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Written by Irmiya Jenis Manni and Victor Babbage; edited by Quinn Needham.

A Call to Action

IN NORTHERN NIGERIA, the scars from the Boko Haram abductions and the #bringbackourgirls are barely healed while other deep-set scars go barely noticed. These scars come from the senseless sexual violence against the defenseless girl-child, young women, their mothers, and the severe rape induced trauma the rape victims survive afterwards. This is a call for other stakeholders to help victims and communities deal with the physiological and psychological impacts of sexual violence.

In the absence of proactive interventions, rape victims constantly relive the trauma associated with the past wrongs and shame suffered for which their communities are not internally equipped to deal with. Until strategies are developed and responsive programming is in place, both the victims and survivors of rape and their communities will continue to stagnate. Moving beyond the social stereotypes that celebrate the villain and rape perpetrators demands that gender responsive advocacy for the dignity of women become part of the social fabric to weave new and lasting solutions. Multi-stakeholder approaches to create better women and gender responsive spaces is one such solution. These approaches begin through work within the communities themselves, with the help of partners like Harper Hill Global.

Bias in Public Institutions

Both the media and the justice system deny sexual violence victims the voice and space to have their rights granted respectively. The media and courts allow rich and influential rapists to bribe and buy their ways out of justice, while forcing victims to suffer from shame and stigma. The faith that once existed in these two institutions has reached new low levels throughout most of Northern Nigeria; a region where most rape victims live on the margins of a society that has placed a label on them and robbed them of their lives. For most communities affected, it is the day when the constitution is again the standard.  

Consequences of Stigmatization

Research has shown that stigma is preventing survivors of sexual violence from accessing medical care and getting legal support. They always develop the fear of being looked at as a figure of shame, public nuisance. This devastation breaks them; leaving them shattered and traumatized. Research further proves that when not given psychological support the victims of sexual violence are more likely to commit suicide when faced with the worst case scenarios. Victims face complex challenges where the stigma can come from family and close friends, the church where these groups would normally be supportive except they push the victim to the periphery.

There is need for wider combined effort among aid agencies for greater investment in addressing the root causes of violence and stigma against victims of rape. One such approach that does not require extensive capital investments is in building support and protection networks for survivors of sexual violence. Unless more is done to change attitudes and break taboos around sexual violence, survivors will continue to suffer alone without access to basic essential medical and other essential support services. It is from this perspective that we call upon the goodwill donors, governments, and aid agencies to go beyond the provision of services such as healthcare, and urgently invest in the difficult task of changing attitudes and perceptions in the fight against sexual violence.

It must be understood that stigma against rape victims undermines efforts to combat sexual violence, and therefore societal rejection should be strongly discouraged and replaced with sensitization and compassion. Working towards sensitization would create awareness among the people about the negative consequences of perpetuating stigma, and serve as a bold step towards combating the continued menace of sexual violence. Ending stigma can be lifesaving, and as such, much effort should be put in ensuring the success of the fight against rape and stigma.

Helping Women Arise

Fortunately for Northern Nigerians, the “Women Arise from Stigma” campaign is amplifying the voices of rape victims whom society would rather leave stigmatized. This is a movement with the potential to transform communities and not only empower the victims of sexual violence, but to also potentially help heal communities devastated by a crime most are oblivious to. The campaign is a mutual call to action, to give support to the women and to fight and raise a strong voice against rape and stigma. It is a movement that enables women to support their fellow women through caring, support and encouragement aimed at giving hope. The campaign has the potential to achieve its aim more so when the authorities, government, and other partners focus on achieving gender responsive safe spaces so that women are empowered to achieve and contribute full to a society that does not rape and stigmatize them.

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