International Day of the Girl Child 2020: Sexual/Gender-Based Violence
It includes forced or child marriage; wife or girl child disinheritance; denial of women’s custodial and maintenance rights; mental and physical assault, sexual harassment, sexual assault, and rape; female genital mutilation1, and more. Such acts are perpetuated through our patriarchal culture as well as certain customs and laws practiced in Nigeria.
Sexual/Gender Based Violence Statistics in Nigeria:
One in four girls will be sexually assaulted before the age of 18
There have been only 65 recorded rape convictions between 1973 and 2019.2
30% of girls and women aged between 15 and 49 reported to have experienced sexual abuse3
Factors Influencing Sexual/Gender Based Violence in Nigeria
Cultural Structure: In Nigeria we have a patriarchal culture which upholds men as the superior gender, and this creates a system through which SGBV is reinforced and allowed to thrive. This is enforced from the family unit to all of society’s social, religious, cultural, economic, and political institutions. For example, the girl child is typically denied education to enforce her role strictly as a wife and mother, without opportunity for more.
Commodification of Girls and Women: This stems from the belief that a girl’s ultimate purpose is to be a wife to a man and that any behaviour that contradicts this deserves disapproval and/or punishment. The value of a girl is placed solely in her perceived sexual purity and male desirability. Through this culture, wanton acts of sexual violence against girls are condoned. Such acts include, sexual harassment, rape, and other forms of sexual assault and abuse.
Conflict and Insurgency: Due to the growing insurgency of Boko Haram in Northern parts of the country it was recorded that gender-based violence had an astronomical growth. Activities such as abduction of women and girls, recruitment of female suicide bombers, violence and intimidation, forced marriage, forced labour, forced child birth, rape and other forms of sexual violence and compulsory conversion to Islam were tactics employed to terrorise women and girls within this conflict.
Manifestations of SGBV on Girls and Women in Nigeria
The system which allows for SGBV is harmful as it creates a myriad of violent ideas, behaviours, and social norms that threaten the dignity of the girl child.
Child Marriage: The betrothal of female children to adult males is still a regular phenomenon among the Hausa-Fulani ethnic group as well as in some other customs. This form of violence forces children to marry young, thus in Northern Nigeria, 48% of Hausa-Fulani girls are married by age 15, and 78% are married by age 18.4
Economic Disempowerment: Female child disinheritance is regarded as economic violence and is practised through the ‘Oli-Ekpe’ Igbo customary law of Nnewi Anambra State which states that if a man dies leaving no male child, his brother will inherit the property.5 This contributes to the economic disempowerment of girls and women.
Physical and Mental Oppression: The subjugation of the girl child largely influences the ability of others to exert physical violence on her as a form of dominance. Being forced into early marriage, being sexually abused and being disempowered financially, all contribute to the physical, mental and emotional abuse faced by the girl child in society, and in more serious cases, such violence may lead to her death.
Eliminating SGBV in Nigeria
In order to bring an end to sexual and gender-based violence in Nigeria, the entire society must work together. The only way to truly ensure the erasure of gender-based violence is to advocate for true equality of the sexes and implement laws that ensure perpetrators are brought to justice.
Governmental Efforts: The government, as well as the public with the help of other non- governmental and inter-governmental organizations must work to tear down the harmful and insidious cultural norms and practices that contribute to violence against girls, by enlightening and implementation of relevant policies that also ensure access to justice for victims.
Education: The educational system in Nigeria needs to be thoroughly reviewed and
enhanced to create better opportunities for girls to thrive.
Economic Empowerment Schemes: Such schemes need to be pushed for and undertaken by the government as well as public and private organisations and directed at women and girls to give them a better chance at survival and self-determination.
Mental-Health Sector Efforts: Many girls continue to face trauma even into adulthood because of SGBV. Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD) is common among survivors of gender-based violence and this harms almost irreparably. More work should therefore be put into rehabilitating survivors of SGBV.