Yiaga Africa has called on the National Assembly to pass the Gender and Equal Opportunities Bill currently before it and on President Muhammadu Buhari to speedily assent to the bill upon passage by the National Assembly. This was stated during a 2-day workshop organized by the organization on ‘Stakeholders and Experts Workshop on Women and Girls Rights Legislation’, in Abuja, Wednesday and Thursday.
The Director of Programmes, Yiaga Africa, Cynthia Mbamalu who spoke on the need for the Bill to be passed into law said, “Sexual and gender-based violence has remained a problem in our society. The system’s response to gender and sexual-based violence is inefficient, and it is important that states adopt laws that can protect the lives of victims of violence, and that enables survivors to access justice.”
She also condemned the monetary expense and difficulty associated with gender-based violence, saying, ‘If people have to spend money to access justice, then we are only wasting the efforts of those working within the space.’
The Resident Representative of the United Nations Development Programme, Mohamed Yahya, who spoke on behalf of the United Nations and the European Union said, “Gender inequality is a problem facing the globe and is a barrier to social development. The United Nations and the European Union are committed to empowering women and girls through the Spotlight Initiative, by eliminating all forms of violence against women and girls.”
In her goodwill message, the Minister of Women Affairs, Dame Pauline K.Tallen lauded Yiaga Africa for contributing their quota towards the protection of the rights of women and girls and eradication of GBV/ VAWG. The minister who was represented by the Assistant Director, Ministry of Women Affairs, Ilyasu Omar Zubair said the workshop is timely at a time the country is faced with crises ranging from insecurity, banditry, and Sexual and Gender-Based Violence including rape and assault on minors.
In another goodwill message, the Assistant Chief Legal Officer, National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) Mariam Kadiri, said that the NHRC in the promotion and protection of human rights of Nigerians including the SDG on domestic and human rights violence, has set up special panels of investigation made up of experts in women and gender-based violence, to investigate cases of Sexual and Gender-Based Violence, make appropriate recommendations to government, and assist survivors or victims of this violence in assessing remedy and compensations. She cheered the presence of relevant stakeholders in the workshop and expressed goodwill for fruitful deliberations in the two days of the workshop.
Also speaking, Ene Ede, the Coordinator, Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act (VAPP) in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) emphasized the importance of ‘high-level advocacy’ that generates results. She applauded the efforts of all concerned stakeholders in the pursuit of the passage of the VAPP Act, but highlighted that the Act was yet to be adopted in all states of the country.
“Twenty-two years have passed since the advocacy for the VAPP Act began and six years since it was passed, but many state governors have refused to adopt the bill in their states. As of today, there are still 8 red states, which means states where nothing has been done regarding the VAPP Act,” she said.
She lamented that it is not enough to pass the bill, but there should also be sufficient and accessible structures such as Sexual Assault Referral Centres (SARCs) that can help victims and frontline actors to properly access healthcare and justice. According to her, it was good news that Yiaga Africa has become part of the advocacy, because ‘’tenacity and drive, as everything Yiaga Africa does, will be reflected in the process’’.
During the experience-sharing session of the workshop, several stakeholders expressed challenges and lessons learned in their individual endeavors to mitigate Sexual and Gender-Based Violence. Dorothy Njemanze, CEO Dorothy Njemanze Foundation (DNF) lamented the financial constraints it takes to cater to survivors. According to her, ‘‘empowerment of women solves half the problem, because many women refuse to leave their abusers because they are unable to cater for themselves. How do you tell a mother of 5 to leave her husband, when she is more concerned about how she can take care of her children without a father in the picture?”
She called for conducive and efficient SARCs in the state where survivors can attain first aid, good healthcare, and shelter for as long as possible. She went on to plead with Law Enforcement Agencies to recognize social workers as comrades, cooperate with them and make their jobs easier.
The workshop had in attendance representatives from the Nigeria Police Force, National Agency for Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP), National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), the United Nations Women, European Union, Rule of Law and Anti-Corruption (ROLAC), The National Assembly, the Nigerian Defense College, amongst others.