I was a sex slave for 7 years under my mother’s nose –Fatima Isiaku

  • A Spotlight on 16 Days of Activism on gender violence

Adeze Ojukwu

Do you know that the first 16 Days of  Activism was established in 1991 by the Women’s Global Leadership Institute, held by the Center for Women’s Global Leadership(CWGL) at Rutgers University, United States(US)?

It is a privilege to have attended numerous lectures and seminars at this fascinating campus, as a Fellow of Hubert H Humphrey Fellowship for the 2003/2004 academic year. This is certainly nostalgic.

The initiative has since transformed into, an international campaign, to tackle violence against women and girls.

The  solidarity is marked, annually from 25 November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, to 10 December, Human Rights Day.

This year’s theme tagged: ‘Orange the World: Fund, Respond, Prevent, Collect! garnered unprecedented reactions  across nations.

It is a delight to review some of the incisive views and recommendations, offered by activists and advocates, in tandem with the benchmarks on the Elimination of all forms of Discriminations against Women(CEDAW).

The brilliant perspectives shared at the 10-day anniversary are quite exciting and laudable.

Find below the excerpts:

Best-selling Nigerian author, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie,

 ‘It  starts from the womb.’

‘We see gender violence, but violence by whom? Here is the United Nations(UN) statistics…137 women are killed by a member of the family every day. What it doesn’t say is that it is nearly always from a male family member.’

‘We must be forthright, in addressing this ugly pandemic. It is overwhelmingly women who suffer violence from men.’

‘Most of the pregnancies terminated are overwhelmingly female pregnancies and they are aborted specifically because they are female.’

‘A baby boy and a baby girl are treated differently, the minute they are born, infact, even before they are born.’

UN Secretary-General, Dr.  António Guterres

Violence against women, a global emergency

Violence against women and girls is a global human rights challenge. The COVID-19 pandemic has further exposed this issue as a global emergency requiring urgent action at all levels, in all spaces and by all people.

Violence against women and girls is a pervasive global human rights challenge, rooted in unequal gender power relations, structural inequality and discrimination. That is why we launched the global UNiTE to End Violence against Women campaign.

The COVID-19 crisis has further exposed violence against women and girls as a global emergency requiring urgent action.

Rates of violence, in particular domestic violence, have dramatically escalated around the world.

It is clear that the pandemic has exacerbated risk factors and laid bare the shortcomings of previous efforts to prevent and respond to this shocking emergency.

In April this year, I urged the international community to end the shadow pandemic of gender-based violence once and for all, and make prevention and the redress of violence a key part of national responses to COVID-19.

My appeal was answered with strong commitment and support from 146 Member States and Observers.

I reiterated and relaunched that appeal several times. I do it again today.

This year the United Nations flagship Spotlight Initiative, in partnership with the European Union, has expanded to three new sub-regions, investing in prevention and transformative sustainable solutions aligned to the Sustainable Development Goals(SDGs). However, much work remains to be done.

Millions of women are being pushed further into poverty by the COVID-19 crisis, and all forms of violence against them are rising.

In this context, the global community must continue to build on the momentum we have created to prioritize the voices, experiences and needs of women and girls.

We must take into account the needs of women who experience violence, particularly those who face multiple and intersecting forms of violence and discrimination.

This means emerging from this crisis with women’s leadership front and centre in constructing the solutions we need.

Our priorities must first and foremost include urgent and flexible funding for women’s rights organizations, who so often act as first responders during crises.

It is critical that services for survivors are regarded as essential and remain open, with adequate resources and measures in place to support health and social services to care for survivors of violence.

Programming should also prioritize the quality and continuity of police and justice sector responses. But measures should not only focus on intervening once violence has occurred.

They should aim to reduce the risk of violence occurring in the first place. This includes providing financial and material support to women and households; encouraging positive messaging around gender equality, stereotypes and norms; supporting access to mental health services; and engaging key stakeholders, including women and girls, men and boys, and traditional and faith-based leaders.

