Violence against women remains devastatingly pervasive and starts alarmingly young. Reasons for this unfortunate trend are myriad and heinous.
Gender-Based Violence(GBV) has refused to go away, because of obnoxious and unjustifiable societal norms, that are rooted in religion, culture and patriarchal settings.
Some of these issues were discussed extensively in the recent research study conducted by World Health Organization (WHO) and partners.
The data confirmed earlier findings that ‘1 in 3 women, around 736 million, are subjected to physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner or sexual violence from a non-partner.’
Most victims encounter such sexual abuse over a life time. Unfortunately this huge number has remained largely unchanged over the past decade, because of poor governance, poverty, risks and discriminatory practices.
A statement from Carla Drysdale, the Communications Officer of WHO, said ‘this violence starts early. One in four young women, aged 15 to24 years, who have been in a relationship will have already experienced violence by an intimate partner by the time they reach their mid-twenties.’
One can project worse numbers in Nigeria. Generally women in the country, both young and old face serious threats to their lives, freedom and sustainability, with the current spike in abduction, rape, early and child marriages, as well as other extraneous factors.
Majority of women, particularly in the north, are living on the precipice, with gory reports of GBV in private and public settings.
In 2019, United Nations Children’s Fund(UNICEF) ranked Nigeria as the world’s number two in child marriage.
‘Nigeria has the second largest number of child brides in the world, with 23 million girls and women married out as children in the country, thereby ending their educational strive,’ UNICEF lamented.
WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said ‘violence against women is endemic in every country and culture, causing harm to millions of women and their families, and has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.’
‘But unlike COVID-19, violence against women cannot be stopped with a vaccine. We can only fight it with deep-rooted and sustained efforts – by governments, communities and individuals – to change harmful attitudes, improve access to opportunities and services for women and girls, and foster healthy and mutually respectful relationships.’
He also revealed that ‘intimate partner violence is by far the most prevalent form of violence against women globally, affecting around 641 million.’
‘However, 6 percent of women globally report being sexually assaulted by someone other than their husband or partner. Given the high levels of stigma and under-reporting of sexual abuse, the true figure is likely to be significantly higher.’
Universally emergencies exacerbate violence, increasing vulnerability and risks. The statement reads: ‘This report ‘presents data from the largest ever study of the prevalence of violence against women, conducted by WHO on behalf of a special working group of the United Nations. Based on data from 2000 to 2018, it updates previous estimates released in 2013.’
‘While the numbers reveal already alarmingly high rates of violence against women and girls, they do not reflect the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.’
‘WHO and partners warn that the COVID-19 pandemic has further increased women’s exposure to violence, as a result of measures such as lockdowns and disruptions to vital support services.’
‘It’s deeply disturbing that this pervasive violence by men against women not only persists unchanged, but is at its worst for young women aged 15-24 who may also be young mothers. And that was the situation before the pandemic stay-at home orders.’
Executive Director, UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka’ said ‘we know that the multiple impacts of COVID-19 have triggered a “shadow pandemic” of increased reported violence of all kinds against women and girls,’
‘Every government should be taking strong, proactive steps to address this, and involving women in doing so,’ she charged.
‘Though many countries have seen increased reporting of intimate partner violence to helplines, police, health workers, teachers, and other service providers during lockdowns, the full impact of the pandemic on prevalence will only be established as surveys are resumed, the report noted.’
Apparently, inequities are a leading risk factor for violence against women.
‘Violence disproportionately affects women living in low- and lower-middle-income countries. An estimated 37 percent of women living in the poorest countries have experienced physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence in their life, with some of these countries having a prevalence as high as 1 in 2.’
The regions of Oceania, Southern Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa have the highest prevalence rates of intimate partner violence among women aged 15-49, ranging from 33percent – 51 percent.’
‘The lowest rates are found in Europe at 16–23 percent, while Central Asia posted 18 percent. Eastern Asia recorded20 percent and South-Eastern Asia had 21 percent.’
‘Younger women are at highest risk for recent violence. Among those who have been in a relationship, the highest rates 16 percent of intimate partner violence in the past 12 months occurred among young women aged between 15 and 24.’
Violence against women must be prevented, if concerted efforts are made by governments, community leaders, corporate organizations, men and all stakeholders.
‘Violence in all its forms can have an impact on a woman’s health and well-being throughout the rest of her life – even long after the violence may have ended.’
‘It is associated with increased risk of injuries, depression, anxiety disorders, unplanned pregnancies, sexually-transmitted infections including HIV and many other health problems.’
‘It has negatively affects society, as a whole and comes with tremendous costs, impacting national budgets and overall development.’
Indisputably ‘preventing violence requires addressing systemic economic and social inequalities, ensuring access to education and safe work, and changing discriminatory gender norms and institutions.’
‘Successful interventions also include strategies that ensure essential services are available and accessible to survivors, that support women’s organisations, challenge inequitable social norms, reform discriminatory laws and strengthen legal responses, among others.’
‘To address violence against women, there’s an urgent need to reduce stigma around this issue, train health professionals to interview survivors with compassion, and dismantle the foundations of gender inequality,’ said Dr Claudia Garcia-Moreno of WHO.
‘Interventions with adolescents and young people to foster gender equality and gender-equitable attitudes are also vital.’
‘Countries should honour their commitments to increased and strong political will and leadership to tackle violence against women in all its forms, through several strategies notably establishment of sound gender transformative policies, from policies around childcare to equal pay, and laws that support gender equality.
A strengthened health system response that ensures access to survivor-centred care and referral to other services as needed should also be institutionalized.
‘School and educational interventions to challenge discriminatory attitudes and beliefs, including comprehensive sexuality education, are vital to this campaign.’
‘We need targeted investment in sustainable and effective evidence-based prevention strategies at local, national, regional and global levels.’
Policies should be enunciated to strengthen data collection and investing in high quality surveys on violence against women and improving measurement of the different forms of violence experienced by women, including those who are most marginalized.
All tiers of government and relevant agencies need to embrace these strategies, in order to rescue female citizens from all forms of brutalities and barbarity, which tend to pitch them to higher rates of mortalities, morbidities, disabilities, life-altering injuries and mental disorders.
.Ojukwu is a Fellow of Hubert H Humphrey Fellowship, publisher, editor and advocate for improved socio-economic services for all citizens, as well as the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals(SDGS). Please kindly send feedback to [email protected]