The European Union Delegation to Nigeria and ECOWAS rounded off this year's 16 Days of Activism Against Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV) with the observance of the International Human Rights Day on December 10. As was the case last year, the Delegation teamed up with notable influencers and celebrities to raise public consciousness on an ugly problem with a painfully human face, now assuming a pandemic proportion.
Beginning with a breakfast meeting hosted by Ambassador Ketil Karlsen to flag off the orange season on November 25, the 16 days were packed with activities aimed at drawing attention to SGBV. Africa's leading women's rights activist, Liberia's Leymah Roberta Gbowee, was special guest at the breakfast, which was also attended by diplomats and select civil society actors. The First Lady of Ekiti State, who also is a respected rights activist, Ms Bisi Fayemi and her Niger state counterpart, Amina Abubakar Bello, were also at the event.
A key highlight of this year's 16 Days of Activism was the launch of Nigeria's first Sex Offenders Register, an event described by Ambassador Karlsen as historic. "It signifies that women's rights are human rights and no country can thrive if their women are on the receiving end of abuse and injustice," he stated
This year, special attention was given to Sexual Abuse Referral Centres (SARCs), with a view to strengthening their operations and encouraging victims of sexual abuse to take advantage of the facilities. Ambassador Karlsen was handy at a network conference of the operation of SARCs, where he made a strong case for action and asked everyone to speak up against SGBV. He also called for the establishment of more of SARCs across the nation. The conference served as a platform to share information on the challenges, successes and lessons learnt in the establishment and operation of SARCS in Nigeria.
Ambassador Karlsen later visited the first SARC in Nigeria, the Mirabel Centre located at Lagos during the period. The Centre has helped 5,000 victims of sexual abuse. He said ending gender-based violence and sexual assault remained a top priority of the EU in Nigeria.
Ambassador Karlsen was joined in a press conference by notable Nigerian celebrities and influencers, including renowned musicians and Nollywood icons, in a press conference, just before the IHR day event. "If one in every four girls is a victim of sexual assault, then this is an epidemic, it is an emergency," music icon, Banky W, said.
"By combining the International Human Rights Day with the end of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence, we aimed to kill two birds with one stone," Ambassador Karlsen said, pointing out that the establishment of the sex offender register and establishment of SARCs presented genuine opportunities to move forward in the cause.
He challenged anyone who doubted the necessity of creating the SARCs to check the statistics from the centres. Although in a large country like Nigeria, 15 SARCs are grossly inadequate, Ambassador Karlsen said a remarkable step had begun in the right direction. "In a society where poverty, inequality, and cultural restrictions exacerbate sexual violence, supporting the 15 existing Sexual Assault Referral Centres should be translated into real political priorities. It shouldn't be left to the international community alone," he said.
There were two panel discussions on "Law enforcement, citizen liberties and the rule of law in Nigeria" and "Sexual and Gender Based Violence in Nigeria: Towards an Effective Response."