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Nigeria: UN, EU Take Message on SGBV, Harmful Practices to Traditional and Religious Leaders

“Your presence here is a testament to your commitment to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls.”

The United Nations (UN) has taken it’s sensitization drive towards elimination of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) and harmful practices in the country to traditional and religious institutions by organizing a two-day workshop for both traditional and religious leaders in the country.

A workshop was organized for both traditional and religious leaders by United Nations Women in conjunction with European Union (EU) in Abuja between December 6-7 where selected leaders across the country are sensitized on the harms of SGBV and harmful practices.

Speaking at the opening ceremony, the UN Women representative, Ms. Beatrice Eyong who represented the the UN Resident Coordinator, Mr. Matthias Schmale told the participants that: “Your presence here is a testament to your commitment to our joint agenda to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls. Together, through the EUN-UN joint Spotlight Initiative, we have made great strides.”

She said: “In addressing harmful practices including female genital mutilation, money wife and other harmful practices, we are seeing a shift in attitudes and in some cases, the total abandonment of these practices.

“For example, the abolishment of the practice of “money wife” by the Clan head, council of chiefs and all the village heads in Becheve community in Obanliku LGA. This is highly commendable and shows that where there is a will, change can be made. This is alongside the backdrop of 32 States having passed the Violence Against Person’s Prohibition (VAPP) Act”

She noted that: “Traditional and Religious leaders continue to be the mouthpiece for the movement to eliminate violence. Indeed, in the first phase of the Spotlight Initiative, we observed over 200 religious and traditional leaders engaged in advocacy to increase their own knowledge and that of their communities, on issues of harmful social norms and violence against girls. The statistics remain however that FGM is at 25% prevalence despite the
practice being outlawed by the VAPP Act.”

She lamented that 33% of women and girls have experienced physical or sexual violence in their lifetime, insisting that: “One woman is one too many.”

She said: “It is imperative therefore, that we accelerate efforts to address the root causes of gender- based violence (GBV) and harmful practices (HP),” revealing that: “UN Women has invested in landmark research to highlight linkages between customary and formal law.”

She noted that: “The findings of this research have informed the content of this workshop and provide a strong case for elimination of violence whether in the formal or customary court. There is no longer the excuse of ‘culture’ in defense of violence and harmful practices.”

She said: “I wish to commend the Convenor-General, the leadership of the Council of Traditional Leaders of Africa and all members for paving the way for Nigeria and indeed the African continent in this regard,” adding that: “To this end, the United Nations through UN Women and other Spotlight Implementing agencies will continue to advocate for local ownership of the front-line service centers to ensure survivors of FGM and those at risk of this practice receive the protection, access to justice and support that they deserve.

“We are pleased to be in continued partnership with the Council of Traditional and Religious Leaders in Africa (COTLA), to develop an advocacy toolkit that will guide the activities and approaches of these esteemed leaders in eliminating harmful traditional practices including child marriage and harmful widowhood rites.

“Royal Highnesses, Royal Majesties, you are the key to shifting social norms and driving the critical change needed to end gender-based violence and enhance women’s full participation in society. Violence has detrimental impact on survivors as well as their communities, stunting social and economic growth.”

She stressed that: “This critical convening is simultaneously geared towards listening and learning from your reflections on how to tackle the challenge of violence against women and girls. It is my sincere hope that this dialogue will serve to synergize efforts that will accelerate positive actions addressing issues of sexual and gender-based violence in line with the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals Agenda as well as the Africa Union’s 2063 Agenda.”

Michael Olugbode