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A Study on Violence Against Women in the Political Space

A Study on Violence Against Women in the Political Space
May 31, 2022 STERAbuja

Earlier in the year, STER launched a study funded by Action Aid through the Strategic Innovative Fund titled Vulnerable and Outside the Margins: From Challenges to Informed Inclusion: “A study on violence against women in the political space”. 

The rationale of the Study

The purpose of this study is to obtain information on the level of violence against women across various geopolitical zones in Nigeria. In particular, the study aims to examine the prevalence of electoral violence on women, to understand firsthand:

  1. Lived experiences of women in the political space who have experienced actual violence. 
  2. Lived experience of women who have experienced political violence by simply being a wife, daughter, mother or sister to a candidate. 
  3. Lived experiences of women who attempted to run for political office but were bullied out of the process. 
  4. Women who have faced violence in the process of being vocal about their support for a candidate, engaging in political activism, or simply exercising their civic rights to vote. 
  5. Lived experiences of women who got into political spaces either through elections or appointment and constantly had to deal with gross insubordination, threats, and outright disregard for the powers their offices bestow on them simply because they are women. 
  6. Lived experiences of women who are involved as officials and ad-hoc staff in the electioneering process with a primary focus on female NYSC Corp Members recruited for election duties.  
  7. Also identify factors that may contribute to its occurrence, its impact, and the strategies to prevent it.

This study addresses a significant gap in knowledge of violent experiences of women in the political space in the context of Nigeria. Findings from this study will inform sexual violence prevention programming, policies, and practices.

Executive Summary

This report presents research conducted between October 2021 and April 2022 and explored violence against women in politics as a global scourge that marginalises women in political and public life. The Nigerian electoral politics and indeed political space is not bereft of violence and as such women face significant gender-based vulnerabilities. Women actively in the political space via elections or appointments, women and girls who have a familial association with a politician, women who are political activists or those who are involved as officials or ad hoc staff of electoral bodies have been directly targeted by thugs and criminals for physical violence, including sexual abuse. All of these actions are direct examples of violence perpetrated against women in politics, an intimidation tactic employed to reinforce entrenched patriarchal values and undermine the integration and representation of women’s experiences and perspectives into governance processes and institutions.

This research was influenced by the spate of violence against women in politics and during elections based on sacrosanct reports in news media. A quantitative study was designed and launched across the six (6) geo-political zones of the country with a state as representative of the zone. Research questions developed for the study were peer-reviewed by a team of representatives and experts from the SGBV space- from partner organisations and CSOs. The study also sought views on what could be done to prevent sexual violence against women in politics.

The study produced several important findings for STER’s work to prevent and respond to sexual violence. First, data gathered suggests a series of alarming reports from Osun, Cross River and Gombe states of indicators such as Political Activists who have had injuries or bodily harm inflicted upon them, respondents who have had their properties destroyed due to their familial affiliation to a politician and political activists who report that they have been raped or sexually harassed despite the expected reticence in opening up on sexual violence.

However, whether at the community level or otherwise, male leaders, civil society groups and women’s rights organisations all play an essential role in promoting and creating shared responsibility and an environment in which sexual violence is not accepted, tolerated and met with the force of domestic or international laws.

The study’s findings align with STER’s mandate and operationalise our actions and activities. They provide opportunities to address gender-based vulnerabilities at all levels of society-from a trauma-informed and survivor-centred model of care for survivors to enhance engagements with political and administrative authorities at every level working with the police, the judiciary and communities. 

 Political Violence – The Nigerian Context

Women in Nigeria have been subjected to varying degrees of violence, cutting across socio-demographic factors including age, social status/class, educational background, ethnicity, religion, and mental and physical ability. Violence against women in politics is a global scourge that marginalises women in political and public life. This report examines the troubling, multidimensional phenomenon of violence against women in politics and elections with a specific focus on Nigeria, where historic presidential elections were held on March 28, 2015, followed by local elections on April 12.  In the lead up to the elections, which were postponed for six weeks due to the tenuous security situation, there was widespread fear of electoral violence. 

