Gender Based Violence, is a phenomenon deeply rooted in gender inequality, and continues to be one of the most notable human rights violations within all societies. It is first and foremost a violation of human rights, and a global health issue that cuts across boundaries of economic wealth, culture, religion, age, and sexual orientation. The phenomenon of Gender-based violence occurs in all parts of the world, but the risk is higher where violence is normalized and where rigid concepts of gender exist. This global pandemic affects 1 in 3 women in their lifetime. These figures are mirrored in Nigeria, with 30 per cent of girls and women aged between 15 and 49 reported to have experienced sexual abuse. One characteristic of gender-based violence is that it knows no social or economic boundaries and affects women and girls of all socio-economic backgrounds; this issue needs to be addressed in both developing and developed countries.
Gender-based violence and Violence Against Women are terms that are often used interchangeably as it has been widely acknowledged that most gender-based violence is inflicted on women and girls, by men. However, using the ‘gender-based’ aspect is important as it highlights the fact that many forms of violence against women are rooted in power inequalities between women and men. However, men and boys can also be subject to GBV, and women can be perpetrators.
In 2019, about 2% of all identified SGBV survivors were men and boys. It has been assumed that women and girls faced challenges to speak up about the sexual and gender-based violence. In fact, it is even more challenging for male survivors to come out since it is seen as a taboo in various parts of Nigeria community due to socio-cultural constraints. It is a noiseless crime highly under-reported and not documented.
Examples of Gender Based Violence include physical/ sexual violence, murder, forced prostitution, and genital mutilation. Gender-based violence is a human rights violation, a public health challenge, and a barrier to civic, social, political and economic participation. It threatens the economic stability of individuals, households, and nations; reduces productivity; increases psychological and physical trauma; lowers income; creates stigma; and limits access to education.
Studies shows that Out of ten selected causes and risk factors for disability and death among women between the ages of 15 and 44, rape and domestic violence rated higher than cancer, motor vehicle accidents, war and malaria The costs and consequences of violence against women last for generations. Gender-based violence undermines the health, dignity, security and autonomy of its victims, yet it remains shrouded in a culture of silence.
Victims of violence can suffer sexual and reproductive health consequences, including forced and unwanted pregnancies, unsafe abortions, traumatic fistula, sexually transmitted infections including HIV, and even death.
Children who witness domestic violence are at increased risk of anxiety, depression, low-self esteem and poor school performance, among other problems that harm their well-being and personal development.
Children, both girls and boys, who have witnessed or suffered from gender-based violence, are more likely to become victims and abusers later in life. For example, surveys in Costa Rica, CzechRepublic, Philippines, Poland and Switzerland revealed that boys who witnessed their father using violence against their mother were 3 times more likely to use violence against their partners later in life.
Victims of gender based violence do not only suffer immediate injuries such as fractures and hemorrhaging, and long-term physical conditions (e.g. gastrointestinal, central nervous system disorders, chronic pain);or sexual and reproductive health problems; but also mental illnesses, such as depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, attempted suicide; which may lead to substance abuse (including alcohol); poor social functioning skills and social isolation and marginalization; death for both women and their children (from neglect, injury, pregnancy-related-risks, homicide, suicide and/or HIV and AIDS-related); lost workdays, lower productivity and lower income; overall reduced or lost educational, employment, social, or political participation opportunities; and, expenditures (at the level of individual, family and public sector budgets) on medical, protection, judicial and social services.
This issue is not only devastating for survivors of violence and their families, but also entails significant social and economic costs. In some countries, violence against women is estimated to cost countries up to 3.7% of their GDP – more than double.
The trauma of being violently or sexually assaulted can be shattering, leaving one feeling scared, ashamed, and alone or plagued by nightmares, flashbacks, and other unpleasant memories.
The world doesn’t feel like a safe place anymore, trust issues and self-guilt begins to set in. Furthermore, like many rape survivors, one may struggle with PTSD, anxiety, and depression.
Early intervention is critical for GBV victims because the level of distress immediately following the assault is strongly correlated to future pathologies and PTSD.
Thus for a victim or survivor to recover from the Trauma of being assaulted Physicians, therapists, law enforcement agencies, family and friends must work together to find the meaning of recovery from the perspective of the survivors and to understand what conditions will facilitate growth and recovery. It has been suggested that trauma recovery is characterized by a reprogramming, integration, and habituation to the traumatic images, leading to a restoration of a sense of safety.
Survivors of gender-based violence frequently face such unfair reprisals and stigma, and many cases are unreported because they are thought to bring shame to a survivor’s family. Sadly, those who are too afraid or ashamed to seek help do not receive the quality, confidential medical care they need for long-term recovery.
We can only tackle gender-based violence if we listen to girls’ experiences and respond to their needs.
People who experience gender-based violence (such as rape, sexual assault, domestic violence, exploitation, stalking, verbal abuse, etc.) should be referred for appropriate assistance, for their safety, health, and psychological wellbeing.
