Gender-based violence is on the increase daily. Recently I met a Nigerian woman activist campaigning a “Halt Gender-based Violence”. Afterwards, I became interested in learning more about gender-based violence. I also wanted to share what I learned, especially with the young women that I work with.
Common gender-based crimes in Nigeria are rape, battering, molestation, prostitution, feticide, assault, abuse, kidnapping, female genital mutilation (FGM) and forced marriages. According to UNICEF, Nigeria in the past had the highest absolute number of cases of FGM in the world. Female circumcision is a ritual performed on teenage girls as initiation into womanhood. It is also meant to reduce sexual desire. But FGM is now acknowledged to be a violation of human rights of women and girls. It can cause severe bleeding, problems urinating, cysts, infections and complications during childbirth. On October 1st 2015, President Goodluck Jonathan signed a bill to ban the practice of FGM. We are both happy and relieved.
Another common gender-based violence is the forcing of minors into early marriage. When this happens, girls lose access to quality education. A few months ago, a post went viral on Facebook in which a man congratulates his cousin on his marriage to a very young girl. The message caused a lot of controversial issues. The girl has no say in the issue and had to accept her parents’ decision. Since the girl is within school age she should have access to quality education. This is in line with the United Nations Quality Education sustainable development goal, which will help our nation to eradicate poverty.
Last month a Sharia court allegedly forced a young Christian woman to marry her Muslim boss. The forceful marriage sparked an outrage from the young woman's non-consenting parents. A source revealed that the man in question used a local Muslim man and woman to stand in as the girl’s parents to allow the marriage to take place. Her parents, in shock, received a notification from the Sharia court of their daughter’s marriage. The young woman’s parents enrolled her at a tailoring institute and assumed that's where she was. They have vowed to bring the Sharia court to justice.
A few days ago another young girl forced into marriage refused to kiss the groom at the church ceremony, causing chaos.
Unfortunately, early marriage is not only the gender-based violence Nigeria faces. Many marriages break up because of battering, molestation and rape. Employers often beat and/or molest their house helps. Many women are deceived into prostitution while searching for a better life and wages. Illiterate women and women living in rural areas suffer the most.
I gave a talk about these cases to young women interested in joining religious life. I wanted them to become aware of the dangers and speak out against them.
Nigerian women are crucial to development. They carry out agricultural work, trek long distances for trading and care for the household. Yet research shows that Nigerian women have a low contribution to sustainable development. A.O. Ogundiran, a writer and researcher, examines why this could be. Using the report of World Bank of 1990 that addresses the issue of population, she discovered that societal and parental discrimination against school enrollment for girls is one of the major factors affecting women’s contributions to economy. She went further on to examine the Human Right Watch (2004, 2006), newsletter which examines the restriction of land ownership and how it “equally contributes to low agricultural production, food shortage, under employment and rural development affects women more than men.”
Other factors affecting women’s contributions to sustainable development are
- prohibition of property inheritance
- lack of interest in politics
- excessive dominance by men
- avoidance of business risk
She says eliminating “dependency syndrome” will empower women. But organizations involved in women affairs need to step in. They can organize women into different trades to create job opportunities. They can educate the public and use the media to create awareness. They can support causes working towards an end to gender-based violence.
SILENCE IS NO LONGER GOLDEN. Many Popes have written encyclical addressing issues of justice and violence. To eradicate and reduce gender-based violence, we need to invest in the education of women. In the developing world, this is the single most influential way to solve the problem. As religious, we cannot afford to be silent any longer.
Ogundiran, A.O. (2013). Critical Factors of High Level of Women Poverty in Nigeria. International Journal of Academic Research, 5(2), 197-200