The Untold Stories of Violence Against Women in Nigeria

By Chinwe M. Enyinna

According to global estimates published by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in 2017, one in three women will experience physical or sexual violence with an intimate or a non-intimate partner in their lifetime. This is a dire statistic to mull over.

Violence against women and girls (VAWG), or gender-based violence (GBV), is a significant public health issue, and a serious violation of women’s human rights. It portends a grim future for any society that claims to aim for development and social cohesion.

What is VAWG?

The United Nations (UN) defines VAWG as ‘any act that results in or is likely to result in physical, sexual, mental harm or suffering to women. It includes threats, such as coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or private life.’

These acts of violence against women also include but are not limited to marital rape, forced marriage, dowry-related violence, forced abortion, forced prostitution, trafficking, female genital mutilation (FGM), sexual assault, and any form of intimidation at workspaces, public institutions, and at homes.

In diverse cultures around the world, women and girls experience violence in varying degrees that are seldom heard of. The Covid-19 pandemic has further exacerbated this menace with many women trapped in the same enclosure with their abusers as a result of lockdown restrictions. The UN referred to this as the “shadow pandemic.”

In a UN report released in May 2020, cases of GBV significantly increased since the lockdown began in Lagos, the FCT and Ogun State on March 30th 2020.

In Lagos, the Sexual Violence Response Team reported a 300% increase in the number of calls on their hotlines in one month. In particular, service providers reported sharp increases in cases of domestic violence. The same scenario played out across other states.

The report concluded that the situation in Nigeria is a reflection of what is going on around the world.

Untold Stories and Reality for Many Women in Nigeria.

Egoyibo, 30, is abused physically and verbally by her husband. She believes no marriage is perfect and has to endure the violence constantly visited on her by her husband. She also worries she may not be able to cope financially if she leaves the marriage. Her mother, a GBV survivor, encourages her to stay with her abusive husband because if she (her mum) had left Egoyibo’s father when he was abusing her, she (Egoyibo) would not have been born!

Nneka, 10, was sexually assaulted by an adult male in the community. Her parents refused to hold the perpetrator accountable because “doing so will bring shame to the family” and do not want their daughter stigmatized in the future when a prospective husband asks for her hand in marriage.

Azukamma, 16, dreamed of going to school, but her parents did not have the money to pay for her education. Azukamma was forced into marrying an older man. The wedding was arranged so that her husband can provide financial support for Azukamma, her parents and their extended family.

Effects of GBV on Women and Society

Gender-based violence is a public health issue in Africa, particularly in Nigeria, where the menace is growing. Early and forced marriages are common in the northern region, and physical, mental, or sexual assault against women are frequent realities across the country. It is estimated that 30% of Nigerian women will experience violence by age 15 (NDHS, 2013).

Evidence suggests GBV affects women’s physical, mental, sexual, and reproductive health. It leads to psychological or emotional trauma, physical injuries and in some cases, death. VAWG can hinder women and girls from making progress in their work and education, which prevents them from contributing to national development. It reinforces discrimination against women.

The global social and economic costs created by GBV are enormous and have ripple effects across society.

Some of the consequences and costs include, immediate physical injuries, mental illnesses, such as depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and attempted suicide. There is also the sexual and reproductive health problems, such as sexually transmitted infections (including HIV), and other chronic conditions; sexual dysfunction; unintended/unwanted pregnancies and unsafe abortion.

Some victims/survivors of GBV have also been found to engage in substance abuse, including alcohol and drugs. Others exhibit poor social functioning skills and engage in social isolation and marginalization.

The economic impact is also huge. The mental and physical effects result in lower productivity and lower-income, reduced or lost educational, employment, social, or political participation opportunities. The list is endless.

The Way Out

Women and girls should have a safe space to live without fear.

Most victims of gender-based violence do not share their stories because they fear no one will believe them or that they will be discriminated against. Therefore, it is difficult to understand how much their experience impacts their lives. The prevalence of harsh judgement and stigmatization sustains the culture of silence among victims/survivors of GBV.

In Nigeria, the greatest challenge in addressing gender-based violence is changing the social attitude that believes women are inferior. Men and women should be educated on the benefits of gender equality to society and the importance of protecting women and girls.

Nigeria requires a robust national response to protect women and girls against gender-based violence. The government has a responsibility to create institutions that address the root causes of VAWG, enact laws, implement anti-GBV policies, and hold perpetrators accountable.

In low-resource settings, strategies to empower women economically and socially should be adopted. Government and private organisations should create partnerships to provide victims of gender-based violence with support services such as medical care, psycho-social counselling, and legal support.

With the just concluded annual 16 Days of Activism against Sexual and Gender Violence campaign entitled “Orange the World,” symbolising a brighter future free from VAWG, we all have a responsibility to denormalise GBV to build a Nigeria safe for women and girls, and others across the world.

Chinwe is a registered nurse in Nigeria and the UK. She holds a masters degree in public health from the University of Chester, UK. She is passionate about tackling issues of GBV in Nigeria and across the world.



TechHerNG Gender Reporting Project.

The reports featured here are the product of the Gender Reporting for Media Professionals Workshop organised by TechHer, with the support of Ford Foundation.