It was part of activities for the 2023 edition of the United Nations’16 Days of Activism against GBV, an annual international campaign that starts on 25 November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and runs to December 10 Human Rights Day.
The campaign was started by activists at the inauguration of the Women’s Global Leadership Institute in 1991. It is used as an organising strategy by individuals and organisations around the world to call for the prevention and elimination of violence against women and girls.
In support of this civil society initiative, the United Nations Secretary-General launched in 2008 the campaign UNITE by 2030 to End Violence against Women, which runs parallel to the 16 Days of Activism.
Every year, the UNITE Campaign focuses on a specific theme, and this year’s is “UNITE! Invest to prevent violence against women and girls”.
According to the organisers, “The campaign calls on citizens to show how much they care about ending violence against women and girls by sharing the actions they are taking to create a world free from violence towards women. This year’s campaign also calls on governments worldwide to share how they are investing in gender-based violence prevention.”
Launched in 2008, UNITE is a multi-year advocacy effort aimed at preventing and eliminating violence against women and girls, VAWG, around the world. UNITE calls on governments, development actors, civil society, women’s organisations, young people, the private sector, the media and the entire UN system to join forces in addressing violence against women and girls. In 2023, the UNiTE campaign theme is “Invest to Prevent Violence Against Women & Girls” and focuses on the importance of financing different prevention strategies to stop violence from occurring. This year’s campaign theme aligns to the 2024 priority theme on the Status of Women.
According to the UN, “Violence against women and girls remains one of the most prevalent and pervasive human rights violations in the world. Despite many countries passing laws to combat violence against women, weak enforcement and discriminatory social norms remain significant problems.”
Beatrice Eyong, UN Women Representative to Nigeria and ECOWAS in her address, explained that people need to understand what gender and gender equality mean. “Gender is roles and responsibilities that have been assigned to men and women. It doesn’t mean that women should take over the role of men and vice versa. It’s society that assigns roles through socialisation.”
She said she was very excited at the progress the UN Women is making being one of the youngest agencies created in 2010 to see to gender issues. They were given three mandates: gender issues coordinators, gender equality, and women empowerment.
Eyong said that in domesticating the international standards for the promotion of women’s rights, everyone should know about the normative values. The Maputo Protocol had adopted – 50/50 Men/ Women equality. In Nigeria, the mantra has been 35 percent affirmative action in line with the Beijing Declaration.
In accordance with the operational mandate, Eyong asserts: “It’s possible to reduce gender-based violence and bring equality.”
She noted that many people wonder, “Is it not a white man’s agenda?”
Certainly not. “I’m personally convinced that until we have equality, we won’t have sustainable development. It’s a development issue. What is gender equality? Equal opportunities, equal access to opportunities. That is gender equality – removing the barriers to opportunities.”
The equality comes in five key domains. In governance and participation in governance life, for instance, research says that 30 percent of each sex should be seated on the table. The UN Virgin Protocol adopted 30 percent; Maputo Protocol upped it to 50 percent, while Nigeria is harping 35 percent affirmation.
Eyong argues that equality is “the only way to bring people out of poverty. Gender inequality is perpetuating poverty. Any time there’s disequilibrium between the sexes, there cannot be sustainable development. With gender equality, we are to integrate everybody.”
The second domain is Economic empowerment, which recommends equal access to public contracts. Research found that 19 percent (40m) of households are led by women, and the United Nations says this should be factored in, in the distribution of government contracts.
The other three domains are: Women Peace and Humanitarian Action, Elimination of Violence Against Women, and Gender Responsive Planning and Balancing. Put together, the five domains would bring efficiency and equitable sharing and distribution of resources.
“The work we are doing is a changing of behaviours. To reconcile our efforts to change the negative perception, is there something the media can do about gender equality?” asks Eyong.
To this end, she urged the media to target an outcome; a work plan to change the narrative.
In his contribution, Igwe Lawrence Agubuzo, Chairman, Southeast Council of Traditional Rulers, a retired diplomat, argued that the conference was coming rather late.
“My being here is providential. I was there in Maputo when it was decided as a commissioner. After that, I retired, and I have been listening to hear how our people are implementing that protocol. But it’s better late than never. Now that you have gathered here in full capacity, people need to know that Nigerian government has committed to gender equality.
“You have the support of the traditional leaders. We should be bold enough to demand full rights for our women. Hoping that the outcome of this conference will bring leadership to Africa in this sector and take women from consumers to producers – don’t take them for granted. “
Lanrewaju Arogundade, executive director, International Press Centre and editor-in-chief, Nigerian Democratic Report, made a presentation on a research document: “Role of Media in ending gender violence.” He concluded that “the way the media cover gender issues show some negative trends.”
