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Category Archives: Women Rights and Gender

WOMEN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS ON THE PLATEAU: A RISING WARNING OCTAVE

By Jerome Uneje

Bang! Bang!! Bang!!! Bot (not real name) keeps hitting on the door as he hollers her name in the still of the night. Kangyang, (not real name) 28, and a Mother of two slowly sits up in her hard, and narrow wooden bed. She picks up her small handset to check the time. The broken screen shows 1: 17 am. Oh no… not again. She hisses, gets up and opens the door for her husband. He staggers in and begins his routine of abuse and insults in slurred speech occasioned by too much alcohol. She is quiet and takes on the abuses with a dignified silence. He pushes away his food and demands sex. This time, Kangyang refuses. She has been busy on the farm all day and is too tired for sex and asks for a little more time to rest. Bot will have none of that. She stands her ground. A scuffle ensues. Bot grabs Kangyang by the throat and begins to shake her violently. She struggles, but her blocked wind pipe cannot take in enough oxygen to sustain her strength. She gasps and gasps while Bot tightens his grip. She finally weakens and slumps, dead.

Kangyang’s story is an everyday narrative in Nigeria. Violence against Women is as common place as any other vice. The United Nations Fund for Population Agency (UNFPA) reported in 2016 that Gender Based Violence, especially against women has a prevalence rate of over 30% across the country. This translates into 1 out of every 10 Women in Nigeria as a victim of violence in one form or more. The same report has it that over 25% of Nigerian women are circumcised.

There has been an unprecedented rise in violence against women in spite of the Violence Against Persons (Prohibition Act) 2015. In Plateau State for instance, reports indicate that Violence against women is on the rise. Reports from the Media and other stakeholders including the Civil Society in Plateau State has it that in the last one year, there have been up to 430 reported cases of violations against Women in the State. Of these figures, 123 are rape cases of which 96 or 80% involve minors. There are over 21 cases of murder and many more.

Currently, efforts are being made by State and Non-State Actors in Plateau state to curb this fast rising menace to the womenfolk. The Civil Society has formed an observatory platform that monitors and documents these violations. According to our sources, the Observatory Platform has over 23 Civil Society and other key stakeholders. It is this platform that has recorded the over 430 cases of violations in Plateau State over the period of 1 year alone.

Besides the efforts Civil Society, the Plateau State House of Assembly, worried by the rising cases of violations against women, has initiated an Executive bill which seeks to penalize perpatrators of violence against women. The proposed bill seeks to strengthen the old Northern Nigeria Penal Code under which offenders are currently charged and tried. The Northern Nigeria Penal Code is archaic and does not speak to current realities on ground. The proposed bill is yet to be passed and it’s still in the formative stages in the Plateau State House of Assembly.

Lawyers Alert commends the efforts of both the State and Non-State Actors in Plateau State in tackling the issue of violence against Women. Gender Based Violence (GBV) is a menace that should concern every member of the society, regardless of status.

Given the above therefore, Lawyers Alert as a Human Rights Organization and a staunch advocate of Gender Equality and Women Empowerment, wishes to make the following suggestions to both the Civil Society and Government Institutions in Plateau State and Nigeria as a whole, in their efforts to curb the violations against Women and other vulnerable groups.

Regarding the efforts of the Civil Society, Lawyers Alert suggests that;

  • Recorded violations should not be stopped at the documentation stages alone but such cases should be taken to Court where the perpetrators will be adequately punished and the victims compensated
  • Monitored and documented violations should be analysed by the Civil Society in order to pattern out a trend in the violations. This will help in directing advocacy courses and programs.
  • There should be a pool of Human Rights Lawyers set to offer pro bono services to the victims of these violations especially for the poor and vulnerable.
  • Civil Society should push for the passage and implementation of laws and policies that protect and empower Women including international, regional and local instruments.

To Government Institutions:

  • They should endeavour to pass laws and policies that protect and empower Women
  • Put in place structures and procedures to assure the full implementation of passed and domesticated laws in their States.
  • Put in place structures and platforms that empower Women in economic and social terms through the formulation of laws, policies and special interventions like Women Skill acquisition programs amongst others.