As a Survivor of Sexual, physical or emotional abuse, there is need to open up about what happened to you (especially if you were raped). It can be extraordinarily difficult to admit that you were raped or sexually assaulted.
There’s a stigma attached. It can make you feel dirty and weak. The fear of how others will react may also pose as a challenge for Survivors of GBV. It seems easier to downplay what happened or keep it a secret. But when you stay silent, you deny yourself help and reinforce your victimhood.
Also, to recover after rape, you need to reconnect to your body and feelings, practice mindful meditations, Yoga, massage, reconnect with your family and loved ones, nurture yourself and take rest very well. Participate in social activities, even if you don’t feel like it. Do “normal” things with other people, things that have nothing to do with the sexual trauma. Reconnect with old friends and make new friends if you live alone. If you’ve retreated from relationships that were once important to you, make the effort to reconnect.
Reach out to someone you trust. But it’s important to be selective about who you tell, especially at first. Your best bet is someone who will be supportive, empathetic, and calm. If you don’t have someone you trust, talk to a therapist or call a rape crisis hotline. Interacting With The Right Sources matters a lot as many survivors who disclose their assault to others experience secondary victimization.
Secondary trauma occurs when survivors seek assistance from medical, legal or healthcare professionals, but these professionals often exhibit and use victim-blaming behaviours. Contact with many services especially those which do not specialize in sexual assault trauma, can increase survivors’ psychological and physical distress.
Avoid watching any program that could trigger bad memories or flashback such as news reports about sexual violence and sexually explicit TV shows and movies. But you may also want to temporarily avoid anything that’s over-stimulating, including social media. Avoid the temptation to self-medicate with alcohol or drugs.
Support from family and friends is also needed in the recovery process. When a spouse, partner, sibling, or other loved one has been assaulted, it can generate painful emotions and take a heavy toll on your relationship. But it’s your patience, understanding, and support that your loved one needs now, not more displays of aggression or violence.
Let your loved one know that you still love them and reassure them that the assault was not their fault. You can help your loved one to regain a sense of control by not pushing or cajoling. Encourage them to reach out for help, but let them make the final decision. It’s common for someone who has been sexually assaulted to shy away from physical touch, but at the same time it’s important they don’t feel those closest to them are emotionally withdrawing or that they’ve somehow been “tarnished” by the attack. As well as expressing affection verbally, seek permission to hold or touch your loved one.
Furthermore, Education plays a major role, not only in preventing assaults but is also necessary in victim’s recovery processes.
The number of rape prevention centres and education programs are on the rise with aims to debunk rape myths, change victim-blaming attitudes and de-stigmatization would go a long way to assist the victims to recover from the trauma faced after the assault.
In addition, one of the most important aspects in assisting the recovery process is empowering the survivor and putting control back into their hands. Women’s economic empowerment is often touted as the magic bullet — one that can respond to and mitigate violence by increasing the bargaining power women have within their households, communities, and beyond.
We must have social justice in our society. And it is important we all commit and make a pledge to work against the evil perpetrated by some of our fellow citizens. This will go a long way in the healing process of survivors of GBV, seeing their perpetrators being punished.
The justice sector must prioritise the prosecution of perpetrators of gender-based violence. Passed in 2015, the Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act, is a monumental instrument revolutionising the legal space as it relates to gender-based violence in Nigeria. However, it has only been domesticated in 10 out of the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
Civil society organizations, legislators, and development partners should scale-up advocacy for the immediate domestication of the Violence Against Persons Act nationwide.
It is one thing to have the laws made by the legislature. It is another kettle of fish to get the presidential assent to them or even get the executive arm to implement the provision of the laws.46
The legislators must look at what laws need to be newly enacted, amended or repealed to deal with the current challenges.
The technocrats in the executive must go beyond waiting to pick holes in the bills passed by the legislature and seeking to give reasons for the laws to be denied presidential assent. They must co-operate with the lawmakers to ensure the bills are signed into law and full implementation commences in earnest.
Decreasing violence against women and girls requires a community-based, multi-pronged approach, and sustained engagement with multiple stakeholders.
In many cultures, gender based violence is accepted as a social norm. This must be challenged as a matter of urgency, and the blame, shame and stigma faced by victims must be eliminated.
Victims must never be held responsible for the violence that happens to them. Violence is the sole responsibility of the perpetrator, who must be held accountable according to national or international legislation. Fear or threat of violence must not restrict girls from living free and full lives, or from realizing their full potential.
Gender-based violence is not a norm. It is a crime. When the society covers up for perpetrators, it encourages the cycle of laying the blame on the victim to continue. Violence is not a private matter – it must be uncovered in order for it to be challenged.
Mitigating the trauma victims of Gender Based Violence face, will need to involve action at all levels: challenging social norms that condone violence or impose gender roles; strengthening legislation to criminalize violence, and prosecuting the perpetrators. Increased effectiveness of legislation, policies, national action plans and operational systems to enhance women equality, political participation and empowerment aimed at ending gender-based violence and supporting development.
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Modesta Igwe is a 100l Student of Ebonyi State University
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