Women in Nigeria experience a range of violence, including sexual harassment, physical violence, harmful traditional practices, emotional and psychological violence, socio-economic violence, and violence against non-combatant women during conflicts. In this report, ODIMEGWU ONWUMERE explores how despite these challenges, there are numerous organizations and individuals dedicated to meeting the needs of women through the creation of empowerment programs that focus on political, social, and economic empowerment for the betterment of the nation
She declined to provide her name due to the stigma associated with it. Therefore, Amina, a middle-aged woman, was one of the numerous women and girls who experienced rape and other forms of sexual harassment in the northeast region at the hands of the Boko Haram fighters.
“Survivors and witnesses like me have reported incidents of sexual violence in numerous villages within the communities in the zone and women rarely have hope of surviving,” Amina stated.
She mentioned that these attacks, commonly happening during nighttime raids, were specifically targeted at women and girls who were either at their residences or attempting to flee.
The primary objective of this terrorist group is to destabilize the Nigerian central government, said experts.
“As Boko Haram continues their relentless cycle of killings, abductions, and looting, they also subject women and girls to rape and other forms of sexual violence during their attacks,” Osai Ojigho, a senior member of Amnesty International Nigeria, expressed dissatisfaction with the situation.
These acts are classified as war crimes
In addition to murdering those attempting to flee during violent raids, the fighters also plunder livestock, money, and other valuable possessions especially manned by women and girls.
Amina revealed that many women who survived Boko Haram have lost all hope of attaining a better life.
Many women, excluding those who have died due to domestic violence, experience a fate comparable to Amina, and these acts are described by experts as war crimes.
Cheluchi Onyemelukwe-Onuobia, the founder and executive director of CHELD, states that financial issues, such as a lack of funds for communication and dependence on the abuser, hinder women from escaping abusive situations.
According to experts, due to the situation being classified as a war crime, these women frequently undergo emotional and financial exhaustion, resulting in unemployment and a decrease in income. A research conducted by experts appointed by the Nigerian Ministry of Women's Affairs and Social Development, in partnership with the United Nations Population Fund (UNPFA) Nigeria and with support from the Norwegian Government, unveiled that 28% of Nigerian women between the ages of 25 and 29 have encountered various types of physical violence starting from the age of 15.
“The types of violence against women in Nigeria include sexual harassment, physical violence, harmful traditional practices, emotional and psychological violence, socio-economic violence, and violence against non-combatant women during conflicts,” they said.
Calling for rescue
Dr. Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi, the founder of the Women Advocates Research and Documentation Center (WARDC), expressed the view that the Nigerian government should establish more institutions to address the underlying causes of gender-based violence and the resulting lack of accountability.
According to date, Nigeria adopted a Framework and Plan of Action for the National Gender Policy in 2006 as a means to reduce instances of violence against women. Since then, both the federal and state governments have implemented various legislative and policy measures, including the Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act of 2015, which criminalizes female genital mutilation, harmful widowhood practices, harmful traditional practices, and all forms of violence against individuals in both public and private life.
However, experts believe that achieving these objectives is now highly unlikely. Dr. Akiyode-Afolabi also emphasized the importance of implementing policies and enacting laws to strengthen the national response and provide support for victims and survivors of violence.
Reassuring Lost Hope In Women
Amina, along with other women who have been displaced and are facing financial difficulties, remain optimistic as different organizations and individuals are addressing their needs by establishing women's empowerment programs that focus on political, social, and economic strength in national development.
Research has indicated that this is crucial because Women for Women International, an international NGO, reported in its Nigerian Women's Social and Economic Inclusion reports that only 6% of Nigeria's lawmakers are women, less than half of women participate in the workforce, and 30% of girls aged 9-12 have never attended school.
They argue that if more women are elected into positions of leadership, the concerns of women, who constitute nearly 50% of Nigeria's population, will be better represented in lawmakers' decisions.
In June, the World Bank approved $500 million for the Nigeria for Women Program Scale Up (NFWP-SU). The approved financing is expected to provide additional support to the Nigerian government's efforts in enhancing the living conditions of women in Nigeria.
According to the World Bank's report, "the NFWP-SU aims to contribute towards reducing gender inequality by facilitating improved economic opportunities for women. Additionally, it seeks to enhance outcomes in education, health, and nutrition for families, while also strengthening women's and communities' ability to adapt and withstand the impacts of climate change."
The Women Inspirational Development Center was determined to provide agency-based empowerment to 250 young women from Nigeria who, after finishing secondary school, resort to working on the streets due to a lack of job opportunities or the chance to pursue higher education.
"This project minimizes the risks these young women face on the streets and unlocks their full potential to create a new life through i) academic guidance for college entry or ii) market skills, education to create their own small business," Crowd Project manager of the fundraising platform Global Giving.
On its part, the Nestlé Empowering Rural Women in Nigeria Project has assisted 332 women like Amina, who had lost hope, in expanding their businesses by 300% and maintaining this growth. These women were said are part of Nestlé Nigeria's value chain and operate small businesses in rural areas throughout Nigeria.
Khaled Ramadan, the Commercial Manager of Nestlé Nigeria, highlighted the importance of creating shared value within communities and ensuring the sustainability of their business. According to Ramadan, the Rural Women Empowerment Program is an ongoing initiative that aims to consistently provide value for these women.
“The success stories and testimonials from previous beneficiaries, particularly those who experienced a 100% to 200% increase in business growth within three months of joining the program, motivate us to take further action,” said Ramadan.
- Onwumere writes from Rivers State. He can be reached via: [email protected]