Mrs. Olamide Lawal, a mother of three, recently pleaded with a court in Ibadan to grant her divorce on the grounds that her husband beats and rapes her.
Lawal, like so many other women and girls, has been subjected to abuse and violence by their spouses, family members, acquaintances, and even strangers.
These abuses and violence range from physical assault, rape, and harmful traditional practices such as gentile mutilation to verbal abuses.
Their consequences can be huge. They include depression, physical injuries, social insecurity, and, in extreme cases, death.
A recent United Nations Women report says 48 percent of Nigerian women have experienced at least one form of violence since the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to UNICEF, violence against women and girls is one of the most widespread, persistent, and devastating human rights violations in the world.
It says one in three women experience physical, sexual, or intimate-partner violence; are victims of trafficking; or are subject to violent social norms.
Nigeria has taken several steps to curtail, if not eliminate, gender-based violence, including the Human Rights Provisions of the 1999 Constitution.
There is also the Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act 2015, which has rich provisions for the protection of women and girls from violence.
In spite of these efforts, violence against women and girls has persisted in Nigeria.
The media recently quoted Mrs. Pauline Tallen, Minister of Women Affairs, as saying during an event to mark the 16 days of activism against gender-based violence that the COVID-19 pandemic made the matter worse, describing it as a ‘pandemic within a pandemic’.
The media is crucial to advancing social change by propagating good behavior and advocating punishment for recalcitrant attitudes.
Experts say the media, as agents of change, have a crucial role to play in creating awareness about gender-based violence and abuse.
They are of the view that although the media has been highlighting infringements on the rights of women and girls, it can do better in the fight against gender-based violence and abuse.
Dr. Maji Peterx, a mental health expert, said the media, for instance, have to do more to expose the psychological and health implications of child and forced marriages.
He said the media owes the public the duty of sending out information capable of educating those ignorant of the practice on the implications of their actions.
He said the media have a responsibility to remove ignorance and educate the public on the dangers of stigmatizing gender-based violence survivors, adding that such action had fueled the crime because victims were afraid of speaking out because of fear of stigma.
“The approach the media adopt in disseminating stories on rape cases is fundamental in shaping the thoughts and opinions of the public on incidences of rape and violence with a view to encouraging social and behavioral change.
“The media must endeavor to use appropriate words that depict the plight of the victims, which would in turn draw sympathy from the public and generate the drive to condemn the perpetrators and seek justice for the victims”, said the Country Director, Equal Access International (Nigeria).
Ms. Azizat Sani, a media practitioner and gender advocate, urged the government to invest in a media campaign to advance preventive measures against gender-based violence.
She urged the government to focus more on controlling risk factors and establish proactive platforms that swiftly intervene when rape or any form of abuse occurs.
A filmmaker, Mr. Stephen Obodomechine, advised the public to use their phones and social media platforms to record any gender-based violence, adding that this could be instrumental in the successful prosecution of such cases.
He spoke in Abuja at a media and other stakeholders training on the role of media in curbing gender-based violence. The event was organized by Palladium’s Strengthening Civic Advocacy and Local Engagement (SCALE) program.
Obodomechiwe said smart phones and new media platforms would help in reporting, recording, and developing content that would sensitize the public on gender-based violence.
“The power of the media to shape public opinion cannot be overestimated. Media professionals can bring this to bear on the campaign against gender-based violence and abuse. New media technologies have made this task easier than it was years ago.
Gender activists say the media should report gender-based violence accurately and responsibly, give voice to survivors, challenge harmful attitudes and behaviors, highlight prevention efforts, and help the judicial system hold perpetrators accountable for their actions.
In a society where violence against women and girls is largely underreported, the media must wake up to the responsibility of putting the unpleasant situation on the front burner of national discourse.
By Justina Auta