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It infringes on people’s fundamental right to life, security, dignity, liberty, mental and physical integrity, nondiscrimination and equality between sexes. It is a crime against human rights that affects not only victims but witnesses and health professionals who are constantly exposed to a second-hand experience of trauma through the victim’s recollection of the events. GBV is something that affects families and communities at large. During the COVID lockdown, stories of gender-based violence were rampant because victims were stuck with their abusers with no means of third-party intervention. Gender-based violence usually affects men, women and children but females are the most disproportionately affected. According to the World Health Organization, 1 in 3 women have experienced GBV. In Nigeria, 30% of girls and women between ages 15-49 have experienced sexual abuse. Before delving into how to end GBV or what we can do to break the cycle, we need to understand what is considered gender-based violence. There are three main forms of GBV – physical, sexual and psychological. Sexual GBV refers to child marriage, rape, trafficking, female genital mutilation and sexual harassment/ verbal and non-verbal sexual advances. Physical GBV covers domestic violence, strangulation, beatings, use of weapons, honour killings, and physical punishment. And psychological GBV include abusive behaviours like controlling, coercion, blackmail, and economic violence. These days, there is also an online dimension to GBV, it could start online and move offline. Online gender-based violence includes cyberbullying, stalking; hacking accounts leaked nudes and online sexual harassment.
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Now that we know what it is and how damaging it can be, what can we do about it? Here are some suggestions on what we must do to curtail gender-based violence in our country:
- Show increased concern for those around us. Ask what is happening at home, encourage victims to speak up, and intervene if it is within your power. Don’t look at such issues as ‘their private affair’. By being your brother’s keeper, you might save a life.
- Raise awareness of the many dangerous/harmful traditions we have embraced as a norm and teach ways to break the cycle. Visit schools and tackle GBV issues with the young ones in society. Share relevant info with communities on how or who to call on to intervene.
- Address the root cause of gender-based violence which is gender inequality. Look for cultural traditions and societal norms that entrench gender inequality and address the mindsets that allow GBV to thrive by educating the populace.
- Get respected elders, celebrities/influencers, political icons to speak up and join the fight against gender-based violence. Let everyone take a stand against a repressive voice.
- Get civil societies involved in policymaking and to participate in influencing the implementation of the law on these issues.
- Provide clinical services to lower-level health facilities to help victims of GBV. For example, we can make available rape test kits and emergency contraception like prophylaxis in case of HIV exposure, etc.
- Ensure the law is laid heavy on offenders. Enforcing negative consequences for bad behaviours can sometimes act as a deterrent to wannabes contemplating such actions.
- Train law enforcement personnel on how to be sensitive or emphatic with victims of gender-based violence and provide gender-sensitive digital safety for online victims. They should be able to provide counselling and timely technical advice to victims who choose to come forward to report abusers.
- Build systems for eliminating GBV. E.g. have legal contacts for victims pressing charges and support systems for victims and professionals experiencing second-hand trauma.
- Carry the men and boys along in sensitization campaigns. Enlist them to be change agents and let the youths be the forerunners in the fight against FGM.
- Listen to victims experience and their solutions. It might help in transforming people’s attitudes towards gender-based violence at multiple levels.
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