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Gender-based violence

What is Gender-Based Violence?

Globally, it is estimated that one in three women experience either physical or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime.

Gender-based violence (GBV) and in particular its subset of violence against women and girls (VAWG) are abhorrent human rights violations, with detrimental impacts on victims, survivors, families, communities and societies. The types of violence encompassed by GBV include sexual violence, physical violence, emotional and psychological violence, child marriage, femicide, trafficking, female genital mutilation (FGM), domestic violence and rape. (GBV refers to both violence against women and girls as well as occurrences of violence directed towards persons on the basis of their gender) . NDHS, 2018.

30% of girls and women, in Nigeria, aged between 15 and 49 reported to have experienced sexual abuse.

Globally, it is estimated that one in three women experience either physical or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime. These figures are mirrored in Nigeria, with 30% of girls and women aged between 15 and 49 reported to have experienced sexual abuse. Insurgency and protracted conflict have only served to exacerbate the occurrence of GBV in the North East. Harmful practices such as child marriage are prevalent in Nigeria, with 43% of girls married before the age of 18; while 20% of women aged 15 to 49 have undergone FGM. Once girls in Nigeria are married, only 1.2% of those aged 15 to 19 have their contraception needs met, leading to high levels of early and teenage pregnancy.

These stark figures we are seeing here can be attributed to entrenched gender discriminatory norms and a pervasive culture of impunity. This is so because access to justice for women to redress violations remains a challenge and is further hampered by barriers to domesticating and harmonizing legislation due to the tripartite system of governance. To worsen it, survivors of GBV also face immense challenges in accessing affordable quality services, largely due to the limited availability of GBV referral centres, many of which are underfunded and have low capacity and in the worse still they may not be available at all in some communities. Where they do exist, women and girls face challenges in accessing services due to sociocultural norms and fear of stigmatization and discrimination. Stigma and fear of discrimination also leads to significant under-reporting of cases of GBV, such that existing data only indicates the tip of the iceberg. Data collection on GBV is further hampered by a lack of a central GBV data collection mechanism in Nigeria.

It has been commonly reported that the incidence of Gender Based Violence (GBV) is growing astronomically with the activities of the insurgency in the North East. This is evident from forced and early marriages to the physical, mental or sexual assault on women. On a daily basis girls and women across Nigeria are falling victim to sexual assault, rape, and human trafficking. It has been observed that nearly 3 in every 10 Nigerian women have experienced physical violence by age

Another report has it that 1 in every 4 Nigerian females will experience sexual violence as a child. Yet conversations on sexuality remain taboo in Nigeria, especially among young people between the ages of 10 and 18. Moreover, Nigerian women are regarded as subordinate to men. This culture of sexual ignorance, coupled with enforced stereotypes, demeans women and contributes greatly to gender-based violence. This is taking a terrible toll on Nigerians - old and young alike.


As the world battles with the COVID-19 pandemic, emerging evidence indicates a sharp rise in gender-based violence (GBV), especially violence against women and girls referred to as the Shadow Pandemic. The rise of GBV in Nigeria during the COVID-19 crisis will have life-threatening consequences for women and girls and a profound impact on their opportunities and life trajectory. These impacts will have consequences and ripple effect across communities and the whole country as Nigeria begins to recover from the detrimental economic and health impacts of the crisis.

The situation in Nigeria reflects the global trend of increased gender-based violence. GBV is reported to have significantly increased since the lockdown began in the three most affected areas (Lagos State, FCT and Ogun State) on 30 March 2020. The Lagos State Domestic and Sexual Violence Response Team reported a three-fold increase in the number of telephone calls received through their hotlines in one month. In particular, service providers have reported sharp increases in cases of intimate partner violence and domestic violence. Other states have implemented similar lockdown measures, resulting in increased incidence of GBV.

