The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day celebration, “A promise is a promise: Time for action to end violence against women,” signals the urgency to take concrete actions to monitor and address the drivers of violence against women and girls in Nigeria.
Apart from HIV/AIDS and social cultural norms that tend to permit violent behavior, the devastating impact of climate change is another key driver that may increase and even undermine efforts to end violence and impunity against women and girls in the country.
Last year alone, the combination of violence unleashed by the dreaded Boko Haram Islamic sect in the Northern part of the country, effects of the devastating floods and the various communal conflicts occasioned by competition for scare grazing land by nomards, has left many women and children on the receiving end of violence in Nigeria.
The sexual violence suffered by women and girls who were displaced as a result of the deadly floods which ravaged about 30 out of the 36 states of Nigeria last year was horrifying. It was reported that over 19 young girls were raped and many others molested in the camps where they took refuge from the floods that displaced them from their homes.
The circle of violence and the capacity of climate change to deepen the violence already faced by women and girls were highlighted in the case of a friend In Lagos who, after escaping from a violent relationship and a break-up with her husband, sought refuge in cultivating a rice farm. The impacts of the 2011 July 10 heavy rainfall and floods in Lagos that washed away her rice farm and destroyed her apartment ensured that she was rendered homeless without any means of livelihood.
The economic violence imposed by social and economic losses as a result of the floods have left many families without any means of livelihood, triggering another level of violence against women and girls. Men tend to vent their frustrations and unleash violence on their wives and children when faced with economic hardship as their breadwinner status in the home is perceived to be threatened.
Women and girls living with disability face double jeopardy from climate change and violence. Most of them are already experiencing sexual violence which they cannot prevent by reason of their disability. On the other hand, climate change could be a cause of further disability to them, thus increasing their exposure to violence.
It is evident that we cannot win the battle against violence without responding adequately to the threat of climate change. The intersection of climate change and violence has profound implications for women’s livelihoods and well being. Thus, to combat the threat of climate change and the violence that it may likely bring is an extremely important task which demands a comprehensive approach.
One important strategy which is needed first and foremost is to map the various drivers of violence against women and girls and review existing strategies to combat violence to take account of climate change. One of the many ways of doing this is to strengthen existing social protection mechanism by integrating climate change adaptation, disaster risk reduction and gender.
An extremely important intervention which can have far reaching impact in reducing the exposure of women and girls to violence triggered by climate change is the articulation of a framework that addresses loss and damages from the impacts of climate change. A systemic compensation initiative must be worked out to speedily compensate women and men immediately after a climate disaster to help them cope with the aftermath of climate disasters.
Local climate change financing should also take a gender and social inclusion approach to ensure that finance to address climate change takes account of women, children, people with disabilities and other vulnerable and marginalised groups who are often the victims of climate change and violence.
As we celebrate the International Women’s Day, let us remember that the time to take action to combat climate change and end violence against women and girls is now! Together we can end violence against women and girls in Nigeria.
Titilope Akosa is the Executive Director, Centre for 21st Century Issues (C21st) Nigeria, while Titilola Kazeem is the Programme Officer, Climate Change and Environment, C21st Nigeria