In a country that gained independence nearly 50 years ago, half of those years by democratic governance, is suppose to be making significant strides in diplomacy, women are still being raped, of their bodies and of their rights. Yes! Nigeria is developing in industry, science and technology, entrepreneurship, banking and finance. Even in the educational and agricultural sectors, though still below expectation, the country has recorded some achievements. When put on a performance scale on issues of security and justice for its people, my beloved country has not only performed below expectations, it has also failed its people seriously. I remember with nostalgia those days when we were in primary school. At every anniversary of Nigerian independence day, we as school children received gifts. We would gather in each local council headquarter to wine and dine and give great ovation to our dear country.Great was our hope, expectations and aspiration for the nation. In those days girls and women could go out at anytime of the day, visit their neighbours and friends, and even spend the night with them without fear of being molested or abused. As a mother you could leave your girl child with your neighbours and travel out of town without fear of the girl being abused. The situation was not too different as we progressed to higher institutions of learning. The youths then enjoyed lots of goodies until mid-1980s when Nigerians experienced a downturn all of a sudden. The experience then was like sleeping in the White House to suddenly wake up in a ghetto. Since then, the situation has not been the same. The rate of poverty has become so high, and people have become so frustrated and conscious of poverty. Violence, bribery and corruption have become the order of the day, and patriotism and brotherhood have been thrown into the dustbin. Since the inception of the current democratic experiment with Chief Olusegun Obasanjo as executive president, some degree of normalcy has started to settle into Nigerian society with the exception of sexual violence, which still abounds. The reasons for this are not far fetched. The level of poverty, bribery and corruption are the major reason why rapists are not often brought to arrest, despite the fact that cases of sexual violence against women are reported almost everyday. As a guidance counselor in a secondary school, I listened to a 13 year-old girl declare her intention to end her life because she was fed up. She told me of a cousin living with her family, who had been violating her sexually since she was eight years old. The cousin threatened that she would die if she revealed the secret. While we were admitting a new girl to the secondary school in 2005, she revealed that a neighbour had pretended to send her on an errand, and forced her to have sex with him, which resulted in her pregnancy. The stories go on. When I joined the university, a student visited a friend in the male hostel, who raped her, and then dared her to shout out and carry the stigma around throughout her stay on campus. What do you say to girl, who was coming from class after reading, only to be accosted by some boys on her way to the hostel and raped? Or the one that was coming from town to campus in the night carried by a bike and was raped by the bike rider? There are countless number of house servants who are used as an alternative when the wife of the master of the house is not around; the countless number of girl students being sexually abused by their teachers and are coerced into keeping it a secret. We have to STOP women abusers in this country so that we will not jeopardize the future of our nation, as we all know that women are the heart of every nation. Thank God for organizations like Women Against Rape, Sexual Harassment and Sexual Exploitation (WARSHE). They handle many cases of sexual violence for many victims who are socially, culturally, and economically disadvantaged and may not be able to afford taking up personal cases themselves, even if they desire to, because of poverty and social status. With the educational and enlightenment campaigns embarked upon by these organizations, people are now becoming emboldened to declare cases of sexual abuse. The most challenging aspects of the work of these organizations are the difficulties that are often encountered in securing justice for girls and women who have survived sexual violence and abuse. At WARSHE, the coordinator cited instances of frustrating encounters with persons in the administration of justice, medical doctors, police officers, magistrates, and even judges. To address this issue, a workshop was convened by WARSHE in 2004 on the search for justice with financial support of African Women Development Fund (AWDF). The participants were drawn from various strata of society, including medical practitioners, lawyers, magistrates, prosecutors, police detectives, teachers, social workers, students, media practitioners, NGOs, etc. At the end of the workshop, a report was issued with the defining roles of all the stakeholders in seeking justice clearly stated. The prosecutors, court, legal practitioners and medical personnel. Also a paper was presented by Barrister Olasupo