Dame julie Okah Donli
A lot has been written, said and done on the issue of gender based abuse and violence but has the war been won? Far from it. Have our boys and girls ceased to be used as objects of sexual satisfaction irrespective of the pain such acts inflict on them? No! Has the practice of child labour stopped? No! Have parents, guardians, religious organization taken up the mantle to wage war against abuse of any form by encouraging victims to speak up ensuring that justice is served? Another No. Have our traditional rulers who are the chief custodians of culture and traditions discarded certain elements of our culture and tradition that encourages violence against women? Capital No. How about victims who have been able to speak up, have all of them been served justice? What plans have been set in motion to ensure that they are protected from perpetrators of such evil actions? How many governmental and non-governmental organisations offer reorientation, rehabilitation, psychological and legal support, business empowerment, etc to victims before reintegrating them into the society? Very few. What more can be done to tame this monster that is eating deeply into the flesh of the society? The answer is not farfetched.
Firstly, peculiar attention should be paid to the factors responsible for the continuous reoccurrence of gender based abuse and violence with the aim of nipping it in the bud. When this has been successfully done, then there is the need to move to victims’ reorientation because many of them are emotionally and psychologically damaged, thereby posing threats to the society. Violence is a learned behaviour, therefore, in fighting this war, it is important to ensure that children and adolescents who have witnessed abuse against their mothers or sisters or other male relations also undergo some sort of reorientation so that they do not grow up thinking that is the acceptable norm. Leaving such indirect victims out of the fight may amount to fighting a fully blown monster and ignoring an incubating monster with equal potentials of creating great havoc if given the opportunity to thrive.
Another potent way of winning this war is ensuring that victims get justice irrespective of ethnic, religious and social affiliations. True victory can only be attained when people are aware that justice is not far-fetched and that the rule of law must prevail irrespective of the perpetrator’s status in the society.
Adequate funding should also be made available for non-governmental organisations involved in the fight against gender based abuse and violence for ease of operations and to facilitate free legal services for victims and carry out holistic sensitisation visits and grassroot advocacy involving traditional, political and religious leaders on their roles in winning this war.
Education is also a very important factor in winning this war. All hands must be on deck to ensure that qualitative and affordable education is easily accessed, this will in turn also reduce the rate of school drop outs who constitute a large percent of perpetrators of gender based abuse, parental education should also be taken seriously. Parents should be educated on the need to give sex education to their children and also parents should ensure that their children irrespective of gender are given equal opportunity and responsibilities at home. The tradition of ranking the male child higher than the female child and encouraging girls to serve their brothers is counterproductive.
In some homes, parents go as far as encouraging their male children to beat the girls when they notice any act of insubordination. At the end, these boys grow up with the wrong mentality and would not hesitate to turn a woman into a punching bag or sex slave at any given opportunity.
In other to win this war against gender based abuse, jungle justice should also be strongly discouraged because many innocent people have lost their lives as a result of this societal menace that most people are shying away from talking about. No society should take the law into their hands by killing accused persons who have not been tried and found guilty by a court of competent jurisdiction. The act of jungle justice goes beyond illegal means of ridding the society of criminals, many people have capitalised on this to set up innocent people who end up being killed by angry mobs thereby denying such victims their right to life, liberty and right to fear hearing. The truth is that any society that does not frown at killing its citizens under the guise of jungle justice may end up condoning other forms of gender based abuse. Law enforcement agencies should ensure that all those who engage in jungle justice are arrested so as to serve as a deterrent to others.
Hate speeches are also salient triggers of abuse. When people take to their social media pages to write hate speeches against an individual or government, they not only slander their characters but also expose them to different forms of abuse. Research has proven that most people at the receiving end of hate speeches often end up mentally and psychological abused. Take for instance the situation where people write hate speeches about a particular ethnic group and label them criminals, with time the perception of people concerning such ethnic groups change and they become hostile and violent towards them, this often leads to physical abuse and violence.
Harmful cultural practices such as incisions of tribal marks, female genital mutilation, ill treatment of widows etc. should also be tackled head on and brought to a halt. In some societies, widows are thrown out of the house and denied access to their husbands property and children because they refuse to succumb to sexual advances from in laws. In most cases, such relations transfer aggression on the children, turning them into sex slaves, domestic servants and punching bags.
Finally, it is important to ensure that even after getting justice, victims are protected from future attacks from perpetrators and their likes who may be lurking around seeking revenge.
Also, the need for a proper rehabilitation and reorientation of victims before being reintegrated into the society cannot be over emphasised. Medical, psycho-social and legal aid should be made readily available for victims. Victims should be given financial support, business empowerment in the forms of starter packs, business grants, low interest loans, business tools etc. The idea is to ensure they become useful to themselves before reintegrating them back into the society