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…….Roseline Funmilayo, Legal Officer, Lawyers Alert

Violence against women has always been known to be an ugly aspect of the average Nigerian society.  The Nigerian woman from data and media reports, as in many patriarchal societies, is exposed to gross abuses within domestic and outer circles, including political leadership.

Yet it cannot be denied that women activists, local and international NGOs, Inter-governmental agencies etc. have over the decades, put in quite an appreciable amount of efforts, woman hours and resources into reversing the trend.

On the surface, has there been any progress?

With regard to laws and policies, a probable yes, in practice, a tentative no. Even though CEDAW is yet to be domesticated, the spirit of the convention is alive in local laws, like the Gender Equality Law in several states of the country, 30% affirmative action especially at the federal level has largely ben complied with especially within the present federal government, Nigeria has produced a female Chief Justice of the Federation and a Finance Minister. So largely very good commentary on the legal and policy sides of the divide.

In practice though, these laws have hardly translated into meaningful impact at the local and rural level where more than 80% of women who really suffer violence, abuse and discrimination reside in Nigeria. Are women activist efforts geared more at laws and policies at the expense of the rural women in practice? Harmful traditional practices like FGM, early marriages, inheritance denial on grounds of gender are still abound in Nigeria.  Women in difficult situations in marriages would rather stay in and keep up with the domestic violence from their husbands than seek help from institutions built up to render such services cause of lack of cooperation.

The National Human Rights Commission during the publication of its newsletter October to December 2013 on page 6 reported a story of a middle aged Nigerian woman who was stabbed on the waist and right breast by her  husband.  She reported the matter to the Human Rights Commission because having first reported to the police. The Police took informed her, her case was a domestic issue and should be settled at the family level. This is just one of the many cases of violence against women where in practice the law encourages and tacitly endorses.

Even though the female Genital Mutilation (FGM) which done largely to prevent girls from being promiscuous, but dire health consequences latter in the life of the female, is still tacitly approved of. No person has been prosecuted as a deterrent, and local midwives actively continue to implement this, and in fact train new midwives on the art of female circumcision.

Traditions exist in Nigeria where a woman is forced to drink the water used to bath deceased husband as a proof that she is not culpable in the death of the husband in some climes today in rural Nigeria! There is no gain saying that this barbaric act has very gross implications on the life of the woman. In some other traditions a woman is left in the same room with her deceased husband for many nights, she is not allowed to step out of the room, she is not allowed to have a bath and her hair is completely shaven. Yes, in 2015.

In the light of this, perhaps women rights issues should reconsider or at least balance policy and legal efforts to practical efforts in terms of grassroots awareness campaign towards attitudinal change. Often we go, hurray, we got that law passed, forgetting that it is in effect just a printed paper unless it is activated and impacts in the lives of the citizen, in this case, the rural woman.

We should rise up to this challenge, not to rest on our oars, but ensure all forms of violence against the rural Nigerian woman is eradicated or reduced to the barest minimum by creating an grassroots awareness, enlighten women especially women in the rural areas on their basic rights and how to recognize the abuse of those rights and report on them. Maybe we will then begin to reach the women left behind.

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