The Nigerian Senate recently passed the much awaited Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) (VAPP) bill into law and former President Goodluck Jonathan signed it a few days before vacating the presidential seat. This is amongst the most laudable laws enacted by this past administration that favours the vulnerable in the society.
The VAPP Law prohibits Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), harmful widowhood practices, and other harmful traditional practices. It also prohibits forceful ejection from home, abandonment of spouse, children and other dependents without sustenance and battery. This is a landmark achievment considering the importance of this law.
However, now that it has become a crime to partake in these practices, is it enough to make everything alright? By passing this law, government has taken the first step towards eradicating FGM and other harmful traditional practices by providing a legal framework for individuals and organisations working to eliminate them. Yet, that is like a drop in the ocean.
African culture and beliefs, especially the patriarchial system underpin harmful practices against women and that is the best place to take this war to now that the law is in place. We need to change our attitudes and perception. When we cease seeing and treating women as lesser beings, as mere property, then we can appreciate and respect them more. FGM for instance occurs mainly because it is believed that it will curb the women’s urge for sex thereby ensuring their fidelity to their husbands. That is a treatment you met out to your property to safeguard it but not to a woman for Christ’s sake.
Now that the government can be held accountable, there is no holds barred as to how individuals and groups can assist in the fight against harmful traditional practices (HTPs) against women. There is so much you and I can do to eliminate or at least curb them.
I have discovered that many parents are unaware of the dangers of FGM. They see nothing wrong in circumcising their daughters. This is supported by the silly belief that without genital mutilation, their daughters will become wayward. In some communities where FGM is still carried out publicly, these people need to be educated on the inherent dangers and/or reported to the approproate bodies. At hospitals and health centers, health workers and family members need to enlighten parents so that they will not put their girls through this unnecessary trauma. Let them know it is a criminal act punishable by law.
Another big issue with FGM is stigmatisation. In places where FGM still reign supreme, people are stigmatised and even ostracised if they refuse to partake in the barbaric act. This forces a lot of parents to unwillingly deliver their daughters up for circumcission. Therefore, even the community leaders have roles to play too.
Empowering women will in turn empower them to seek their rights, to stand up for what they believe in and say no to what they do not want.
The mass media was part of this agitation for the passage of this bill into law, but it was as if they slept off when the battle was won. We urge them to keep up the fight and now take it from the government to the grassroot. The battle ground has shifted and we are better armed now than before.
My most ardent prayer however is that the law officials should not treat this issue with kids gloves as they often do with rape cases. I pray that they will give it the maximum attention and action it deserves for only then will this law be meaningful.
To conclude, let me borrow these words of Stella Mukasa of the International Center for Research on Women:
”Ensuring that the human rights of women
and girls are protected means flourishing
economies, healthy communities and a
brighter future for us all”.
Excerpt Culled from