By Nkechi Ugwu
Repeatedly, studies have shown that there is a rising incidence of gender-based violence occurring in different forms in Nigeria. These include sexual harassment, rape, physical violence, socio-economic violence, emotional and psychological violence, harmful traditional practices, online bullying, and trafficking of women, among others. Gender-Based Violence (GBV) remains a challenge that significantly stymies women’s rights and opportunities across the country. What would we not give to halt this dreadful phenomenon that is widely known to be a serious violation of human rights and a life-threatening issue?
In 2020, during one of the activities to mark #16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence in Abuja, Mary Ekpere-Etta, Director-General of the National Centre for Women Development (NCWD), noted that genuine support for women, girls/boys to survive gender-based violence will help in breaking the culture of silence in domestic violence which had led to many deaths and truncated dreams. In view of her assertion, there is no doubt that whistleblowing will be most appropriate in pushing for action to encourage victims to report the many unfair treatments by perpetrators of gender-based violence in the country.
According to Sima Bagous, Executive Director of UN Women, “Violence against women is an existing global crisis that thrives on other crises. Conflict, climate-related natural disasters, food insecurity and human rights violations all contribute to women and girls living with a sense of danger, even in their own homes, neighbourhoods, or communities.”
There is the potential for intense gender-based violence getting more serious in this age of internet technology which has succeeded in creating an atmosphere for online bullying that is capable of destabilising women, girls and boys for taking positive advantage of the internet. Therefore, it is reasonable to suggest that the presence of the internet has made GBV thrive globally.
In recalling the circumstances that had caused GBV to flourish in Nigeria and across the globe, the COVID-19 pandemic is undoubtedly a major culprit. The pandemic has contributed immensely to increasing gender-based violence. In Nigeria, the most low-income earners are women whose daily income is dependent on daily sales. They are the ones who bore the brunt of the COVID-19 lockdown. For their daily income they depend on daily sales. This means “no sales and no money to care for their families.” The lockdown had an unprecedented negative economic impact on families and exacerbated some of the risk factors for violence against women and children in many homes in Nigeria where poverty has been rated high. Also, prevalent during the lockdown were cases of emotional and physical violence which had been declared by researchers to be under-reported. More so, findings have linked low social-economic status to an increased risk of domestic violence during the lockdown.
Similarly, the post-pandemic incident of GBV seems to be more prevalent considering the high rate of inflation and yet it is under-reported mostly due to the culture of silence predominantly among the citizens. According to Ulla Elisabeth Mueller, Country Representative of the United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA), part of the reason for under-reporting is that victims chose to be silent instead of reporting the crime. They feel ashamed to stand up to say, “I was raped.” Usually, victims are traumatised and dehumanised. If we are serious about reducing GBV in Nigeria, we must end the culture of silence related to reporting gender-based crimes. GBV can be limited by increasing the rate of reporting it and punishing offenders. By so doing, we would be contributing to realising goal 5 of the sustainable development goal (SDGs).
Increasing the rate of reporting gender-based crime is an area where whistleblowing can be meaningfully deployed. Presently, the whistleblowing policy has been recognised by Nigerians as an important mechanism for reporting all forms of wrongdoing, the absence of a whistleblower protection law notwithstanding. This policy was announced by President Muhammadu Buhari in December 2016. Since then, development partners and relevant stakeholders have been working to raise awareness about the policy and encouraging government to enact a whistleblower protection law as a way of enhancing citizen participation in the fight against corruption and other wrongdoing. Thankfully, a draft whistleblower protection bill was approved last December at a Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting. It will be transmitted as an executive bill to the National Assembly for passage into law, hopefully before the tenure of the Buhari administration ends on May 29, 2023.
With the passage of the whistleblower protection law in sight, it’s apt to start expanding the frontier of violations by drumming support for adopting whistleblowing as a viable instrument for reporting gender-based crimes in Nigeria. Toeing this line will be consequential because it will help boost the efforts in addressing the culture of silence and low reporting which has been identified as one critical issue in checkmating gender-based atrocities in the country.
To that extent, it will be beneficial if victims of gender-based violence in all ramifications are provided with an anonymous whistleblowing platform to encourage victims to speak up to enable them to access help from relevant authorities, as well as get medical care, psychological support, and justice at the end of the day. This is achievable seeing how useful the policy has been in aiding the recovery of stolen public funds thereby reducing corruption in the country.
The African Centre for Media and Information Literacy (AFRICMIL) is currently working with partners and other relevant civil society organisations to expand the scope of the whistleblowing policy strategy in addressing different issues that the policy can strategically impact.
The novelty of the whistleblowing strategy is that tips can be submitted anonymously by relations of the victims, their friends, or any concerned citizen, for immediate action. The strategy will offer an opportunity for confidentiality in terms of reporting GBV cases and provide safety, legal support and ultimately justice for victims while contributing to statistical record-keeping and improving case management of gender-based crimes in the country.
In light of the above, seeing the usefulness of whistleblowing and the gap it seeks to address, it is hoped that partners will see the need to support its use as a veritable tool in curbing gender-based violence in the country.
Nkechi Ugwu is Snr Programme Officer (M&E) at the African Centre for Media & Information Literacy (AFRICMIL). She can be reached via email@example.com