Ojo,president of the Center for Rule of Law at another workshop organized by WARSHE in 2006 for Police Investigators and Prosecutors under Osun State command. He said “For reasons that are undergoing continuous investigation, it is becoming more and more difficult to secure conviction in cases of sexual violence especially rape cases. "Sexual offences under the criminal justice system in Nigeria is administered by public institutions. Each public institution is administered by human beings with their peculiar idiosyncrasies as determined by their background, social orientations and cultural beliefs which ultimately influence the performance of their functions as public officers either positively or negatively depending on individual circumstances.” He went further to say that once there is a report of sexual violence, the normal thing is there must be no delay, the investigation must commence immediately because of the peculiar nature of the offence and evidence required to prove it. This can only be achieved when the investigation is handled by policemen that are mature, humane and have overcome societal stereotypes by virtue of formal or informal education. After the workshop, the participants made several appeals to the government, police and others concerned with the matter. When asked why it is difficult to get justice for victims of sexual violence, Barrister Jide Obisakin, Director of the Osun State Ministry of Justice said, "Delay in our judicial system makes it difficult procedurally, to dispatch criminal cases on time. (In addition), the inability of victims to pursue their cases to a logical conclusion because of the stigma is also a contributing factor." Also Dr. Uwemedimbuk Ekanem, a consultant of Community Health in University Of Uyo, Akwa-Ibom State said, "In my experience, most of those accused of sexual violence are intimate with the victims. African women are taught to be subservient to their men. As such, even women similar to her would be blaming her if she is bent on getting justice." "A girl was presented to me at our HIV clinic was raped by her lecturer when she went to submit an assignment. After given her the necessary medical care, I asked if she would want the man to be prosecuted, she said 'NO' that her pastor and his wife have advised her to forgive the 'Idiot' lecturer. I was prepared to testify in court the findings of my physical/clinical examination which would have pinned down the BEAST called lecturer." It will help tremendously if the international community would impress upon the government of Nigeria: to enforce existing laws against sexual harassment and abuse, to educate the police, and to take an active role in sponsoring workshops organized by WARSHE and others. This action could be targeted towards local government offices throughout the nation. A bureau could be established by government that will be backed by appropriate legislations to focus on handling reported cases of sexual violence and getting justice for the victims. Great hope will be engendered by the time attention is focused on the issue, and all are ready to do something positive about it. There is also the need for a place where women can gather to discuss and present a common front to agitate for their rights from government in order to confront the menace of sexual violence. Women Inspiration Center (WIC) will have recreational facilities and cybercafé for women; a place for continuing education for girls who dropped out of school due to poverty or unwanted pregnancy; a place for those who don’t want to further their education but want learn a vocation; a place where an abused girl or woman could run to for safety; and a place where we will also have a magazine that will be publishing issues that affect women. By the time, the noise is so loud from all sides, the government will have to stop playing the ostrich and pay attention to enforcing existing laws that make acts of sexual violence against women a criminal act. Meanwhile, before the realization of the Women Inspiration Center, we need your support and backing all over the world to put a stop to the menaces of sexual violence by supporting our crusade OPERATION STOP SEXUAL VIOLENCE and ABUSE. All women are vulnerable to sexual violence and abuse in Nigeria. We will not fold our hands and allow this to continue. We know our destiny lies in our hands, and so a team of women, myself as the coordinator, has decided to embark on Aggressive Campaign on Sexual Violence and Abuse. We will be going from village to village, town to town, and city to city to call upon local governments to take a closer look at the issues of sexual violence; the police to live up to their responsibility to the law; the medical workers to be prompt, thorough and non-judgmental in examining victims and give detail results; educating women on how to protect themselves, educating men on healthy sexual relationships, and educating parents to rise up to their responsibilities in taking care and protecting their children from being abused. Please share the motto of WARSHE: Make sure you are not raped!!!!!!!!!! Make sure SHE is not raped!!!!!!!!!!! ###########
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