Initial data on GBV shows a general increase across all six geopolitical zones, and service providers have reported sharp increases in cases of intimate partner violence and domestic violence. Data on reported incidents of GBV cases in Nigeria based on preliminary information from 24 states shows that in March, the total number of GBV incidents reported were 346, while in the first part of April, incident reports spiked to 794, depicting a 56% increase in just two weeks of lockdown. Some of these incidents of violence have tragically resulted in the death of victims, the rape of children, including incestual rape, and tenant–landlord assault.

A case in point

Twenty-two-year-old Halima Bulama had just returned from the marriage ceremony of her relation mid-April in Kasaisa community in Damaturu, Yobe State, in northeast Nigeria when her husband, 22-year-old Ba’ari Abacha, in a fit of rage attacked her.

Mr. Abacha said his wife disobeyed him in attending the ceremony, and as punishment hacked off the woman’s right hand with a machete, according to the police.

At the teaching hospital in Damaturu where she was taken to for treatment, Halima said her husband was quick-tempered and vowed not to return to her husband in Kasaisa, one of hundreds of vulnerable communities in this Boko Haram-plagued region. “If he can cut off my hand then he can easily kill me,” she said.

The suspect, a nomad, told police he acted because of his wife’s “immoral disobedience to marital ethics.”

“She has been traveling without my permission. But as matter of fact, it was out of anger I did this. I regretted my action,” he said in the local Kanuri language at the police station.

Such attacks are common in Nigeria where violence against women remains a problem despite the growing campaign against it. But recent lockdowns imposed by the federal and states governments across the country to curtail the spread of coronavirus, has caused a spike in incidents that target women and children, activists say. This is because the restrictions have forced vulnerable persons to stay more closely to their attackers.

Solution to GBV in Nigeria

A gender-responsive strategy must be underscored by the government and all stakeholders in dealing with the fall-out of the COVID-19 crisis. This includes the prioritization of gender-based violence (GBV) centres as essential services, as well as the inclusion of women in decision-making to ensure that valid gender concerns are adequately captured. UN Women is currently negotiating with state governments for the provision of government-branded vehicles and drivers to aid the movement of staff at the centres, this is a great move.

It has been observed that the challenges in efforts to eliminating violence against women in Nigeria can be legal or cultural. Lawyers Chronicle, a magazine for African lawyers observes that, a section of the Nigerian constitution does not allow a foreigner husband of a Nigerian woman to become a Nigerian citizen. 

Another section of the penal code applicable in Northern Nigeria permits wife battery as chastisement if grievous harm is not indicted. A provision in   the Labor Act prohibits women from working at night. 

Culturally, it is not usual for women to speak up in public especially in the north; so many female victims of violence may suffer in silence.

There is a lax enforcement of violence against women laws. Women’s rights activists believe there is a need for mass enlightenment and strong legal actions against perpetrations.

Ways to end GBV

1. Raise Awareness Of The Dangers Of Harmful Traditions

2. Tackle Violence Against Girls In School

3. Challenge And Speak Out About Violence In The Home

4. Transform Attitudes Towards Harmful Practices At Multiple Levels

5. Listen To Girls’ Experiences Of Violence - And Their Solutions

6. Help Make  Girls’ Journeys To School Safer

7. Connect Specialists And At-Risk Communities

8. Engage Respected Community Elders In The Fight Against Violence

9. Mobilise Youth To Fight Harmful Practices Such As Child Marriage

10. Engage Boys And Young Men To Become Agents Of Change

11. Protect Girls Who Face Additional Risks During Emergencies

12.  Embolden Girls To Speak Out

13. Share Vital Information With The Community

14. Challenge Rape Culture

15. Reach Out To Marginalised And Rural Girls

16. Take A Stand Against Regressive Forces


Since gender-based violence is likely to occur when adolescents reach adulthood, early intervention is the most effective form of prevention. In addition, by increasing awareness and changing behavior, our intervention will help to reduce the gender inequality that exists at all levels of society in Nigeria. (

Thanks for reading!


Daniel is the country manager for the SHAKE Africa Project

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