Women, girls worst victims of gender violence, cyber harassment, says French Ambassador

The French Ambassador to Nigeria, Emmanuella Blatmann on Monday, December 4, 2023, in Abuja, added a new twist to the challenges currently being faced by Nigerians, with an argument that Gender-Based Violence (GBV) and harassment against women and girls has become more fierce online.

While describing GBV as a global problem, the envoy emphasized the need for young children to be educated through online means on how to ensure a safe online and offline environment that would be based on tolerance, respect and not aggressive attacks. 

Blatmann said GBV was worse in places of wars, conflicts or countries suffering from economic crisis, and that the most vulnerable victims were girls and women. 

She stated these during a sensitization session for secondary school students of Lycée Francais Marcel du Pagnol d’Abuja (French School Abuja) organised by Avocats Sans Frontieres (ASF) France, also known as Lawyers Without Borders, in partnership with the Embassy of France in Nigeria and Institut du Francais as part of activities marking this year’s edition of 16 Days of Activism against GBV. 

Blatmann said, "What we are focusing on is online gender-based violence, which is one part of GBV. Unfortunately, gender-based violence takes a lot of aspects and dimensions and one of them is online. We are in connected world, so it's important to educate teenagers, who are the ones who actually do suffer the most in respect to online and cyber harassment. 

"GBV, unfortunately, is increasing worldwide. The figures show that violence against women and girls is increasing. But it's true that in some contexts, it's worse. It's worse in places where there are wars, conflicts or economic crisis and things like that often times happen to the most vulnerable and the first ones to suffer are the women and girls."

Blatmann called on the Nigerian government and other nations to take violence against women and girls, especially online, as national concern that must be tackled. 

"So what can we do? Of course, every country has its own policy. In France, fighting violence against women, and online bullying has been raised as a national cause and something that we have to fight against at all costs. 

"We call on all states to adopt the Convention on Eliminating Violence Against Women, the United Nations Convention and other international laws that can help. Many countries have the legal framework, but sometimes, it's how to implement and enforce the legislative decisions, and this is where I think education is very important because it's also sometimes a cultural thing. GBV does not have class. It can happen to anyone, whatever the background."

The Country Director of ASF France, Angela Uwandu Uzoma-Iwuchukwu, blamed lack of awareness for the upsurge of the menace.

According to her, there is need to address the scourge holistically. 

She harped on the need to embrace more of prevention, saying Nigeria also needed gender specific legislations that would provide stiffer punishment to deter future offenders. 

Uzoma-Iwuchukwu said, "gender-based violence continues to be a problem in Nigeria as well as everywhere in the world. But here in Nigeria because of lack of awareness, we're not talking about the issues enough. We have to employ strategies to ensure that we're speaking to the right people. This is because this year, the entire focus is on prevention. There is a need to ensure that there's education across different strata in schools such as what we're doing today. 

"We also need to take advantage of the religious circles to talk about gender-based violence, because it's happening and we need to ensure that there's enough awareness that's been created on the issues to ensure prevention but also to talk about the consequences.

"People are being silenced. Women and girls are being silenced due to gender-based violence. GBV sometimes happens in closed spaces; but also in public and right now we are seeing that with technology, it has amplified GBV in a different setting. 

"Nigeria still needs gender specific legislations. And that's why in the last National Assembly, we had about three gender bills that were thrown out. We're hoping that this particular Assembly will live up to it. Again, the particular legislations that we have currently, such as the Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act, we need to call for implementation of the existing legislations. Let us start from there, how many persons have been prosecuted, but beyond that, prevention is key."

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