases are increasingly reported in Nigeria. In Lagos, like other major metropolitan cities around the world, there is a tendency of its women population prone to higher risks of sexual violence due to high population. And still, many Nigerian researchers have yet to create effective monitoring and evaluation frameworks and reporting systems for evaluating the care given to survivors.
In Section 262 of the Criminal Law of Lagos State, it addresses sexual harassment, stating that any person who sexually harasses another is guilty of a felony and is liable to imprisonment for three years. It also goes further to describe what the offence entails, in case some people get confused. The law states that “sexual harassment is unwelcome sexual advances, request for sexual favours, and other visual, verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature”. This also includes (in terms of institutional abuse), “[sexual advances] that implicitly or explicitly affects a person’s employment or educational opportunity or unreasonably interferes with the person’s work or educational performance.”
That is what the law says in Lagos. Nationally, Nigeria has legislations against sexual harassment and this can be found in Section 7 of the Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act which states that, “a person who compels another, by force or threat to engage in any conduct or act, sexual or otherwise, to the detriment of the victim’s physical or psychological well-being commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a term of imprisonment not exceeding 2 years or to a fine not exceeding N500,000.00 or both”.
The sad reality is that many of the people who have experienced sexual assault do not even know these laws exist to protect them and when they do know, they are uninformed as to how to seek the appropriate means of reporting and accessing justice.
Apart from sexual violence being a major public health problem and a violation of women’s rights, sexual assault and violence undermines efforts at preventing deaths owing to the number of HIV cases reportedly stemming from sexual violence cases.
Those who experience sexual assault, all over the world hold onto hurt and experiences that they should not be carrying because they should not have experienced the violation in the first place.
To address this social ill, it is recommended that we all first accept that responsibility rests with the entire community. It is important to note that prevention starts with addressing the cultural values and norms that tolerate sexual assault; these long-term efforts require sustained leadership. And lastly, there is need for investment in research, enforcement practises and policy information for all stakeholders.
Help Tips, And Hotlines to prevent or report sexual assault:
Call your local police and state ministries on health and women affairs for discrete appointments in discussing actions to take should you or someone you know experience sexual assault. Here are some government ministries and NGO’s that you can contact for assistance:
The Sexual Assault Referral Centre
Department of Family Medicine
Lagos State University Teaching Hospital
Ikeja-Lagos Tel: 08056268573
Office of the Public Defender
Lagos State Ministry of Justice
2/8 Iyun Street (Barracks Bus-stop)
By National Stadium
Lagos State Ministry of Women Affairs
Lagos State Secretariat, Alausa-Ikeja
Women Helplines: 08085754226, 08085594141, 08102678443
Child Abuse Help Lines: 08085753932, 08102678442
Women Empowerment and Legal Aid
25, Adekunle Fajuyi Way,
GRA Ikeja, Lagos.
08021063232, 08120799122, 08058143602