In conclusion, Women Rights are Human Rights guaranteed by laws. The violations against Women must be condemned and discouraged in strong terms at all levels in Nigeria and Plateau State in particular. Failure to take proactive measures in this regard could lead to more episodes of the Kangyang story in our communities.

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STILL ON CITIZEN LOIS IORVIHI AND GOVERNOR AL MAKURA

Governor Al Makura

Governor Al Makura

By Jerome Uneje Mary

So much has been written and heard concerning this issue in both the social and mainstream media. Both Ms. Lois and Governor Al Makura’s crowd are trading blames and claiming rights over the said incidence with each party putting forward their edition of the story.

For reminder on the story, on this day, along the Makurdi – Lafia – Abuja Federal High Way, a young lady by the name of Lois Iorvihi was allegedly molested, brutalized and violently intimidated by the security agents on the behest of a sitting Executive Governor under his nose with impunity. This action, is in direct contrast with the wind of change across Nigeria under President Muhammadu Buhari. It would appear Governor Al Makura and his security details are stuck in the past and have refused to flow with the tide of change.

We were not present when this incidence occurred to endorse or renounce their claims. Some underlying facts in both editions of the same story are however not manipulative. First, there was a face-off between Ms. Lois and the Convoy of Governor Al Makura. Second, the said incidence occurred before the very eyes of His Excellency, Governor Al Makura of Nasarawa State. Third, the young lady suffered some brutalization on herself, siblings and property including her car and media devices. Finally, the young lady was arrested, charged and detained alongside her siblings. Bare fact truth is that Ms. Lois and her siblings were violated simply because she is a woman with “less rights” than her male counterparts as far as Governor Al Makura and his boys are concerned.

In the face of the foregoing indisputable fact we make bold to say that the security agents took their jobs a little too far and the Governor did much too little to manage the incidence. We are not in any way exonerating Ms. Lois of blame neither are we indicting the Executive Governor and the security details. However, we are of the strong opinion that the unfortunate incidence was in the first place avoidable had someone along the line acted a little more civil. The management of the aftermath of the incidence is even worse than the incidence in itself. Since the occurrence of the incidence, the Governors’ spokesman Yakubu Lamai, Senior Special Assistant Public Affairs & Media Strategy has been turning logic on its head all in a bid to make his boss a saint and Ms. Iorvihi the villain.

It is a common knowledge on the streets of Nigeria that security agents especially those attached to high profile personalities act with dispatch overzealousness especially on hapless citizens. Therefore, it is not an out of place incidence for the security agents attached to the convoy of an Executive Governor to pounce on a young lady who seems reluctant to give way to the Governor’s convoy. What is however surprising and baffling is the period and timing of the incidence.

Barely three months into the “change” regime, one would have thought the era of Police brutality and Master Leadership was over. It is also surprising that this ugly incidence happened to a hapless young lady before the eyes of the Governor of the State. As an Executive Governor of a State, it is mind bugling to imagine him sitting in the luxury of his SUV while watching his goons manhandle a female motorist in broad day light. We strongly feel that it is duty and obligation of the Governor to uphold the dignity and rights of hapless Citizens ESPECIALLY women regardless of any circumstances. There is no law that encourages brutality and torture on offenders. Even if Ms. Lois was “driving in the middle of the road” or being “very rude” or even “dressed like a prostitute” it is still unwarranted that her car was smashed, her ipad and phones destroyed and her siblings beaten before detention.  If Ms. Lois had violated traffic laws or committed some other form of crime, the civilized thing to do is to get her arrested and charged as per the offence. Her physical assault and brutalization under the watchful eyes of the Governor speaks volumes on the state of Human Rights in Nigeria especially those of Women. This incidence also serves as a reminder to us all that the issue of Women Human Rights is still light years away from being defended and respected in Nigeria.

