December 12, 2021

Action Against Gender-Based Violence: Full Domestication of VAPP Act By All States in Nigeria

December 12, 2021

Action Against Gender-Based Violence: Full Domestication of VAPP Act By All States in Nigeria

Women deserve to live without fear of harassment or violence!

I was honoured to join Global Citizen, UN Women, the Federal Minister of Women Affairs and several active national organisation in vowing to raise our collective voices to improve the lives and outcomes of the world’s most marginalised and vulnerable people – at the Global Citizen High-Level Roundtable in Abuja focused on ‘Action Against Gender-Based Violence: Full Domestication of VAPP Act by All States in Nigeria’. 

As a female leader, and Founder and President of The Wellbeing Foundation Africa, an NGO which works to improve health and wellbeing outcomes for women, infants and children, advocacy for women and children across Nigeria and the topic of gender-based violence is extremely near and dear to me. We are currently in the midst of a shadow pandemic that affects women and girls disproportionately. 

Gender-Based Violence remains a scourge in Nigeria society where women and girl children are more at the receiving end than their male counterparts. 30% of Nigerian women have experienced physical violence by age 15 and 28% of Nigerian women aged 25-29 have experienced some form of physical violence (NDHS 2013). From female genital mutilation to early forced marriage being a cultural norm in Nigeria, with 43% of girls married before the age of 18, Nigeria is currently ranked as the 7th most dangerous country for women to live in. GBV remains an oppressive form of gender inequality, posing a fundamental barrier to the equal participation of women and men in social, economic, and political spheres. This calls for emergency and urgent action to protect women and girls in our country. 

Much work has been done since 2012’s ‘Reducing Domestic Violence Campaign’when an unprecedented and independent WBFA survey and documentary collaboration with the Global Foundation For Elimination Of Domestic Violence and Peace One Day revealed that 1 in every 5 women in Nigeria had encountered some form of discrimination and GBV. GBV is a ‘secret sin’, many women and girls are victims, yet keep quiet. This is a matter that should never be trivialized. We as a society need to stop providing an environment that condones remaining in abusive relationships and situations. 

That Reducing Domestic Violence campaign ignited public discourse – and an increase in reporting – yet today in 2021, gender-based violence is still such a prevalent and recurring issue in Nigeria, affecting women and girls of all ages. Not long after, in 2014, Nigeria was confronted with the abduction of the Chibok Schoolgirls, prompting an international and local outcry. 

Yet, in May of 2020, we lost Vera Uwaila “Uwa” Omozuwa, a 22-year old student at the University of Benin who went to her church to read in a quiet space when she was brutally raped. The viral photos of her bludgeoned body have reverberated around the world, adding fire to the flames of the conversation about brutality, violence and lack of a framework for social justice and responsibility; she died of her injuries on the 30th of May 2020.

During that same period of time, in Lagos, 16-year-old Tina Ezekwe was trying to get on a bus when a drunken, corrupt police officer attempted to bribe the driver, leading to a sloppy confrontation and shots fired: the bullet pierced through the upper left side of her lap. The battle to save her life lasted for two days, and she died on the 28th of May 2020.

These cases spotlight what has been blindingly evident since the forced abductions of the Chibok and Dapchi Schoolgirls: we are continuously failing our women and girls.

When the Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act was signed into law in May 2015, it shed a glimmering light of hope for many women and girls across the country. Unfortunately, to date, not all states have passed the Act. With strong advocacy from the Nigerian Governors Wives Forum, UN Women, and Stand to End Rape, we were able to reach  30 out of 36 states which have passed the Act through their state legislative house. This is not good enough, we must amplify and drive the Roadmap to 36 States: Full Domestication and Implementation of the VAPP Act campaign.

My organization, Wellbeing Foundation Africa, works to strengthen our primary health, education and workplace structures by integrating PSVI at the frontline will bring equity and efficiency to our preventive and response mechanisms. Because we cannot ordinarily intrude into the home and household behaviours, we need a one-stop approach at our first external levels, at the first outside points of health, work/enterprise and education. Pervasive, gender-based violence is not inevitable – It can and must be prevented. 

The Wellbeing Foundation Africa creates safe spaces for women and girls by believing survivors, adopting comprehensive and inclusive approaches that tackle the root causes, transforming harmful social norms, and empowering women and girls. 

This approach has especially been integrated throughout our Mamacare360 Antenatal and Postnatal Community Midwifery and Adolescent PSHE WASH Program which affords professional safe space counselling and referrals in instances of GBV. Through our continuous program delivery, WBFA frontline health workers reach countless pregnant and newly delivered women, adolescent girls, their educators and families each month – and are skilled to provide these resources. 

