“Over 6 million women in South West Nigeria victims of female genital mutilation”

FILE PHOTO: Women queuing to vote in Plateau [Photo: NAN]

Over 6 million women are victims of f‎emale genital mutilation across the six states in south west Nigeria, a group, New Initiative for Social Development, has said.

At a training organized for journalists in Ado-Ekiti, Wednesday, the group said that Oyo State has the highest figure with almost 2 million victims.

The training, tagged ‘Reduction of Discrimination and Violence against Women in South West. Nigeria,’ was organized with the support of the British High Commission.

“There is a general apathy on the issue of violence against women on the part of the police institution,” said Abiodun Oyeleye, Executive Director of the body.

“A typical example will be that of a victim approaching a police station and the police officers insist on laying the complaint over the counter without trying to conceal her identity or guaranteeing her privacy or possibly requesting information that is not central to the genuine complaints.”

The one-day training was aimed at creating awareness for the Violence against Persons Prohibition Act which was signed into law in May 2015, after 13 years in the National Assembly.

Margaret Fagboyo of the Department for International Development said‎ the “tortuous journey” of the bill was enough pointer to the complexity of the problems facing discrimination against vulnerable women.

“Studies have shown that our society is endemic with incidences of rights violation and abuses, as well as cases of discrimination against vulnerable persons,” said Mrs. Fagboyo, acting Regional Coordinator, South West, DFID.

“The high prevalence and intensity of the violence most times arose from local customs, traditional beliefs and value system.

“Unfortunately, the legal and judicial system do not offer much protection against the violence and abuse. The ugly trend is further accentuated by our culture of silence.”

Mrs. Fagboyo said until the passage of the VAPP bill last year, only a handful of states in the country had specific laws targeting domestic violence and abuse.

“However, the content of the new law is tailored towards our environment, reflecting the realities of domestic violence and discrimination in Nigeria today. In addition, the law incorporates relevant provisions of international human rights laws and principles.”

Mrs. Fagboyo also said the new law covers practices such as spousal battery, forceful ejection from home, forced financial dependence or economic abuse, harmful widowhood practices, and female circumcision ‎among others.

“Victims and survivors of violence are also entitled to comprehensive medical, psychological, social and legal assistance by accredited service providers and government agencies, with their identities protected during court cases,” she said.

“So, on one hand, the legal provisions aspect has been settled, the question however remains: how do we ensure its awareness and enforcement? It would only remain a law in abeyance if the key stakeholders refuse to own it, and merely keep it in the statute book.”

According to Wale Adebajo of the British High Commission, the challenges of the domestic violence law is that it is not yet known to the people.

“The citizens have no access to the law including the justice sector stakeholders which makes it very difficult to enforce,” said Mr. Adebajo, Communication Manager and Political Adviser, British Deputy High Commission.

“That is why the British Government is supporting New Initiative for Social Development to promote the Violence Against Persons’ Prohibition ‎Law and educate the stakeholders to make the enforcement possible in order to reduce violence against women including harmful traditional practices especially in Nigeria especially in the southwest.”

Ikechukwu Okafor, a university lecturer, described the law as comprehensive in its objectives and approach to violence against persons.

“It seeks to harness contributions from all participants and stakeholders in fighting this crime,” said Mr. Okafor, a Senior Lecturer at Afe Babalola University, Ado-Ekiti.

“Apart from the courts, police and prisons which are usually the primary institutions for criminal matters this Act spreads a wide net of stakeholder participation including governmental, non-governmental, faith-based, voluntary and charitable organizations amongst others.

“The objectives and approaches adopted by this Act are robust and all-inclusive. However, its success will largely depend on strong advocacy which leads to attitudinal change in the society.”

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