Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Moving Forward in the Fight Against Gender Violence

As we wrap-up this year’s 16 Days Campaign against gender violence, it’s important to identify steps to advance this cause.

Last Friday’s march to protest the rape and murder of youth corper Grace Ushang was an excellent step in raising awareness about not only this incident, but all the other thousands of assaults that take place daily and go unreported. Efforts like this also provide a space for women and advocates against gender violence to get together, support each other and propose progressive measures.

At the march and vigil, protestors made the following recommendations:
- To take measures to guarantee the safety and personal security of youth corps members and indeed all women and girls who remain vulnerable due to impunity amongst perpetrators in Nigeria;
- To pass the Bill on Violence Against Women presented to the House of Representatives since April 2002;
- To adopt and pass the Harmonised Bill on Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Bill 2008 presented to the Senate through its Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters in July 2008;
- Appropriate funds to facilitate the establishment and equipping of units in all divisional posts of the Nigeria Police Force to enhance the investigation and prosecution of cases of violence against women, thereby enhancing accountability and access to justice for women who suffer abuses in private and public spaces;
- Commit a full scale investigation to bring the killers of Grace Ushang to justice.

The last is crucial, because after the initial outcry, the incidences fade from the public’s memory and justice is either intolerably slow in coming or permanently deferred. Last year’s attack of Uzoma Okere by a naval rating is a perfect case in point. Thankfully though, the court case is still in process, despite delay tactics from the defendants’ lawyers.

It’s important that each of us thinks about how we can help eliminate violence against women. For a start, supporting bills and other legal instruments that seek to provide additional protection to women is a good start. We can participate in events and gatherings like the vigil and march in honour of Grace Ushang and mobilize others to do the same, as our physical presence – especially in large numbers – shows solidarity and makes a greater impact than we imagine. We can individually challenge thinking and cultural mores that permit violence against women through discussion and action.

It’s not always easy, especially within cultural contexts that view these issues of violence benignly or even actively encourage them. We might not all think ourselves capable of ‘putting ourselves out there’ but perhaps you could find small but important actions to take. The struggle to eliminate gender violence requires all our efforts and should not be left to those considered the ‘heavyweights’ of women’s rights. This is a continuous struggle and should not be consigned merely to these 16 days of each year.