The pervasive ill, global pandemic and dark shadow that is Gender-based violence (GBV) has been described as not just a socio-cultural and economic issue – but a fundamental violation of human rights.
Gender-based violence has been a long-standing issue in Nigeria, heightened during the COVID-19 pandemic, during which Nigeria experienced a 60 percent increase in GBV cases with women and girls being mostly affected.
GBV reduces productivity, increases healthcare costs, and undermines social cohesion. Furthermore, it perpetuates poverty, inequality, and discrimination. This is why it is so important that we convene – to learn, to create awareness and to work together to address GBV and help to combat it.
It is in a bid to address this ill that UN Women & the EU Spotlight Initiative with support from Women In Successful Careers (WISCAR), a non-profit organisation focused on empowering and developing professional women to contribute to development and growth in Nigeria and Africa has put together a stakeholders convening – towards the establishment of the pioneer private sector led gender based violence fund in Nigeria and West and Central Africa.
Speaking during the stakeholders convening at Wheatbaker Hotel in Lagos, Amina Oyagbola, founder/chairperson, WISCAR said the convening was important to learn to create awareness and to work together to address GBV and help to combat it.
“We must ensure that everyone, regardless of gender, is able to live and work in safety and dignity.
“We must do so with a sense of urgency, recognizing that every moment we delay and ignore the violence that is present in our work place and communities is a moment in which lives are not only negatively impacted but often lost completely,” Oyagbola said.
According to her, The Violence Against People (Prohibition) Act (VAPP) is an Act to eliminate violence in private and public life. She said it prohibits all forms of violence against persons and provides maximum protection.
While 28 out of 36 states in Nigeria, have domesticated this federal law, the challenge remains getting the States to budget for the implementation of the law, thus crippling its effectiveness, she said.
She added that this is one of many reasons why it is pertinent to establish a private sector GBV fund; a commitment by the private sector will serve to motivate, encourage and galvanize government to match these efforts.
“The private sector has immense market power and influence and can mobilise resources for socio-economic development.
“It is the organised private sector capability that we seek to leverage through this convening to establish the first private sector led gender based violence fund in Nigeria.
“For the benefit of stakeholders who are already signatories to the UN Global Compact/UN Women, Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEPs), combating GBV in all its forms in the workplace, marketplace, and our communities is in accordance with Principles 2 and 3.
“Principle 2: Treat all women and men fairly at work – respect and support human rights and non-discrimination.
Principle 3: Ensure the health, safety and well-being of all women and men workers.
“The establishment of the GBV Fund presents you with a practical way to deliver on your commitments,” Oyagbola said.
Beatrice Eyong, the UN Women Representative to Nigeria and ECOWAS during her remark at the event said one in three Nigerian women have experienced physical violence by the age of 15.
In 2022 alone, nearly 2,000 women accessed the one stop centers supported by UN Women in Sokoto and Lagos States, she said adding that this data is only from two centers, in only two states.
She said the data also represents those who reported instances of violence.
“GBV includes harmful practices such as child marriage. Forty-three percent of girls in Nigeria are married before the age of 18 which means their chances of education, access to sexual and reproductive health are severely stifled. 200 million women and girls have undergone female genital mutilation in 31 countries where FGM is practices – half of these are in West Africa.
“There must be zero tolerance for GBV in our societies and in our businesses. But ending GBV is not only a social imperative, it is an economic imperative,” Eyong said.
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that the economic cost of GBV in Nigeria in terms of healthcare expenditure is approximately 0.7 percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product, she said.
According to her, the Spotlight Initiative, which UN Women is implementing, has found that gender-based violence accounts for up to 50 percent of workplace absences among women in Nigeria, resulting in significant losses in productivity, particularly at the less senior levels, where – because of gender inequality – women are overrepresented.
“It is a reputational and financial risk for companies to not address the violence that takes place in their organizations. In the US, since 2010, employers have paid out $700 million to employees alleging harassment in pre-litigation processes alone.
“With the commendable rate at which the Violence Against Person’s Prohibition Act has been passed by states in the last two years, we can be sure that more survivors will seek access to recourse and redress.
“One of the key outcomes of the Private Sector-Led GBV Fund will be to strengthen capacity of companies to transform their policies and ensure workforce satisfaction and safety. This action also presents companies as the model for social good,” Eyong said.
She noted that the private sector-led GBV fund is an important mechanism for addressing GBV by providing financial support, facilitating collaboration, promoting innovation, ensuring accountability, with potential huge return on investment for the private sector institutions.