The Wellbeing Foundation is also committed to achieving the 3 zeros of Zero unmet needs for family planning and services, zero preventable maternal and infant deaths, zero sexual and gender-based violence including early and forced marriage, as well as female genital mutilation. WBFA is doing so by advancing universal access to sexual and reproductive health, reinforcing the goal to end preventable maternal deaths and empowering the younger generation to know their social, sexual and reproductive health and rights.

We must also create a national strategy to educate, empower and heal the nation from the ingrained stigma and predominance of GBV. This would include actualising Nigeria’s National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security, which incorporates PSVI, accountability and ensuring its adoption is consistent as we continue the advocacy and work.

Successful national implementation of the VAPP Act would of course have to take into account the characteristics of Nigeria and our people. In our culture, we do not like to talk about sexual violence – consider what it must be like for those in a conflict setting; for the marginalized women and girls who are already on the brink of being bereft of all their rights. When the empowered ones amongst us do not like to talk about it, what about the ones with no rights at all?

We need to invest in women’s groups to lead grassroots efforts and engage with political and religious leaders so that we can shift the shame and stigma of sexual violence from the victims onto the perpetrators and get this act signed in the last remaining six states.

In November 2019, I joined the Commonwealth Secretariat in launching the Commonwealth Gender Equality Policy and the Commonwealth SAYS NO MORE Initiative at the kind invitation of Secretary-General Patricia Scotland, to raise public awareness of Violence Against Women, to measure progress towards eliminating it, and to continue to mobilise people everywhere to bring about change by leveraging successful strategies to end domestic violence and sexual assault. If we strengthen our global, national and sub-national community as a whole beyond the government, then that community is better placed to support those in distress; those who have been the victim of conflict and sexual violence. This is a necessity that must resonate across all our states.  

The African continent, and Nigeria within it, are facing a displacement and refugee crisis. We must create a model which aids survivors in Northern Nigeria and IDP camps – one which uses public hospitals as a base to provide comprehensive services which each survivor needs –  medical care, psychosocial support, police and legal support, and a collection of legal evidence. We know that in some cases women in displacement camps in Nigeria have resorted to exchanging sex for food or money, so they can feed their families. 

A national strategy must restore dignity and safety to these women, no woman or child should ever be forced into sexual transactions, begging for change or modern slavery for survival. I would like to see the mainstreaming of counsellors and clinics in every camp so the help is there where needed, and a formal referral mechanism between the camp authorities and humanitarian organizations so that displaced women and girls can, as standard, access gender-based violence screening services. Let’s start with asking women if they have been the victim of bullying; rather than even talking about violence immediately. That way we won’t miss the issue, because someone who is already so vulnerable is far more likely to confess to being bullied or coerced than to rape or sexual violence. 

Following the lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, where there are restrictions to movement and families staying together more, the incidence of GBV grew exponentially, leaving the more vulnerable gender to groan in silence. The Wellbeing Foundation Africa, through our midwives, was at the forefront of campaigning and advocating against any form of physical, sexual, emotional and psychological abuse, threats, coercion and economic or educational deprivation against women and girls. Unfortunately, there was an upsurge in reports of rape across Nigeria during this period. Rape still remains at an epidemic level in Nigeria, and there are no accurate statistics on its prevalence.


Most cases of rape go unreported, due to the fear of stigmatisation, victim-blaming and a lack of trust in the police and judiciary. In 2019, I had advocated for SARC Centres to be established at hospitals – GBV cases should be promptly prosecuted within reasonable timeframes, and in line with the law, regardless of interference by interested parties. Through this, we can begin to build trust and data which will help inform the national strategy and create a safer Nigeria. As the pandemic persists, we cannot afford to see another 297% increase in reported domestic violence as we saw between March and April of 2020 in Lagos, Ogun and Abuja. 

The VAPP act also needs to be wholly adopted, as some states which have passed the act are significantly reducing punishments for violence against women and girls. There should be no modification or lessening of this act, we cannot afford for more women and young girls to lose their lives in vain with no justice whatsoever. 

It is time for accountability. We need to not only involve civil society but also the duty bearers. The main duty bearer here is the Government which should set up a proper social referral system within existing structures. We must call for more collaboration among states, non-governmental organisations, civil society organisations as well as government agencies such as the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons to expose and prosecute sexual offenders, and promote the implementation of VAPP across the remaining states.

Therefore, today on behalf of all Nigerian women and girls, I would like to restate the demand for the domestication of the VAPP Act in all 36 States and the FCT to enable a nationally coordinated implementation strategy against GBV. Until all 36 states are on board, we will not be able to build standard services across the nation, which we need to respond to individuals, families and communities facing this crisis. 

Thank you to everyone who has joined the discussion today to commit to preventing gender-based violence in Nigeria and for your ongoing partnership in this area. I look forward to further discussions and, most importantly, joint and collaborative actions, together – to normalize and mainstream PSVI actions until ending gender-based violence is our standard and regular routine community of practice.

Share this article