From Jude Okwe, Abuja

First Ladies from the 36 states appear resolute to put an end to gender-based violence, which has, sadly, become a norm in most cultures and communities.

Dressed in matching attire, they converged on Abuja at the second annual conference, “Sustaining Action on State of Emergency against Gender-based Violence: An Interactive Forum with Governors and First Ladies.”

The event was graced by the wife of President Muhammadu Buhari, Aisha, Minister of Women Affairs, Pauline Tallen; Ekiti State governor, chairman of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum, Kayode Fayemi, British High commissioner to Nigeria, Catriona Laing; and representatives from the MacArthur Foundation, the Ford Foundation, Dangote Foundation, and the National Academy of Sciences.

Aisha Buhari, who was the special guest, highlighted some of the causes and what emboldens the insidious act that has pervaded the social, political and religious strata of the country. 

According to her, the underlying cultural norms, attitudes and beliefs that encourage physical, sexual, psychological and economic violence include a culture of impunity anchored on the shaming and intimidation of survivors and lack of access to justice.

Mrs. Buhari said: “Lack of access to justice for many victims of sexual and gender-based violence, inadequate facilities to respond to GBV cases, including lack of sexual assault referral centres and safe spaces to care for survivors, limited human resources to provide social support systems, economic disparities that increase vulnerability of women and children.”

Aside from Borno, Cross River, Gombe, Kano, Katsina and Niger, the remaining 30 states as well as the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, have domesticated the Violence Against Person’s Prohibition (VAPP) Act. Consequently, she implored the six states to quickly domesticate the VAPP Act to help stop the hurtful trend.

She proposed the establishment of special courts for speedy and effective handling of rape and GBV cases.

“I would like us to note the following, going forward: the need for every state in Nigeria to domesticate the VAPP Act. Even though it is encouraging to note that at least 30 states have signed the VAPP, the remaining six need to be encouraged to do so as soon as possible.

“The lives of women and children continue to be at risk. Efforts need to be ramped up to provide adequate shelter and care for victims of GBV.

“Every state should have a shelter. Ideally, every local government area or at least senatorial district should have one. It is also very important to have sexual assault referral centres or safe spaces where victims can receive the required immediate and long-term support.

“We need special courts, where applicable, for speedy and effective handling of rape and GBV cases. Justice delayed is justice denied. If victims do not get the justice they deserve, they will never have closure, and we would like for them to be known as survivors and not just victims.

“The girl-child in Nigeria will continue to be a victim of exploitation and missed opportunities, if we do not remove all obstacles they face in getting a decent education and becoming productive members of society. An educated girl will become a wife, who is in a position to add value to her family.

“State governments and the donor community need to ensure that there is adequate funding for GBV interventions.

“Without this, the lofty laws we are trying to put in place will not be implemented. We all have a role to play in ensuring that we address this menace. We have an obligation to use whatever platforms we have to make a difference.

“Policymakers, elected officials, religious leaders, traditional rulers, academics, family members, we all have a role to play. Let us synergise our efforts for maximum effectiveness.”

Meanwhile, Nigeria Governors Wives Forum’s chairperson, Erelu Bisi Fayemi, said the forum has been able to develop a GBV mitigation action plan for use by all states’ First Ladies and provide and disseminate advocacy videos and radio programmes in various languages.

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According to her, “We have been able to achieve collaboration and partnerships with women’s rights and civil society organisations. Provide economic empowerment opportunities for women in grassroots communities to reduce their vulnerability, and advocacy for girl-child education.”

Despite the successes achieved, Mrs. Fayemi identified lack of material and human resources to deepen the mandate.

“We, therefore, commit facilities and resources for survivors of GBV to receive the care and support that they need.

“Support for civil society organisations and women’s rights groups who provide critical support for GBV survivors,” she said.

Governor Fayemi promised to mount pressure on the remaining six states that have not domesticated the VAPP Act to do so.

Aside from hat, he disclosed that the national secretariat for first ladies has been approved by the governors.

According to him, the gesture to tackle sexual harassment and gender-based violence was not to score political points but to safeguard women and children who have become endangered species in the society.

He said: “I have noted the point about the six states that are still making the promulgation of the law through their various houses of assembly.

“I want to assure the Nigerian Governors’ Wives Forum that, clearly, this is work in progress and the six states will do what you have demanded of them. I will convey that to my brother governors in those six states.

“I have also noted the request for the VAPP Act passed in 30 states to be adequately resolved and for result frameworks to be developed, financing and resources framework so that at the end of the day it will become something that is entrenched in our governance procedures in our states.

“This is something that I can tell you that I will take back to my colleagues and ensure that it is incorporated within the framework of the budgeting process in our various states, particularly as it concerns inter-ministerial coordination.

“Some of these issues relate more to ministry of health. It is not just about lumping everything in the ministry of women affairs.

“We will encourage our states to ensure that there is a standard operating procedure for funding within the framework of the ministry of women affairs but also ensure that this is reflected in relevant ministries’ budget. If we are going to assert sexual assault referral centres, it is more than related to what our ministries of health and human services would do.

“So, this framework and our own resolved mechanisms would develop a template at the Nigeria Governors’ Forum secretariat, one that is monitor-able by the secretariat, just as we do in a whole range of other areas.

“But I want to assure the Nigeria Governors’ Wives Forum that governors are resolutely committed to what you are doing not because it makes a good take on our democratic credentials, but because we are committed to it because we know you are talking about half of our population in many cases. It makes economic sense. It makes political sense.

“It makes common sense to line up behind you, to provide all the support that you require to enable you deliver on these promises we make while campaigning.

“We cannot get in the office and renege on those promises that we have made to our people. I have secured the commitment of my brothers to ensure that that institutional setup that you are very keen on is done.

“We will make the funding available for your secretariat and head office when you eventually provide us with details of that request.”