The electoral process in Nigeria is not free from violence, and women face significant gender-based vulnerabilities. In the year prior to the elections, Nigeria experienced more political violence than it had during its previous election cycle in 2011, when over 1000 fatalities were reported. These numbers only reflect the violence that is either reported or visible to the election monitors. Unfortunately, violence against women in politics and elections often goes unreported and unmonitored but remains a troubling issue with far-reaching implications for democracy, human rights, gender equality and security. The analysis uses the backdrop of the Nigerian elections to explore the impact of violence against women in politics and elections and the next steps to further address this important subject.  

Violence is a major impediment to economic growth and development. Violence committed against women has the propensity to impede progress in achieving development. The political system in Nigeria has historically been characterised by violence, uncertainty, fear, harassment and marginalisation of women in the electoral process, in the sense that men are the occupants of the majority of the political positions in the country and this constitutes major impediments to women`s aspiration in contesting for elective positions at all levels of government within the country. The participation of women in terms of contesting for electoral positions in the act of governance in Nigeria has been minimal compared to their male counterparts and this could be termed as a way of cutting down women’s involvement in the electioneering process. The relevant information for this paper was gathered through primary data, involving interviews with key study participants to unpack the impacts of violence on women’s political participation in Nigeria.

Violence Against Women in Politics (VAWP) is a form of gender-based violence against women (GBVAW). VAWP is any act, or threat, of physical, sexual or psychological violence that prevents women from exercising and realising their political rights and a range of human rights. VAWP manifests in specific, gendered ways including, but not limited to, the following examples: 

  • Physical violence: This includes assassinations, kidnappings, and beatings – often with the intent to force women to resign or withdraw from political life. 
  • Sexual violence: This includes sexual harassment, unwanted advances and sexual assault, rape, sexualised threats, and altered pornographic or sexualised images intended to publicly question women’s competencies and shame them.
  • Psychological violence: This includes threats, character assassination, stalking, online abuse as well as economic violence such as denial of salary or political financing, property theft or damage.

Some Key Findings 

1. Demography

  • The image below displays the age group of the respondents for this study. Specifically, the figure shows that the majority (44%) of the respondents are between the ages of 25 to 34, while 21% are within the age range of 35-44. Also, whereas 20% of the respondents are between the ages of 18-24, 11% fall within the 45 to 54 age range and about 3% are between 55-64 years of age.

  • In the image below, the highest percentage (46%) of the respondents in this study, are the female citizens with the right to vote, this is followed by the electoral management (NYSC) ad-hoc staff (20%); relatives (wife/mother/daughter/sister) of a politician, 10%; active and direct participant, 6% and political activists as 4% of the respondents. However, some of the respondents identified with more than one of the categories, for instance, 9% identified as electoral ad-hoc staff and female citizens with the right to vote.

 

2. Experiences of different categories of “women in politics”

In this section, the experiences of the different categories of “women in politics”, including active and direct participants in the political space; relative (wife/mother/daughter/sister) of a politician; political activists; Corp (NYSC) members who have served as electoral management ad-hoc staff as well as female citizens with the right to vote are discussed. 

  • Active and Direct Participants in the Political Space

Results from figure 1.1 below show that of the women who identify as active and direct participants in the political space, across the selected states, 59% of them report that they have never had to trade sexual favours for an appointment, while 20% say that they rarely have to, and 16% report that they often must trade sexual favours. Interestingly, a significant percentage, 5%, of the women indicate that they always have to trade sexual favours for an appointment, which raises cause for concern. However, for the individual states, the figure shows that a greater percentage of women in the South (Cross River, Enugu and Osun states) report either always, often or rarely having to trade sexual favours for appointments compared to states in the North (Zamfara, Kogi and Gombe).

 

Figure 1.2 however shows that the majority (97%) of the active and direct participants in the political space across the selected states report that they have never been raped or sexually harassed. However, in Cross Rivers state, about 14% of the respondents indicate some level of rape or sexual harassment. Also, in Zamfara state, an equal percentage (2%) of the respondents who are active or direct participants report having been raped and either often or rarely sexually harassed.

