The Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act (VAPP Act), passed into law in 2015 seeks to protect vulnerable women and girls against any form of violence.
The Act defines rape as when a person intentionally penetrates the vagina, anus or mouth of another person with any other part of his or her body or anything else without consent, or where such consent is obtained by force or means of threat or intimidation
Document Women had covered the story of Deborah Joseph, who was 18 years old when she was raped.
Deborah’s story is one of the many stories chronicling the dangers and vulnerability young girls/women face, especially in a system that fails to protect its vulnerable.
Though the VAPP Act has expanded its definition of rape and its prohibitions for the offences, FCT Coordinator Mrs Ene Ede shared her personal experience, particularly the difficulties faced while advocating for SGBV survivors.
“In all my life, it is the most frustrating work I have done all my life. It is traumatizing. Gives you mental trouble because you have seen the opportunity to prosecute, and opportunity to change behaviour and it is not happening,” Mrs Ede said.
Mrs Ede noted the lack of implementation of the law across the states, urging states to domesticate the legislation.
“The most unfortunate part of the VAPP act, even though it is the best law that has happened to us as a country in terms of human rights. It is a local law, it is an indigenous law, a law that took 25 years to push for,” Mrs Ede said, “It is said to be the most protective law that gives relief to victims and maximum punishments to offenders.”
At this time, only 18 out of Nigeria’s 36 states have domesticated the law.
Nonprofit organizations such as the Dorothy Njemenze Foundation continue
working to end sexual and gender-based violence through direct support for survivors across the country.
Gender-based violence covers domestic violence and abuse, forced early and child marriage, sexual violence, female genital mutilation, forced prostitution, as well as stalking and harassment, financial control, mental, psychological and emotional abuse
In a chat, Dorothy Njemenze of the Dorothy Njemenze Foundation lamented that there are a lot of young women with children, noting the lack of facilities to support teenage mothers.
Ms Njemenze advocated for the provision of a SGBV support fund to help cater for the basic needs of teenage mothers such as basic healthcare, education and clothing needs.
“Until we have a victim support fund that is realistically to cater for SGBV survivors, we will continue failing. Until there is a round-the-clock real-time response to SGBV, we’ll continue failing, until SGBV stops getting treated like a civil service matter but a fundamental human right matter that deserves round the clock attention, then we keep failing,” Ms Njemenze said.
She notes the importance of voter participation in electoral activities, pushing for the removal of state and national leaders who pushed against the implementation of the VAPP act.
“And the biggest of all, until we all come out to use our Permanent Voters Cards, PVCs and remove everybody, House of Assembly, Senate, House of Reps and all who are responsible for the non-implementation of the VAPP Law, we’ll continue encouraging sexual and gender-based violence to thrive”.
Though the battle against sexual and gender-based violence continues to drag on in the face of opposition, attempts by the government have been made to mitigate the damage being done to girls and women across Nigeria.
The Federal Ministry of Women Affairs, with funding from the EU-UN Spotlight Initiative/UNFPA and technical support from the Centre for Communication and Social Impact (CCSI), developed a National Communication Strategy.
The strategy aims to end all forms of Gender-based Violence and Harmful Practices. These include child marriage, female genital mutilation, and teenage pregnancy against Women and Girls in Nigeria.
UNFPA notes the rise of sexual abuse in the North East, citing activities of the insurgency in the region as a direct cause. From forced and early marriages to the physical, mental or sexual assault on a woman, the UNFPA states on its website that “nearly 3 in 10 Nigerian women have experienced physical violence by age 15 (NDHS 2013).”
The call now is on civil society groups, policymakers, and all others to join in this campaign to fight and put an end to sexual and gender-based violence and other harmful practices. It is the collective responsibility of all stakeholders to remain focused on empowering women and young girls.
Just like Deborah, many young women still hope to continue their education and secure a better future for themselves and their children. They need the support of the government, NGOs and well-meaning individuals.