Perhaps, the Governor’s Senior Special Assistant Public Affairs & Media Strategy, Yakubu Lamai was right when he said in his response to the incidence that “a political leader of the stature of a governor will naturally face a constant challenge posed by the social construction of his image and identity” which is why this incidence speaks volumes about the attitude of the Governor towards Human Rights and especially Women. In a bit to correct the above ugly incidence in preservation of his towering image we hereby recommend that the Executive Governor reach out a hand of friendship to Ms. Lois and her family. He should also attempt to recompense her on her lost and damaged properties in the hands of his goons including her car and devices. Pay the medical bills of her siblings brutalized in the course of the incidence. This way, Ms. Lois’ Fundamental Human Rights and indeed that of the entire Nigerian Women will be preserved especially in these days of change.

The likes of Governor Al Makura and his goons must learn to live with the change or make way for those who will for the good of Ms. Lois, Nigerian women and indeed the entire Nation.

Jerome Uneje Mary is a Program Officer at Lawyers Alert Head Office in Makurdi, Benue State. She can be reached at unejemarie@yahoo.com

 
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Posted by on October 25, 2015 in Women Rights and Gender

 

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ABDUCTED AND RESCUED WOMEN: LAWYERS ALERT AND SCAIN PARTNER TO SEEK SOLUTION TO RESCUED WOMEN’S DILEMMA EVEN AS BOKO HARAM STILL KICKS

Nigerians were generally jubilant when news of the rescue of large groups of women abducted by Boko Haram broke. Prior to that many had been under the impression that the Chibok girls were the only casualties of kidnap attacks. Those people probably had not kept up with the news as there were weekly reports of such abductions long before the Chibok scandal ever made international headlines. However, owing to the peculiar circumstances of those abducted (predominantly illiterate), their stories, like those of so many others in the North East particularly, became a subject for mournful head-shaking accompanied by a vigorous lack of action on the part of the then Goodluck Jonathan administration. After all, compared to the scenario where entire villages were decimated by the marauders with no consequences, the matter of random abductions seemed to pale in comparison.

The rescued women ranged from children, to young adolescents, adults and the aged. All had been subjected to gruesome hardship while most had been sexually molested or suffered some form of slavery through the duration of captivity. All were traumatised. While some chose to brave the challenges and returned to their original communities, many have had to be accommodated in IDP camps owing to the lack of safety in their communities and their own fear of returning there. Others fled their states and are living on the run in other parts of the country where their safety is equally a matter for debate. Though some of the rescued women have been housed in IDP camps, their situation is quite different from those of other IDPs having been taken and kept against their will by terrorists. This is not intended to demean the sufferings of the other IDPs but the circumstances for both sets of women are distinct and require different approaches.

The rescued women should, by now, be receiving adequate mental and psychological care and counselling to checkmate the damage done from the dehumanising treatment meted out to them in captivity. There is also the possibility, which has so far not really been explored, that some of these women may very well be Boko Haram sympathisers now having been brainwashed into accepting the violent ideology preached by these terrorists. Known as Stockholm syndrome, the possibility of a captive developing a bond with their captor is a common occurrence and could pose a further security threat.

Incidentally, these camps which should ordinarily have been a safe haven for these rescued women has thrown up unique challenges with some totally unanticipated. It is common to hear of soldiers in conflict situations taking advantage of women sexually but what about the civilian population drawn from government etc that have been put in charge of administering these camps? Investigations reveal that officials of a certain government agency have been found wanting in the discharge of their duties. Not only have the women accused them of withholding relief materials except when offered sexual gratification, the same officials have also been accused of brutally raping these same women, a good number of whom are already pregnant, nursing mothers or have suffered one of form of trauma or another at the hands of their captors. As soon as the stories started filtering out, government’s response was to restrict access to the IDP camps to such an extent that the entire process is now mired in huge wads of red tape thereby discouraging external eyes and ears.

Not only is access to the IDP camps now extremely restricted, quite a few of the camps have been disbanded and moved to parts unknown practically overnight. Additionally, the trauma of being molested by those who are supposed to be protecting them has led these women to a place of general suspicion of the motives of any outsiders desiring to help.

