By Ndidiamaka Ede

On Sunday, August 27, 2023, the Christian community in Lagos and Ogun states, in collaboration with a non-governmental organisation, Lux Terra Foundation, gathered at St Peter’s Catholic Church, Ota, Ogun State, to look at some of the issues surrounding Sexual and Gender Based violence (SGBV), which has assumed frightening and worrying dimension in the society.

This is part of the awareness campaign by the two groups aimed at curbing the rising tide of the scourge by highlighting some of the forces driving it.

The groups noted that there are many traumatized victims, who out of fear, have refused to speak up; a development that has rendered many of them useless in the society.

Speaking at the event, a representative of the Foundation, Mrs. Helen Ebhomielen, blamed the rising trend on the attitudes of some women and cultural practices, which she said have continued to worsen the situation despite the fight against the scourge. She lamented that some women who should be at the forefront of the fight against gender based violence are the ones championing it.

She cited the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), who defined gender based violence as any act that results in or is likely to result in physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women or men, including threat to such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life, and called for societal reforms and other changes to tackle the scourge and other forms of discrimination against women and the girl-child.

She lamented that young girls taken from the rural areas to the city to live with relatives were often abused, while the families cover the abuses to protect their families’ names.

“Some of these children are stigmatised and out of fear, they keep quiet about their awful conditions. Many young women, including married ones, are dying in silence. Time has gone when a woman can leave her children with an uncle or brother. This is because most of the uncles and brothers that the children are entrusted in their care, and who should be protecting them, often end up molesting and touching the young girls for satisfaction.

“Family members often keep quiet in the name of protecting the image of the family without considering the damage such actions could cause the young ones, and their negative impacts in the society at large,” she stated.

She also noted that several cases of gender based violence ranging from rape to sexual abuse, harassment and intimidation at work and in educational institutions, trafficking in women and girls as well as forced prostitution and physical violence occur daily in the society.

She urged the young girls and women, who have suffered such abuses to seek help from the Lux Terra and other organisations championing the fight to eliminate violence against women and children whenever they fall victims of such violence.

She further said: “Sometimes, you hear of a husband beating and raping a wife because he feels that he has ‘bought’ the wife by paying her bride price. Such a man uses words like ‘didn’t I pay your bride price? I own you, so you don’t have any right to deny me sex.”

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Also speaking, Mrs. Adeola Onasanya noted that gender based violence was more prevalent in societies where male superiority is considered the norm. She said: “If a woman gets into a quarrel with her husband, and he slaps her, the society holds him responsible. Society expects a woman to be silent even if she has a quarrel with her husband. If a woman slaps her husband during an argument, society views her as disrespectful.

“There is no punishment for the husband’s infidelity. He can send his wife out of their matrimonial home when he wishes. A wife caught cheating must perform cleansing, but there is no punishment for a man that cheats. If the husband is not prosperous, the society blames the wife. If the wife is not prosperous, the society equally blames her. If a marriage fails, the society blames the wife, and if a family does not bring up their children well, the society will also blame the wife.”

On the issue of gender stereotyping, and the expectations that women must play certain roles in the house, she said: “Whether the wife works or not, she must do the house chores and take care of the children. It is not the husband’s duty to do domestic chores. When a man remarries after one year of his wife’s death, the society encourages him to move on, but when a woman remarries within such a period, the society sees her as being in a rush to forget her husband, or even insinuate that she might have been sleeping around before the death of her husband, and possibly being responsible for the death of her husband. If a man dies mysteriously and the wife refuses to drink the bath-water, it would mean that she is guilty.”

On the role of tradition in relegating women in the society, she cited an instance with the Igbo society where it is believed that ‘onye nwe nwanyi nwe ihe ya,’ translated to mean that whoever owns a woman; equally owns her possessions. She also made reference to the Hausa society where there is also a belief that ‘Mata dangin shaidan’ meaning that women are close relatives or associates to the devil.

In his remarks, the Parish Priest of St Peter’s Catholic Church, Rev. Fr. Clement Ashade urged women to understand that no one would speak for them if they are maltreated or molested if they don’t speak out.

He said: “We have kept quiet enough. Let us stop keeping quiet with the aim of protecting the image of the family because if you expose one person, others will learn.”

Coordinator of the project, “Elimination of SGBV, Lux Terra Leadership Foundation Abuja,” Prof. Taiwo Abioye, in her remarks lamented that women were often subjected to gender based violence because certain actions against them were considered as norms in the African societies.

“When a young woman complains to her mother about the beating she receives from her husband, her mother will simply scold her and order her to go back to her husband’s house. Some mothers would even ask; “Do you know how many times your father has beaten me and you are here complaining because of one slap?”

Abioye, a Research Professor of English, added that though perpetrators of gender based violence often did not mean to kill, their actions had resulted in many deaths. “All forms of gender based violence should be discouraged. Women should do away with fear because some people who have refused to say anything when they fall prey are dead already. Women should also stop oppressing other women because it is a fellow woman that will say, bring your head let’s shave it.

“Education is another way of fighting the menace. Parents should educate their children early on their rights. Parents have failed woefully because they are too busy to listen to their children and know when they are stigmatized as a result of rape and abuse,” she stated.

She, however, urged women to rise up and understand that any form of violence against them should not be justified and must not be condoned.