 

  • Wife. Daughter, Mother or Sister of a Politician

Among the respondents who identify as relative (wife/daughter/mother/sister) of a politician, 14% reveal that they have been raped or sexually abused as a result of the politician’s involvement in politics, while 86% say that they have never been. Interestingly, despite the sensitive nature of the topic, about 67% of the respondents in Osun state report that they have been raped as a result of their relatives’ involvement, this represents the highest percentage of respondents among all the selected states. In addition, among the selected Northern states, 23% of the respondents in Zamfara state, report that they have been raped/sexually harassed. 

Among the respondents who are relatives of a politician, about 16% report that they have had injuries/bodily harm inflicted on them to thwart the political participation of their husband, father, son or brother, whereas 84% say they have never had such experience. Consistent with the preceding findings, the result of the analysis from figure 2.2 below further shows that a greater percentage of the respondents from Osun state (83%) report that they have had injuries/bodily harm inflicted on them as a result of their familial relationship with a politician. This represents the state with the highest percentage of women reporting such incidents. This is followed by respondents in Cross River state, where 30% reported a similar experience. In addition, among the states in the Northern part of the country, 23% of the respondents from Gombe state, which represents the highest proportion of respondents, say they have been faced with similar ordeals.

  • Political Activists

The third category of the respondents are women who identify as political activists. Figure 3.1 below presents a graphical presentation of the rape or sexual harassment experience of this group of respondents. In particular, the figure shows that while about 68% of the respondents report that they have never been raped or sexually harassed following their involvement in politics, an alarming 32% report that they always, often or rarely experience rape or sexual harassment. Moreover, figures from the selected states show that all the respondents (100%) in Enugu they state said that they have been raped or sexually harassed (often) due to their involvement in politics, while 55% of those in Osun state report that similar experience, either always (11%) or often (44%). In the North, most of the respondents report that, though they have had such experience, it is quite rare, 100% in Gombe state, 25% in Zamfara state and 21% in Kogi state.

Figure 3.2 below shows that 45% of the respondents who are political activists reveal that they have suffered injuries and bodily harm in a bid to suppress their political vocality. Moreover, among the selected states, Osun state has the highest percentage (78%) of political activists who report that they have been raped or sexually harassed while in the North, 43% of the respondents in Kogi state report that they rarely have such experience of rape or sexual harassment.

 

  • Electoral Management ad-hoc Staff – National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) Members

Among the respondents for this study who identify as electoral ad-hoc staff, particularly the Corp (NYSC) members, about 11% of them report that they have either been raped or sexually harassed based on their involvement in the electoral process. However, among the selected states, 8% and 3% of the respondents in Cross-River and Osun states, respectively say that this is “always” the case for them. In the Northern states, most of the respondents (15% in Zamfara state, 10% in Kogi and 2% in Gombe state) report that they rarely have such experiences.

From figure 4.2, 18% of the respondents who are Corp members report that they had suffered injuries/physical harm inflicted on them as a strategy to jeopardise their effective management of the electoral process. It is noteworthy that many of the respondents with this experience are in Cross-River state with about 33% of the respondents in this state reporting that injuries and bodily harm have been inflicted on them as a result of their involvement in the electoral process. In the Northern states, however, most of the Corp members say that they rarely face such occurrences.

 

  • Female citizens with the right to vote

Figure 5.1 below shows that about 9% of the respondents who identify as female citizens with the right to vote report that they have been raped or sexually harassed due to their involvement in the electoral process. The figure however shows that the incidence of rape and sexual harassment is predominant among respondents in Cross-River state as about 21% of the respondents report the same.  In the North, however, most of the female citizens report that they rarely experience rape or sexual harassment due to their involvement in the electoral process.

About 13% of the female citizens with the right to vote report that they have suffered injuries/bodily harm due to their involvement in their electoral process. However, figure 5.2 shows that most of the respondents who report having suffered injuries and bodily harm are from Cross River, where about 25% report this occurrence and in the North, about 14% of the respondents report a similar experience. Overall, 87% of all the respondents who are female citizens say that injuries have never been inflicted on them due to their involvement in the electoral process.

 

To view the full document, you can download the PDF here —> Violence Against Women in Political Spaces

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