Over the years, there has been growing awareness and acknowledgment of the extent and severity of sexual violence perpetrated during conflicts.
Advocacy efforts by survivors, activists, human rights organizations, and women’s rights movements have played a crucial role in raising the awareness about sexual violence in conflict.
The United Nations established International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict as a result of their relentless efforts to raise awareness of the problem, fight for justice, and demand action from national and international authorities.
The day observed globally on June 19th every year is rooted in the recognition of the widespread and devastating impact of sexual violence during times of armed conflict. A report by the International Rescue Committee reveals that in conflict-affected countries, women and girls are 2 to 3 times more likely to be subjected to sexual violence compared to those in non-conflict zones.
Effect of violence in the Northeast
Evidently reflecting the breadth of the horrors experienced by women and girls during conflicts, it is claimed that between 250,000 and 500,000 women and girls were raped during the Rwandan Genocide in 1994.
Nigeria has seen substantial disputes and violence in a number of areas, primarily in the northeast because of the Boko Haram insurgency and in the Middle Belt because of confrontations between farmers and herders.
Conflict-related sexual violence exacts an unspeakable toll on a survivor, who is most likely to be a civilian and not a combatant. Even if hostilities cease, the scars are lasting. Sexual violence in conflict also threatens public health, security and peacebuilding. The costs of war are great; the cost of war against women and girls is incalculable.
Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and various local organizations have documented cases of sexual violence perpetrated by armed groups and by security forces involved in counterinsurgency operations. These acts include rape, sexual slavery, forced marriages, and other forms of sexual abuse.
Still fresh in the nation’s memory is the incidence of the abduction of the Chibok school girls and other subsequent school abductions with reports of sexual violence and forced marriages perpetrated.
Victims of sexual violence
In addition to women and girls, men and boys also fall victim to sexual violence. The UN Refugee Agency reports that during the Syrian conflict, many men and boys were subjected to rape, sexual torture, and other forms of abuse. The use of sexual violence as a weapon of war not only causes immediate physical and psychological harm but also perpetuates a cycle of violence and undermines efforts for sustainable peace and development.
Consequently, eliminating sexual violence in conflict situations, particularly in cases of insurgency and kidnapping, requires a comprehensive approach involving various stakeholders and strategies. It then means that Nigeria must review and strengthen existing laws and policies related to sexual violence in conflict.
More critical is the need to Improve security measures in conflict-affected areas to prevent and respond to incidents of sexual violence by deploying well-trained and gender-sensitive security forces, establishing safe spaces for survivors, and increasing the presence of law enforcement agencies in vulnerable areas.
Prosecution of perpetrators of sexual violence
This includes ensuring that perpetrators are held accountable and that survivors have access to justice by establishing specialized courts, and training law enforcement and judicial officials on handling such cases. It is fundamental to conduct widespread awareness campaigns to educate the public, including affected communities, about the consequences of sexual violence, its impact on survivors, and the importance of reporting incidents.
The establishment of specialized healthcare facilities and counselling centers in conflict-affected regions, would ensure the provision of comprehensive and survivor-centered support services.
Collaborating with Traditional Leaders
Working closely with community and religious leaders to raise awareness, challenge harmful cultural norms, and promote social cohesion will change societal attitudes towards gender-based violence and contribute to the prevention and response to sexual violence.
It is crucial to recognize that eliminating sexual violence in conflict is a long-term endeavour which requires a sustained multi sectoral approach which Nigeria can adopt to create a safer environment for her citizens.
Report written by Azizatu Sani; Editing by Adeniyi Bakare and Julian Osamoto