For a Safer Earth, Healthier Climate

Scope of Gender-Based Violence Still Not Understood by Nigerians-Njemanze

Dorothy Njemanze, Chief Servant of the Dorothy Njemanze Foundation in this exclusive interview with EarthNews Media Editor, Ruth Tene Natsa gives an expose on the realities of  sexual and gender-based violence survivors in Nigeria during the launch of the Red Shoes Campaign in Abuja…excepts

What is the Red Shoe Campaign about?

The Red Shoe Campaign is symbolic. When you see red shoes, it is symbolic of women, but again, there are lots of loss of lives, there is lots of gory, so it is not always all beautiful. So, we are reminding people that the red shoe Campaign can take any format, it could be a red pair of canvas, red slippers, stilettos, or block heels, but irrespective of its manifestation, the red is not as beautiful as it looks and we want people to see things from our point of view. We are drawing consciousness to the pain that we are going through in navigating society these days.

What inspired the Red Shoes Campaign?

Well, the realities of women and girls in Nigeria differ from those of men. There are similarities, but also there are peculiarities to women and girls, because of patriarchy and also because of our biologies. There are issues of menstrual hygiene, maternal care, legitimate ages for marriages that expose issues to maternal-related issues, and access to justice which are peculiar to women and girls. Patriarchy also raises issues around access to education, resources, and many other important phases. So I will just calmly put it as a situation ‘E Red’. ‘So as e red, we don commot shoe today drop outside’, to make people know that there is a lot to be done.

In regards to the IWD, how would you say Nigeria has fared in the struggle for survivors?

Being that survivors have been able to form communities to support each other, I think that is a fantastic thing because like the lizard, we have been failed by society but we have come together and done well by supporting each other, we give a nod to ourselves. However, it doesn’t take away the difficulty, we wish would go away. The scope of gender-based violence is still not understood by Nigerians and that would explain why the review of the constitution is not taking the inclusion of the five gender bills seriously. In addition to that, the opportunity that the Gender and Equal Opportunity bill provides Nigeria to have a better stable economy and a more inclusive system is not well appreciated by those in the Legislature and that is just a big disaster. I think also that a big anomaly is the fact that, for you to get a basic job, you are expected to at least be a first-degree holder, but to attain a political position where very technical decisions are made, they think that it is an all-comers affair that people who can barely comprehend basics let alone technicalities will be there, so I just think it is a disastrous climate that we are up against.

Are you saying the government does not understand your realities?

Yes. The government does not understand our realities. Daily living is on the increase for everybody, taxation rises daily also yet there is no commensurate increase in the incomes of people. And let’s remind everybody that a lot of responsibilities of families rest on the shoulders of women, so it means there is an increase in gender-based violence. COVID reminded us, that when men are bored or anxious, women become the victims. So we are at that stage again, it is just that there is freedom of movement so people are not talking about how bad it is. The number of suicides or attempted suicides of women and children is on the increase. So the disconnect with the government is troubling.

What are some of the policies on the ground that support your struggle?

There are the Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act, (VAPP-A), the Anti-Torture Act, the Disability Rights, and the United Nations Charter on Peace and Conflict Resolution, and so many other policies that Nigeria is a signatory to, but we want to leave paper and face reality, which matters more to us than what is on paper. So how is everything that Nigeria is a signatory to translate to my lived reality, that the same thing the man spends on for feeding daily is also the same as the woman, but for the woman there is an extra cost.  So our realities are not the same and with the amount of seriousness our realities need to be treated with, we are not getting it.

So what are some of the advocacies, you are currently pursuing right now?

Many. First will be the constitution adopting the five gender bills. That is critical. We hold every individual who is elected into power accountable, not the few women who are there, we think that everybody who was elected into power has the basic common sense to have a constitution that is not discriminatory and that is all the five gender bills push for, no ifs, no whys or but.