Their situation is dire. In addition to physical and mental health challenges, a good number are pregnant and some do not want these babies. Now that access to them is so severely limited, what happens? Will we be facing cases of infanticide as babies mysteriously die or get discarded by mothers who do not want them? Away from this troubling scenario, we also encounter the dilemma of stigma and discrimination, a very real danger as these women struggle to overcome the shadow of Boko Haram.

This issue of stigma and discrimination is one which must not be taken lightly. These women face the challenge of being ostracised by their communities even if they do return. In the event they do not, they cannot live in the camps indefinitely, what happens to those who, after the camps are disbanded, cannot go back to their communities? What about those who have fled their states of origin and are currently living in illegal IDP camps in other parts of the country? What provision are the governments of those states making to ensure their safety and possible resettlement?

These are just some of the challenges Lawyers Alert and SCAIN, are trying to get answers to with support from the Urgent Action Fund for Africa, UAFA. So far, a meeting of crucial stakeholders has been held with a view to charting a direction, with hopes of passing resolutions to the authorities. The aim is to impress upon government its role in this crisis and also proffer solutions for the women rescued from the captives. The document will be available for public consumption on this page as soon as it is fully developed and submitted to relevant authorities.

 
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Posted by on August 27, 2015 in Women Rights and Gender

 

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DILEMMAS REGARDING THE PREGNANT VICTIMS OF THE BOKO HARAM ATROCITIES AND POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS: AN ISLAMIC PERSPECTIVE

Abridged paper developed by the Da’wah Institute of Nigeria (DIN) of the Islamic Education Trust

(IET) Minna, and the Development Initiative of West Africa (DIWA) in May, 2015.

PREAMBLE

Following the good news of the rescue of some of the women who were abducted by Boko Haram members, it soon became known that many of them had been raped and are currently in different stages of pregnancy. Varying opinions have been expressed regarding what the women should do about their situation i.e. whether or not to terminate the pregnancies; whether or not to raise the children themselves if they carry the pregnancies to term. While these women have been victims of Boko Haram, they are really ‘survivors’ and that is how they will be referred to in this paper.

The paper was written with two objectives in mind.

. To discuss the alternatives available to the women who have gotten pregnant as a result of being raped by Boko Haram members

. Using the principles and objectives of Islamic jurisprudence as guidelines, make some suggestions on how the government, Muslim community and the society in general should respond to the situation

This focus is in no way intended to belittle the suffering of those others who have been killed, injured, violated or displaced by the Boko Haram. We pray for Allah’s guidance, mercy and forgiveness where we might be wrong.

 

HANDLING THE SITUATION FACED BY SURVIVORS OF BOKO HARAM ACTIVITIES

Many people within and outside Nigeria have been direct or indirect victims of the atrocities committed by Boko Haram. The focus of this paper is the women who became pregnant after having been raped by Boko Haram members during their period of captivity. The conditions of these women should call for our compassion and empathy. Their situation should not be turned into an opportunity for politicizing ethnic, political or religious alliances. It should not be converted into an arena for fault-finding and laying a blame game. Rather, the effort of all interested parties should be concentrated on articulating creative ways of bringing relief to them and facilitating more effective ways of providing genuine support.

OUR GUIDING VALUES AND PRINCIPLES

In addressing the dilemma presented by the plight of the women raped by Boko Haram members, we should bear in mind the saying of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh): “None of you is (true) believer unless he loves for his brother (or sister) what he loves for himself”. Consequently, we should dislike for others any proposition, or policy that we would dislike for ourselves if we were in their situation. It is in such times of trial where honour and emotional wellbeing are at stake that divine values of godliness, selflessness, love and sacrifice are needed the most. All forms of intervention should try and achieve the twin objectives (maqasid) of bringing relief and removing suffering, of promoting the common good (jalb al-masalih) and removing harm and vice (dar’ al-mafasid). The tragedy faced by our pregnant sisters should be handled with the utmost level of compassion, fairness, wisdom and sensitivity irrespective of their faith or ethnicity. Our primary concern should be their emotional and mental wellbeing.

