According to the United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA), violence against women and girls is one of the most prevalent human rights violations in the world. It knows no social, economic or national boundaries. Worldwide, an estimated one in three women will experience physical or sexual abuse in her lifetime.
Sexual and reproductive abuse is generally regarded as sexual and/or gender-based violence which undermines the health, dignity, security and autonomy of its victims, yet it remains shrouded in a culture of silence. This is because society places so much burden on men, women and girls, forcing them to take solace in their pain rather than opening up.
GBV violates the following principles of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights:
Article 1: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights…”
Article 3: “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.”
Article 5: “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
Any sexual activity that puts the health of women and men at risk must be totally condemned.
Sexual Reproductive and Human Rights are Women’s rights to reproductive choices, and whatever happens to their body. Women have a right to decide whom to marry and so forced marriage and child marriage must be condemned in its totality. The society must understand that a women has the right to marry or remain single and should not be stigmatized because she is an adult who is capable of making informed choices and should not be discriminated based on her marital status. Family members and friends should desist from labelling a single lady promiscuous simply because her age grade are married.
Likewise, it is the right of people to choose spouses for themselves. Male or female, people must be encouraged and empowered to move away from relationships that are abusive because most people who became victims of sexual violence in marriage saw the red flags during courtship but they chose to ignore or were forced to ignore such signs by their family members.
Sadly, in our society, newly wedded people are psychologically bullied with the “why are you not pregnant yet” question. Many women who find it difficult to conceive a few months after marriage end up depressed and ashamed and in many societies especially rural areas, such women become objects of mockery and stigmatization. Such women and men are called such names as barren, impotent etc. Some men give in to pressure and become hostile and violent towards their partner, evening going as far as raping their wives to prove the worth of their ‘manhood’ We must realise that a women is free to choose when to be pregnant or not and that it is wrong to pressurize people into getting pregnant. In Nigeria and other parts of Africa, many women are forced to drink different types of herbs and concoction to enhance conception and this ends up causing havoc to their health.
A woman is also free to decide on the number of pregnancies to carry and should not be made to give birth to many children just to satisfy societal expectation. Everyone has the liberty to give birth to as many children as they cater for. Today, we have many out of school children roaming the street, hawking, begging, fending for themselves and exposing themselves to various forms of abuse because their parents have more children than they can cater for. This will be avoided if parents have only as many children as they can cater for.
Access to pre-natal care should be made readily available to pregnant women in both rural and urban areas to reduce the rate of still birth and child birth mortality. I remember a case that trended in social media few weeks ago about a young woman who had gone to the hospital to deliver a baby but unfortunately had complications and the medical personnel recommended a Caesarean Session to save the lives of mother and child. It was alleged that her husband refused to give his consent and with the support of his mother and sisters, he took her to a traditional home where she was expected to have a vaginal birth to prove her “womanhood” Unfortunately, her condition deteriorated and she lost her life and the pregnancy. This is just one sad example among the many that happens without making it to the news. A woman should be supported to opt for optional Caesarean Session, this should not give room to any form of stigma and discrimination.
This also brings us to the need for empowerment of women. Parents must ensure that their daughters are empowered before giving them out in marriage. A woman should have something doing no matter how little as this will enable her make better decisions about her life. For instance, if the woman in the example above was financially independent, she could have paid for her surgery without depending solely on her husband. Perhaps, she may be alive by now nursing her child.
Victims of sexual and reproductive abuse can suffer sexual and reproductive health. Consequences, including forced and unwanted pregnancies, trauma, VVF, sexually transmitted infections including, HIV, and even death.
Harmful traditional practices against Women and Girls which are violent practices considered acceptable by the society which are against justice, equity, good conscience and natural justice Including tying women down to domestic issues, Female Genital Mutilation, child marriage, forced marriage, etc. must be completely abolished.