By Nsan Ndoma-Neji, Calabar

A non-governmental organization, NGO, operating in Nigeria under the aegis of Women Aid Collective, WACOL, has trained religious and traditional leaders on how to tackle issues of sexual and gender-based violence, GBV, within their domains.

The organisation made advocacy for prosecution of perpetrators of gender-based crimes, which include: rape, wife battery, witchcraft branding, child abandonment and neglect, so that such prosecution can serve as deterrent to others.

The organization, which cardinal objective is to fight against gender-based violence and traditional harmful practices, advocated arrest and prosecution of perpetrators of the criminal acts.

In a speech delivered at a one-day training session, where religious and traditional leaders were made to rub minds with the organisation in Calabar yesterday, WACOL’s founding director, Prof. Joy Ezeilo, SAN, OON, stated that with the skill acquired, opinion leaders would know how to tackle issues of sexual gender-based violence within thier places of influence.

This was as she also called for all hands to be on deck so as to rid the society of the menace of Gender-Based Violence.

The training, which was to help secure support for women and girls’ access to sexual and reproductive health rights, SRHR; prevention of Violence Against Woman and Girls, Sexual and Gender-Base Violence and Harmful Practice, VAWG/SGBV/HP, organized by WACOL in collaboration with the UNDP under the EU-UN Spotlight Initiative Project in Calabar, yesterday also had youth leaders and community stakeholders in attendance.

Representing the founding director, Programme Manager of WACOL, Mrs. Anulika Ezennia, warned that the group was ready to go the extra mile to seek prosecution against leaders of thoughts who engaged in sexual exploitation of under-age girls and violation of women’s rights by those who ordinarily ought to have given the victims protection.

The academic don called for stiff and punitive measures against perpetrators of these heinous crimes, nothwitstnding the social status the perpetrators belong in the society.

WACOL advocated the prosecution of religions, community and traditional leaders who get themselves involved in sexual exploitation and molestation of under-aged girls with out fear or favor.

Speaking on the importance of faith-based and traditional actors in Violence Against Women and Girls prevention, a legal practitioner and resource person, Helen Kali, stated that every one was equal before the law, stressing that what the organisation seeks to achieve by giving training to community stakeholders and religious leaders is to prevent violence against women and girls, and to use the community stakeholders in reducing gender-based violence in their domains.

She said, “No one is above the law. Every one is equal before the law. Anyone who breaks the law should be made to face the music. As a religious or traditional leader, you are not immune from prosecution.

“If you go ahead to commit gender-based crime like rape, wife battery, violation of rights of a woman, you will be brought to book.

“We called on victims to speak out and break the culture of silence, even when you are harassed sexually. We stand against gender-based violence of all kind.

“To the trainees, let there be advocacy, let there be sensitization, ensure that those who indulge in this criminal act are brought to book notwithstanding their financial or social status.

“When you speak out, there are organizations and some agencies or human right activists ready to pick the matter up without any fee paid, and I assure you that justice would be done.”

Kali added, “The goal of the training workshop is to end violence against women and girls. You know when you have a target; there are steps that you have to take. One of the steps is this meeting to rub minds with the opinion leaders to know if they can be of help in influencing
their environment, and also help in the prevention of violence against women and girls.

“What we are trying to archive is to make all hands to be on deck, on what has been going on and to rise up and oppose harmful practices like sexual and gender-based violence that take place within their domains

“I charge you all to join hands in stopping perpetration of violence against women and girls, even against men and boys and indeed witchcraft branding, child abandonment and neglect.

“After a base line studies, six states were selected in Nigeria with Cross River State as one of the states due to the prevalence.”

The group called on government at all levels to provide safe homes and shelters for people neglected and abandoned, people who have been thrown out to the streets, probably because they have no one to cater for them.

It said, “Some of these children have no parents anymore, some of them had already lost their parents and families had refused to be associated with them. These ones can be adopted and be reintegrated into the
society and become useful to society

“We charged the government to stand up and fulfill this obligation; we urge you participants of this programme to be engage in sensitizing people on how to desist from this ugly trend.

“For religious leaders and traditional leaders, there are ways you can handle this physically and spiritually. Let’s see how we can handle this. For people who had been tagged as witches, there are ways on how to handle this. Lets leverage on the mediums that we have to salvage
the situation.”

The training also had a resource person and lecturer at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Dr Nwafor, who presented a lecture on cultural beliefs system, where he advocated respect for peoples’ culture but with out gender-based violence.


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