MOVING FORWARD: THREE POSSIBLE ALTERNATIVES

There are at least three options that may be considered by the woman who is pregnant as a result of having been raped.

  1. The Option Of Abortion Before The Lapse Of 4 Months (Or 120 Days)

In the 1990’s in Algeria, about 200 women who were raped by members of a violent extremist sect became pregnant. The prominent Saudi scholar Sheikh Muhammad bin Salih bin al-Uthaimeen was asked about the options available for the women under Islamic jurisprudence. In his fatwah (religious verdict), he responded that abortion was permissible if done before the end of the first 120 days. (See Saleem bin Eid Al-Hilai, Qurat al-Uyun, Maktabat al-Furqan, Ajman, 1422AH, p.234-235).

This fatwah is based on an interpretation of an authentic hadith of the Prophet (pbuh) reported in Bukhari and Muslim which indicates that while the foetus is a living being, the soul or spirit (ruh) is breathed into it only after the end of this period. Scholars of the Hanafi School of Islamic Jurisprudence (madhhab) along with a few others have therefore regarded abortion before the 120 days period as not prohibited by any clear explicit text of the Qur’an or Sunnah. This also so because the foetus at that very early stage of pregnancy has not yet reached the age of being referred to in the terminology of the Qur’an and Sunnah, as a “child” (walad) whose life is sacred. (See Alah al-Deen al-Kasani, Badai’ al-Sannai’ fi Tartib al-Sharai’, Dar al-Kitab al-Arabi, Beirut, 1982, Vol.7, p.325)

There is a general consensus among Muslim scholars on the prohibition of abortion after this 120 day period – except for reasons such as a threat to the life of the mother. Scholars however have differed in their opinions about the permissibility of abortion before the end of 120 days. (See al-Mawsu’ah al-

Fiqhiyyah, Dar Salasil, Kuwait, 1414AH, Vol.2, p.57) Sanity or the “preservation of the mind” (hifz al-‘aql) is one of the fundamental objectives (maqasid) of Islamic law. The difference of opinion on the matter of

abortion is presented here also because the mental and emotional health of the pregnant mother is of vital importance to Shari’ah and all concerned. A woman who has been a survivor of rape could go insane or into deep depression if forced to keep a pregnancy from a rapist.

  1. The Option Of Foster Care

If the pregnancy is more than 120 days old, or the woman chooses not to abort the pregnancy before the 120 days have elapsed, she can decide to send the child into foster care or to be raised by someone ready to take on the responsibilities of a child who is effectively an orphan.

This is especially so if the woman cannot or does not want to bear the psychological or social challenges associated with raising the child. The decision regarding an alternative home for such a child must be based on what is in the best interest of the child, as the child did not choose to be in that situation.

The prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said: “I and whoever takes charge of an orphan, whether his own or of others shall be in paradise like this (pointing with his four fingers and the middle finger)” (Sahih al-Bukhari). The prophet Muhammad (pbuh) also said: “The best house of the Muslims is the house in which there is an orphan who is treated in the best manner; and the worst house of the Muslims is the house in which an orphan is badly treated” (Ibn Majah).

  1. The Option Of Motherhood And Child-Upbringing

The mother may choose to keep the pregnancy and raise the child to the best of her ability. In the absence of the father, the hadith in Bukhari regarding caring for orphans also applies to this situation – “I and whoever takes charge of an orphan, whether his own or of others shall be in paradise…”

SOCIAL, EMOTIONAL AND ECONOMIC SUPPORT, EMPOWERMENT AND COUNSELING

The decision of what to do about the pregnancy is primarily that of the woman in question. Each of the three options mentioned in this paper has challenges that are peculiar to it. None of the three choices is an easy one to make. The effect of each choice will be felt primarily by one person – the woman concerned. More than anyone else, she will bear the difficulty of undergoing an abortion, or carrying to term a baby conceived in circumstances that are traumatic to her, giving birth to that child and, if she chooses, raising the child. Should she choose to give it up for fostering or adoption, she would still feel the effect of such a choice. Therefore, it would be insensitive to force any choice upon her, or deny her an option which may be the lesser evil as far as she is concerned. Human beings are all different and respond to trauma in diverse ways. It would be wrong to dictate how all the rape victims should handle the resulting pregnancy.