Beyond that, we hope that the gender and equal opportunity bill comes to fruition. We also advocate that the first year rent of a woman who has been exposed to violence should be the business of the government. Many women trapped in my shelter today are there because there is no means of paying up their first-year rents and setting up a business or up-scaling their businesses

Many women want vehicles they can use for bolt, Uber, or taxi services, but the cost of a vehicle, our women cannot afford it, I cannot afford it, and what it affords is not just a business but also a safe means of transportation for our women considering the increase in security situations.

With regards to the National Health Act, we want sexual and gender-based violence to be recognized as emergencies, all emergency rooms should treat survivors of sexual and gender-based violence as emergency cases and treat them as free

We need an increase in sexual assault referral centers, and we do not need tokenism buildings with signboards of sexual assault referral centers that do not render services.

Most of what we have now are products of donor agencies, What is the government’s role, and what does the government provide? We need sexual assault referral services, that can cater to people who need scans. There are things that we term violent rapes, they didn’t say sexual assault referral for nonviolent rape, it is supposed to serve everybody.

How would you rate the support of the Nigerian government?

For the Ministry of Agriculture, it is not only when the food stored is about to go bad that they should distribute, fresh and good foods should be provided for shelters like us. They should be supporting us with foodstuff quarterly or monthly.

Currently, we have not less than 20 resident people that feed, this is besides the 40 active cases we have, so we need the resources. Ministry of Justice needs to make sure that obtaining restraining orders needs to become a reality, it needs to be affordable for everybody.

NITDA and others need to ensure that the application of artificial intelligence and other technology makes it easier to access online restraining orders and other legal support services.

The law enforcement agencies are grossly underfunded and need serious training,  because the gender units of the police, I will say at the moment function very tokinist because it doesn’t matter the amount of resources deployed there, it is still not sufficient. There is still that mentality within the system that there are things more serious than issues around the gender unit. After all during elections, the gender unit of the police is one of the units shut down. Meanwhile, we have high cases of predators that prey on the vulnerability of children left at home while adults go out to vote. So we need to have a more inclusive system that takes feedback from us on the ground more seriously and then when they get statistics from the progress we are making we should be given credit.

What is your position towards supporting rescued kidnap victims in today’s Nigeria?

I am still a very active member of the Bring Back Our Girls Group so I know a lot and have immersed myself in the reality of the processes of advocacies against kidnap of human beings in Nigeria. First of all, I would like to in strong terms, register my displeasure in the fact that I can not quote what the people are the helm of affairs have said, specific to the recent kidnap of 285 persons. I do not care what their aides have said, but if you enjoy a position by a vote of the people, then you should have some basic sympathy to come out and condemn the act and state your commitment. But I think, that people are shying away from making commitments that we can hold them responsible for, or they do not care and there is nothing I am going to say or do differently until they do right by humanity. And I will say, this abdication of responsibilities to other people, is largely responsible for why it is difficult for us to hold anybody responsible. So we have a lot of technology and artificial intelligence, but again it is not being applied right and the rich have ways of by passing the system which is largely threatened, it is disheartening and if you ask me, for me, this is serious grounds for a no re-election.

Do we have a database of abused women in Nigeria?

I do not. However, if you refer to the annual VAP Report of 2020, 2021, you can find information on the website of NAPTIP and I know that there should be an annual VAPP report for 2022 already out and you will see that more people have volunteered reports but again I also think that’s reflective of the number of people who have resources for response. We do not have enough people doing respond and as such the culture of silence is promoted by the limited number of places that people can go to report cases. So we are not getting sufficient reports and the ones we are getting, we do not have the resources to respond to them, so it is a disaster. For us at the NF, every week we attend to 12-15 cases, some recurring and some new, but those of us on the Front Lines are very overwhelmed and feel let down by the government which is not supporting us yet quote our statistics and data often as progresses they make.

What is the Dorothy Njemanze Foundation about?

The DJF is a survivor-run organization, that provides real-time support services to survivors of sexual and gender-based violence, online and offline. We do a lot including preventive and response.

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