The more we know about the gender-based violence, the more we can effectively address it. For this reason, measures should also focus on supporting institutions to collect and analyze data, where it is safe and ethical to do so.

We have already made much progress in highlighting violence against women and girls as one of the most pressing issues of our time. But we must go further – much further.

Violence against women and girls is a horrible and widespread affront to their human rights, and a blight on all our societies. Let us all UNiTE to end the violence during COVID-19 and beyond.

Dr Amina Mohammed, UN Deputy Secretary-General 

Ending violence against women and girls in the Sahel  crucial for sustainable development

In Bol, Chad, the Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed meets Halima Yakoy Adam who survived a Boko Haram suicide bombing mission. Photo: Daniel Dickinson, UN News

After flying into the city of Bol in the Republic of Chad, over the lush fields and receding lakes, we landed to a rapturous welcome from traditional rulers and local women. Their faces reflected a hope and dignity slipping away under the harsh reality of poverty and insecurity. The women, smiling at us as we disembarked, showed the same resilience I have seen in women in countless contexts: an ability to survive, even in the face of multiple forms of violence and insecurity at home, in public or from political conflict.

I visited Chad this past summer as part of a three-country mission that included South Sudan and Niger, leading a delegation of senior women from the United Nations and the African Union.

In Niger and Chad, we were joined by Margot Wallström, the deputy prime minister and foreign minister of Sweden, a country that has pioneered the idea of a feminist foreign policy and given prominence to the dynamic between women’s status in society and international peace and security during the country’s two years on the Security Council.

Throughout the mission, I could not shake what we have come to know, that women, and their rights, are the first to suffer in times of crisis. And that this often compounds already high levels of inequality and violence.

I met Halima, a young girl whose life had not been her own. Against her will she was forced to marry. Then her husband, a member of Boko Haram, indoctrinated her with promises of a better afterlife. Halima strapped on a suicide belt, yet never made it to what they were told was a target, as the belts of two other girls went off as they stopped to pray. Halima lost both her legs. Her future seemed grim, yet she had a measure of hope as she spoke and is working as a paralegal in her community to empower other women.

In Niger, at a centre for fistula survivors, we met girls as young as 12 and 13. Mere children forced into marriage and then raped by their husbands, without any agency or voice over their futures, their bodies, their lives.

Over 75% of girls in Chad and Niger marry before they are 18. They drop out of school and many become pregnant soon after, and because of their young age and complications during pregnancy, these countries have some of the highest maternal mortality rates globally. Faced with dire poverty and often conflict, families believe they have no choice. They cannot feed their children, but hope maybe a husband can.

As we commemorate 16 days of activism to end violence and harmful practices against women and girls, it is important that we acknowledge the multiple forms of violence women and girls face, and the consequences they have for individuals, families, communities, and our shared agendas for development—the 2030 Agenda and the African Union’s Agenda 2063.

From early forced marriage to femicide, from trafficking to sexual harassment, from sexual violence to harmful traditional practices: violence in all its forms is a global impediment to sustainable development, peace and prosperity. It prevents women from fully engaging in society, scars successive generations, and costs countries millions in health expenses, job days lost, and long-term impacts.

The United Nations, together with partners, national governments and civil society, is leading efforts to end all forms of violence against women and girls by 2030. And we have existing efforts we can build on.

During our trip, we met traditional leaders, in particular men, who are taking actions in their own communities to stop early marriage. We talked to fisherwomen on Lake Chad who have taken over a traditionally male job in order to provide for their families and who are engaged in sustainable resource management, income generation and empowerment.

And across a number of countries in Africa, we are implementing a new effort with the European Union—the Spotlight Initiative to eliminate violence against women and girls. The approximately $300 million investment in Africa will target all forms of gender-based violence, with a particular focus on child marriages, female genital mutilation and the sexual and reproductive health needs of women and girls.

I finished my travels with a great sense of urgency and hope.