Whatever option the women may choose, the role of their families, care-givers, the community, leaders and the government is to provide necessary counseling, social, emotional and economic support and empowerment opportunities. She should be shown empathy and compassion. If social stigmatization is unavoidable in a particular community, the option of relocation of the family to a friendlier environment should be considered and facilitated, while efforts at preventing and eliminating stigmatization continue.

When the children are born, they should receive the same treatment as any other child and should not suffer any form of discrimination or ill-treatment – they will be born blameless as all human beings are.

PROTECTION OF HUMAN DIGNITY AND HONOR (‘IRD)

One of the major objectives of Islamic law is the protection of human dignity and honor (‘ird). With this in mind, all those offering support and care should show respect for the survivors’ privacy, dignity and safety. They should also show sensitivity to the religious and cultural preferences and norms of the victims. This is particularly important for politicians and people working with the media.

THE CHALLENGE TO OUR HUMANITY, COMPASSION AND FAITH

The litmus test and criteria for true piety and faith in Allah is the extent to which we show sincere compassion towards others. The challenges facing all the survivors of the Boko Haram atrocities are a challenge to us all. It is our prayer that though the government and national leadership were unable to stop the tragedy from befalling our sisters, civil organisations, the government and Muslim leadership will be able and willing to bring an end to their ordeal. We pray that Allah continues to support all those striving to end the Boko Haram tragedy; that He gives strength and faith to all the survivors; that He blesses and protects all their care-givers; and that He continues to guide and forgive us all where we go wrong.

 

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Nigeria: Rescued Boko Haram hostages moved to new location

At least 260 women and children who were rescued from Boko Haram have been moved by the Nigerian military to an undisclosed location, officials said Friday.

They were among several hundred hostages rescued by the military from the Sambisa Forest, a stronghold of the Islamist militant group, in the past month.

Since their rescue, the women and children had been staying at a displaced persons camp in Yola, capital of Nigeria’s northeastern Adamawa state.

But officials with Nigeria’s National Emergency Management Agency and the Nigerian military said the move to a new location was necessary to enable them to pursue a rehabilitation program and re-enter society.

The transfer took the rescued hostages and their relatives by surprise, according to one witness.

The women and children were ferried in trucks on Tuesday afternoon to the airport, from where they were airlifted to an unknown destination, said Sambo Halliru, a relation of one of the rescued women who was at the camp at the time of the evacuation.

Freed Nigerians speak about captivity

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“We don’t know where they took them to. The women didn’t seem to know where they were being taken to because the soldiers didn’t make any explanation to the women,” Halliru said.

Mohammed Kanar, the coordinator for Nigeria’s National Emergency Management Agency in the northeast, said 260 women and children had been moved to a location “where they can undergo psychotherapy without distraction.”

Another 15 are still in hospital receiving treatment for injuries sustained during the rescue operation and illness they developed during their long trek to safety, he said.

“The Malkohi camp in its present state is not conducive for that due to uncontrolled visits by relations and members of the public which deprive the rescued women the needed concentration to overcome their trauma induced by their captivity in the hands of Boko Haram‎,” Kanar said, declining to say where the women were moved to for security reasons.

A statement from Nigeria’s military put the number of women and children moved from the camp at 275, but gave a similar reason for the transfer.

The former hostages will now be able to undergo a psychosocial rehabilitation program arranged by the Office of the National Security Adviser in a safe, more conducive location, it said.

The rehabilitation program is part of an initiative by the National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki, aimed at countering terrorism.

Boko Haram has said its aim is to impose a stricter enforcement of Sharia law across Nigeria, which is split between a majority Muslim north and a mostly Christian south.

More than 2,000 women and girls have been abducted by Boko Haram since last year, according to Amnesty International.

 
 

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