Violence against Women: Nigeria #JusticeForUwa

On 27th May 2020, a 22 year old student named Vera Uwaila Omozuwa was raped and murdered as she studied in a church in Edo state, Nigeria. A microbiology student at the University of Benin, Miss Uwalia Omozuwa’s story is unfortunately a familiar one. Estimates suggest that as many as 2 million Nigerian girls and women are subject to sexual assault or rape every year. 

There has been nationwide outcry for justice following the death of Miss Uwalia Omozuwa, with the hashtag #JusticeForUwa trending in Nigeria. The church in which the attack took place, have condemned the action and joined the call for urgent investigation by the police. 

In the past 5 year considerable action has been taken to try and improve the state of violence against women in the country, with the Violence Against Persons (Prohibitions) Act 2015 (VAP)  taking the first steps to radically update policy to protect women and girls. The act clearly prohibits ands sets out punitive action to be taken against rape with an offender liable to imprisonment for life. The act further criminalises other violent acts against women such as female genital mutilation (FGM), “harmful widowhood practices” and traditions as well as other “harmful traditional practices”. 

Whilst the VAP Act was a necessary and significant step in the right direction it applied only to Nigeria’s Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, and 9 of the country’s 36 states which have signed and ratified the Act. Unlike many of the injustices in the world, the Nigerian media frequently reports on the regular occurrence and lack of prosecution for violence against women, and yet nothing seems to be changing. Human Rights Watch suggest that although vast numbers of women are assaulted every day, very few report their experiences due to “the stigma associated with being a rape survivor, fear of reprisals, and distrust of the authorities.” In 2017 the National Bureau for Statistics released figures stating that only 2,279 reports of rape and indecent assault had been recorded by police. This grossly inaccurate account is testament to the culture of silence that is preventing the women of Nigeria from seeking justice. 

Corruption within police authorities furthers the difficulties with reporting and prosecuting these violent crimes. Often when reporting a crime it is expected that the victim will provide the police force with a monetary contribution, rendering those living in poverty with virtually no human rights protected by the legal system. Furthermore, beliefs that see domestic and personal crimes as the private matters of a family result in some police suggesting that reports of domestic abuse and violence should be dealt with by the household, not the authorities. 

What is really needed for substantial change is a shift within societal thought and perceptions. An article published on the Institute of Current World Affairs stated that “in a country where 35 percent of women and 25 percent of men ‘agree that a husband is justified in beating his wife if she burns the food, argues with him, goes out without telling him, neglects the children, or refuses to have sex with him,’…society’s attitudes and behaviour must change”. 

Society doesn’t change overnight, but society does change. It is so important that we do everything in our power to ensure that society changes to the benefit of the oppressed. Sitting here writing as white woman living in a comfortable middle class home, I am not best placed to recommend the way these changes come about. But as a woman riddled with white privilege I have a duty to raise awareness of such injustice, and do my best to start a conversation. After all, “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.” – Audre Lorde. 

Sexual Violence and Harassment in UK Universities.

It is no secret that sexual violence and particularly sexual violence against women is something that plagues today’s society here in the West. It is something that always catches my eye in the news, be it through the Brock Turner case, the Warwick University rape chat scandal, or the #MeToo movement, but it is not something that I have ever spent time looking into academically or otherwise. 

I wanted to write this post because, as a young female university student, the statistics aren’t just numbers, they’re friends, colleagues, coursemates. When I read the statistics I automatically think of specific people, specific events, specific stories. There are numerous reports out there that paint the picture in an aptly terrifying light, but I guess I am writing this because I believe that the more people know about this “epidemic” the more chance we have at changing it. 

The Statistics. Whilst the statistics vary depending on what study you look at, they all tell a similar story, that an appalling percentage of female university students experienced some sort of sexual violence during their studies, and that only a minority reported it. The study by Revolt Sexual Assault, which surveyed 4500 students, across more than 150 institutions, found that 70% of female students had experienced sexual violence at university, yet only 10% reported it to either their institution or the police. Even more shockingly, only 2% of respondents felt able to report it and were satisfied with the reporting procedure. 

But what happens when you do have the courage to report your experience to your university? One student from the University of Cambridge decided to report her supervisor for sending her inappropriate sexual messages, despite being advised by numerous parties not to file a complaint. She requested to give her evidence behind a screen during the hearing, something that is common practice in courts, however, the university refused, forcing her to sit just meters away from the supervisor she was giving evidence against. Whilst her complaint was upheld, his punishment was to write a four-sentence apology letter and sign a no-contact agreement. But there was a catch – the no-contact agreement saw that the student was banned from entering certain university buildings, whilst the perpetrator was allowed to remain at the university. I cannot fathom how this decision was made, essentially punishing a student for standing up to sexual harassment; it is then no wonder why 78% of people surveyed believed that people generally blame the victim in sexual violence and harassment cases. 

And if the trauma of sexual violence and harassment wasn’t enough, the studies show that it has knock-on effects on both education and mental health. 25% of those surveyed started skipping lectures after their assault, whilst 16% suspended their studies or dropped out of university completely. A study by the National Union of Students further found that over one third experienced anxiety and depression as a result, and 7% attempted to end their own lives. 

The future. The responsibility here lies with the individual universities. They have a duty to encourage and support victims of sexual violence in reporting their experiences. They have a duty to combat this culture of terror that presides in their institutions. They have a duty to challenge the behaviour of the accused and take proportionate action. It’s time that universities start putting the welfare and wellbeing of their students above their reputations, its time for change.