By: Abdullahi Mubarak
Sexual violence is any attempt or act to obtain a sexual act by violence or without the consent of the second party. It comes in different contexts and forms, which include: child marriage, sexual abuse of children, forced abortion, denial of the right to use contraception or to protect against sexually transmitted diseases, systematic rape during armed conflict, rape within marriage, rape by strangers, sexual harassment, forced prostitution and trafficking amongst others.
Women in developing countries experience sexual violence at a disturbing rate and are less likely to report or seek help – the narrative is not different for Nigeria. Despite the high prevalence of the act in the country in comparison to major crimes, it is underreported.
A contributing factor to this silence on sexual violence on women in the country is culture. Violence against women is often embedded in social customs that allows it to be perpetrated with impunity, such violence and inequality arises from intricate array of closely knitted factors, which include traditions, gender norms and social acceptance of violence as a means of conflict resolution. The Nigerian culture makes it difficult for a woman to say no, especially married women. Men learn to be aggressive and dominant through socialization.
Culture deprives women equal power to negotiate safe sex in intimate union, but upholds and entrenches a mans’ authority in the home. The custom of paying ‘bride price’ whereby the man essentially ‘purchase’ their wives underscore men’s entitlement to dictate the terms of sex. Thus, the prevalence of rape and other forms of sexual violence have often been associated with social norms around the use of violence as a means to achieve objectives. Rape and sexual violence is common in societies where the ideology of male superiority is strong emphasizing dominance, physical strength and male honor.
The fear of being stigmatized is also part of what cripples justice and security against sexual violence. The fear isolation by the society imposes a culture of silence, thereby, preventing the victims from reporting. The assumed dishonor associated with rape or sexual violence may encourage such silence because no one wants to be seen as a victim of sexual assault. For example, Aborisade (2014) in an empirical research he carried out across tertiary institutions in Nigeria found that 60.87% of the respondents were advised by their friends and family not to report the incidence in a bid to hide their ‘shame’.
Educational factors have additionally slowed down the eradication of the male superiority syndrome, which as said initially is deeply entrenched in most cultures across the country. Parents elect to educate male children while ignoring the females, especially in the northern part of Nigeria. The high rate of female illiteracy impedes the elimination of gender based violence, as uneducated women especially in the rural areas are not conscious of their rights, much less understand ways to demand them, research has shown that they have conceded that acts of violence perpetrated by their partners is customary and accepted of by their culture. Women in Nigeria, in consequence of the patriarchal nature of Nigerian’s sociological background, are confronted with many institutionalized barriers, which have seriously impeded the full realization and protection of their rights.
As a nation, Nigeria still relies on outdated laws enacted decades ago in spite of the global shift towards eradicating violence against women which ended up in many states establishing gender based violence defined laws. Remarkably, victims of sexual violence are made to turn to the provisions on assault and battery, which is not only discriminatory but also grossly inadequate. Although the Nigerian government is signatory to most international instrument on women’s right, most of these laws directed at ensuring gender equality are not adopted by the government.
Finally, unsatisfactory synergy between police and prosecutors, weakness of testimony, lack of efficient interrelationship between medical care providers and the legal system, careless trial procedures that may exacerbate a victim’s ordeal. Structural and resource constraint in law enforcement, forensic analysis and the court are some of the obstacles that impeded women from getting access to justice.
In conclusion, there are many factors as highlighted above, driven by social cultural contexts, which impede access to security and justice against sexual violence. Without the government addressing the existing culture and customs, which legitimize and trivialize violence against women in most communities, the cycle of violence will continue. Protecting women and providing them an effective avenue to justice will have to start by doing away with the archaic customs and traditions that infringes on their rights, educating and orienting the women on their fundamental rights is a start.
At the same time, there is also a need to sensitize, especially law enforcement officers who unfortunately are also part of the cultural problem, growing up with the perception of women not having rights, being enlightened on human right implications of gender discrimination will make them more sensitive and responsive to gender based violence. For women to have confidence in the judiciary, the judiciary needs to be proactive in handling cases of rape and sexual violence.