The visit reinforced my conviction that we need to implement our global agenda on sustainable development—the 2030 Agenda—with urgency, and gender equality is at the very heart of this.

I am inspired and hopeful because of women like Halima, like the survivors of marriages they never chose, like the girls who were forced into sex and pregnancy long before their bodies were ready. They survived. They are telling their story, and they are determined to have a better future, not only for themselves, but also for their sisters.

In the words of the late Kofi Annan, ‘Gender equality is more than a goal in itself. It is a precondition for meeting the challenge of reducing poverty, promoting sustainable development and building good governance.”

Fatima Ada Isiaku, a survivor of sexual violence

I was a sex slave for complete seven years under my mother’s nose

‘At the age of 7, the abuse became worse,’ Ms Isiaku revealed during a televised town hall on sexual and gender-based violence and Spotlight Initiative’s efforts to address the issue in Nigeria.

The Spotlight Initiative is a new, global, multi-year initiative focused on eliminating all forms of violence against women and girls (VAWG) jointly established by the European Union (EU) and UN.

‘I was a sex slave for complete seven years under my mother’s nose without her knowing that I was being abused.”

It wasn’t until the age of 14 that Ms. Isiaku’s mother finally listened to her, after performing an at-home ‘virginity test.’

When Ms. Isiaku explained that she was being raped by her stepfather, her mother told her to keep quiet and sent her to live at her uncle’s house. Two years later, her mother died and Ms. Isiaku was forced to return home.

‘My stepfather told me, ‘Your mother is no longer here to protect you’… he continued raping me,’ she said.

Ms. Isiaku says the abuse caused her to drop out of school, run away from home and begin drinking. ‘I was bullied. The stigma, friends abandoned me,’ she said. Even today, she faces discrimination stemming from her sexual assault. ‘My stepfather told me, ‘Your mother is no longer here to protect you.’

Ms. Isaku’s story was a harrowing reminder of the devastating impact of violence against women and girls – what EU Head of Delegation Ketil Karlsen called ‘the world’s longest lasting pandemic.’

‘Thirty-one per cent of Nigerian women aged 15 – 49 have experienced physical violence according to the 2018 National Demographic and Health Survey, though underreporting means true statistics are likely much higher.

The town hall brought together survivors of violence, civil society representatives, government, police, and representatives from the EU and UN to discuss what needs to be done to end violence against women and girls in the country.

It focused on improving survivor access to justice, the challenges of prosecuting perpetrators of violence, and the adoption of legal frameworks that protect women and girls, as well as highlighting gender-based violence services that are available.

Mr. Edward Kallon, UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Nigeria

UN Resident Coordinator to Nigeria Edward Kallon spoke about the need for all of society to join the movement to eliminate violence. ‘It is not a woman’s issue, it is also an issue for men,’ he said.

The event closed with a statement from President Muhammadu Buhari, who committed to making ending violence against women a national priority. He also echoed the need for men to be part of the solution.

In addition to TV reach, more than a million viewers tuned in to watch the discussion via Twitter Live.

The Initiative is so named as it brings focused attention to this issue, moving it into the spotlight and placing it at the centre of efforts to achieve gender equality and women’s empowerment, in line with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

An initial investment in the order of EUR 500 million was made, with the EU as the main contributor. Other donors and partners were invited to join the Initiative to broaden its reach and scope.

The modality for the delivery is a UN multi- stakeholder trust fund, administered by the Multi-Partner Trust Fund Office, with the support of core agencies UNDP, UNFPA and UN Women, and overseen by the Executive Office of the UN Secretary-General.

Spotlight Initiative is dedicating more than US$43 million to ending violence against women and girls in Nigeria, making it the Initiative’s largest country investment.

.Ojukwu is a Fellow of Hubert H Humphrey Fellowship, publisher, editor and serial newspaper columnist. She is a campaigner and advocate for improved socio-economic and health services for all citizens, as well as the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals(SDGS). Please kindly send feedback to [email protected]

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