Constitution Review: Tackling Sexual Abuse Through Gender Equality

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Constitution Review: Tackling Sexual Abuse Through Gender Equality

editorSeptember 3, 2021 6:23 Pm

By Ojo Maduekwe

Nigerians are fond of referencing the United States when discussing governance. Probably because our democratic system was borrowed from the U.S., and our constitution, whose ongoing review is the focus of this opinion, is a poor imitation of that of the U.S.

So, in that same tradition of upholding the U.S. experience as a global standard, let me then begin this write up with an American example.

Dave Chappelle in one of his Netflix specials, ‘Sticks & Stones’, said nobody has the right to instruct another human being on what to do with their body, other than the person whose body is under scrutiny.

The stand-up comedian was giving his two cents on the abortion debate in the U.S. He said on this issue, men should keep their opinion to themselves.

According to him, it doesn’t matter what one’s religious beliefs are on the subject, that the right to choose whether to have an abortion or not, was a woman’s “unequivocal right.”

The American said that he doesn’t only believe that when it comes to abortion, women have the complete right to choose what they want to do with their body, but they should not have to consult anyone, “except for a physician about how they exercise that right.”

The point in Mr Chappelle’s joke is that when seeking solutions to abortion or other issues considered a violation of a woman’s rights, such as domestic and sexual violence, child marriage, etcetera, men should allow women to lead the way.

Unless they are creating awareness and drawing the attention of the world to the many struggles women and girls are forced to deal with every day, men need to mind their business and not worsen an already worrisome situation.

In Nigeria, the ongoing constitution review exercise gives men in and out of governance the perfect opportunity to address some of the restrictive practices that weigh down our mothers, daughters, wives and sisters from attaining the peak of their existence.

The realities that women and girls have to deal with, simply because they are of a different gender to men and boys, are so disturbing.

Below is a summary of some 16 shocking statistics compiled by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), that reveal the horror women and girls are going through in dealing with gender-based violence across the world.

“One in three women worldwide have experienced physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetime; it is estimated that up to 10 million children are victims of child sexual exploitation; and as many as 150 million girls worldwide are raped or subject to sexual violence each year, usually by someone in their family circle.”

Other shocking statistics say “Women between the ages of 15 and 44 are at a higher risk of rape and domestic violence than cancer, car accidents, malaria or being injured in war; 30% of females globally have reported that their first sexual experience was forced, and domestic violence is a global problem that affects 35% of women worldwide.”

Now let’s bring these statistics home with real-life situations. In June 2020, after a buildup of concerns about gender-based violence, Nigeria’s 36 governors met and declared a state of emergency on rape against women and girls. They proposed tougher federal laws to punish offenders and to set up sex offender registers in all of their states.

The governors’ desire to curb the perpetration of violence against millions of Nigerian women and girls, began when 16-year-old Tina Ezekwe was killed by the police at a bus stop in Lagos during the enforcement of a COVID-19 night-time curfew.

The protest increased days later when a 22-year-old undergraduate, Vera Uwaila Omozuma, studying for her university examinations, was raped and killed in her church in Edo state on May 27. Then on June 3, 2020, another undergraduate, 18-year-old Barakat Bello was also raped and killed in her family’s home in Ibadan, Oyo state.

A year later, after the governors’ seeming concerns for the plights of Nigerian women and girls, Iniobong Umoren, a Philosophy graduate of the University of Uyo, seeking employment, had left her home for a supposed job interview in Uyo but was later discovered dead. Ms Umoren was raped and buried in a shallow grave by the man who promised her a job.

There are several cases of sexual and other forms of violent abuses that Nigerian women and girls go through every day. However, the purpose of this write up goes beyond compiling a list of abuse cases, and more to lend a voice to those affected.

Over five years since President Muhammadu Buhari signed into law the Violence Against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) Act, 16 out of the 36 states are yet to domesticate it, according to a report by research and strategic communications consulting firm, SBM Intel.

If domesticated, SBM reckons that the VAPP Act would guarantee “protection of the rights of victims of all forms of sexual and gender-based violence in the country.”

According to the research firm, it would also ensure justice and protection for the victims, “In a way that guarantees freedom, compensation and respect to human rights.”

The SBM report states that under the VAPP Act, abuse cases such as rape, spousal battery, harmful widowhood practices, female circumcision, child abandonment, harmful traditional practices, incest, indecent exposure and violence by state actors (especially government security forces) among others are “punishable offences.”

While we wait on those we’ve elected to secure the lives of our daughters and mothers from violent abusers, it behoves every male person to protect the females in their lives.

One way that is possible is by making sure that our daughters are educated and their social status raised through literacy, training and awareness.

A popular proverb says “If you educate a man you educate an individual, but if you educate a woman you educate a nation.”

Education, which stands for knowledge, is the first step a father can take to empower his daughter. This is the best way to end gender inequality; by making sure the girl child is empowered to make helpful decisions for herself.

The doors of opportunity that education opens up for our daughters are so huge. This is important because, with education, we can bridge the gap in gender inequality.

Also, our daughters and mothers are open to abuse when they are not adequately represented. SBM stated in the report, and rightly so, that “there is a well-established link between gender inequality in societies and incidences of gender-based violence.”

Now here’s why educating your daughters is important in bridging the gender gap.

Fun facts. Do you know that the masculine gender was mentioned 235 times in the 1999 constitution and females only two times?

This may not mean much until you consider how this oversight by those who framed the 1999 constitution has affected female participation in politics and governance. And how this lack of participation has over the years made it nearly impossible to amend the constitution to deal with violent abusers taking advantage of our daughters and mothers.

Gender composition in two of the arms of government – legislative and executive – remain unbalanced. In the 9th Nigeria National Assembly, membership based on gender is a disproportionate 7.8 per cent for females and 92.2 per cent for males.

According to the SBM report, what this means is that “women are not at the decision-making table and this makes it difficult to push legislation that impacts on women and girls.”

Because women are not duly represented by their gender during lawmaking, addressing human rights abuse issues has become almost impossible, since a good percentage of the male lawmakers are said to lack the political will, and are unwilling to change the status quo.

However, the solution is simple. Nigeria has done it before, only then it was to address the inequality in the representation of government.

To prevent the dominance of persons of the same state or ethnic groups, we came up with the federal character principle.

What was done for ethnic groups using federal character can also be done for gender equality as the lawmakers amend the constitution.

Thankfully, some women groups are already thinking in that direction.

Some are proposing for gender balance in the crafting and language of the constitution to accommodate words like “she/her” to be added to words like “he/him/his”, others want special seats in the Senate, House of Representatives and state Houses of Assembly be given to women.

They want each state and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, to reserve one senatorial seat for women as well as the House of Representatives and House of Assembly.

In total, they are asking for 37 senatorial seats, 74 House of Representatives seats and 108 state House of Assembly seats.

A good start, while this may not immediately address violent abuses against women and girls, however, in the long term, these proposals would give women the power to exercise their unequivocal rights over their body.




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