On the issue of Media and Masculinities, it was found that there is promotion of dominant masculinity in the media, films, and even advertisements and cartoons. They portray women in negative and servile positions.
The research showed that in reporting elections, the media also focused more on male issues. For instance, the PDP deputy governorship candidate in Lagos was under-reported, and when reported, the focus was on her social life.
It was also found that broadcast media did better than print and online in the reportage of female issues.
Professor Olayinka Esan, deputy president for Women in the Media and Diaspora Coordinator, Europe and the Continents, ACSPN, and a visiting Professor, Caleb University, Lagos, decried that “we glamourise stereotypes that perpetuate violence against women and girls.”
Idris Miliki Abdullahi, a publisher, argued that “it’s about values, not culture. How do you value your mother, wife, daughter? I’m training my daughter to be like a man. She’s doing pharmacy – seen as a male area.” He reprimanded the Nigerian media for under-reporting women in the recent Kogi State off-season gubernatorial election. “Two women were killed during the election. Even the Nigeria Association of Women Journalists (NAWOJ) did nothing about it.”
Against this background, it was recommended that the media should also focus on what is happening at the sub-national levels about women at the states and local government levels. Gender Desks should be created in media houses to focus on gender matters. More data should be gathered on gender and equality issues. And the gender and equality bill that was thrown out of the National Assembly should be represented it in the Ninth Assembly.
There were technical sessions and panel discussions on “Challenges and opportunities in advancing gender equality and ending violence against women and girls in Nigeria; Intergenerational Discourse: Re-examining the role of Media in advancing gender equality and ending violence against women and girls.
Ijeoma Thomas-Odia of The Guardian noted that the conspiracy of silence is not helping the cause of women liberation. “One of the issues we have is coming out to speak up. Some say my husband doesn’t want me to talk. There’s a need to value women. As women, we should always stand up for women accused of promoting diabolic feminism.”
She argued that gender-based issues are personal issues and should be reported with wisdom and understanding; “We should add emotions into the reporting; traumatic, sensitive reporting. Show empathy in reporting to empower the survivor, not shame her. Report gender-based violence with empathy.”
Gbenga Aruleba of African Independent Television, AIT, urged journalists to use existing laws to investigate and report GBV. “There’s a law on violence against women in Nigeria; use it to report GDV. Develop more he or she.” He admitted that there were constraints in the newsroom for gender-based stories. “There is time constraints, political stories and competition for stories. Can we make gender issues topical? Report the GDV as human angle story; they will get the clicks.”
Mary Fadinga told her peculiar story in the political space. “I serially contested for National Assembly in Taraba, my husband’s state, and failed. I’m from Adamawa State. They said I’m not from Taraba. My husband urged me to go and contest in Adamawa”.
Today, she is making visible impact in gender issues in Adamawa. “Today, all the MDAs have gender desks. We have instituted a forensic lab to advance the prosecution of GDV cases. We created a website where GDV cases are reported. Our culture is very complicated and should be handled with care and diplomacy.”
Ibizugbe Osaruonamen, project officer, Media in Gender, said it was time to take action. “There are good laws but lack of willpower to implement the laws. The media has a big role to play. There is need for more capacity-building for journalists in reporting GDVs. We set too much high standard for women. We don’t have to set the same standard for men and women because of women’s peculiar responsibilities. Let’s do away with biases we have as journalists when we go out reporting women inclusion and gender-bias. Start from the children (socialisation) to change behaviour; catching them young should be our focus. What they hear at school matters.”
Journalists were urged to “problematise women stories to make them newsworthy and appeal to editors to use in front pages”.
The United Nations says that “the human cost of violence against women and girls is incalculable. One in three women experience physical or sexual violence at least once in their lifetime. Violence against women and girls is said to be “one of the most prevalent and pervasive human rights violations.”
During this year’s 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, UN Women are asking people to show us how much you care.
“We call on all citizens: Tell us how you are taking action. Are you using your creativity to promote a message of zero-tolerance to violence? Do you use your time to engage with grassroots organizations working for a world where women and men have equal rights? Or are you perhaps questioning gender stereotypes that contribute to a culture of violence against women in online and offline conversations?
“We also call on governments worldwide: Invest in prevention to eradicate violence against women and girls. Every effort invested in preventing violence against women is a step towards a safer, more equal and prosperous world. Violence costs us all.”
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