Protesters have taken to the streets in cities across Nigeria to demand urgent action to combat rape and sexual violence against women.
In Lagos on Monday a coalition of rights groups marched to the state parliament calling for it to declare a state of emergency on rape and sexual violence. The march followed the gruesome death of 22-year-old student Uwaila Vera Omozuwa – and the rape and killing less than a week later of another student, Barakat Bello.
University student Omozuwa died after she was attacked in a church in Benin City where she had gone to study on May 27, while Bello was raped and killed during a robbery in her home in the southwestern city of Ibadan on June 1, according to Amnesty International.
The students’ killings, which happened as citizens were still reckoning with a spate of violence against teenage girls in May, have sparked calls for government action on gender-based violence in the country.
“These unfortunate events are not a standalone, rather they are a culmination of unhealthy cultural practices,” the Women Against Rape in Nigeria group said in a petition submitted to lawmakers on Monday.
WARN is pushing for all states in Nigeria to have a sex offenders list – and for it to be made public – as well as other measures to name and shame perpetrators of sexual violence.
Activists from the women-led movement wore symbolic black outfits and carried “End Rape” placards to demand government action against sexual violence Monday.
Sexual survivors silenced
Ebele Molua, an activist and one of the conveners of the protest, said Nigerian women have long been violated and harassed because authorities still perceive rape as a “women issue” leaving women vulnerable to their abusers.
“In Nigeria, you see men catcalling, and groping women in the market and they become violent once they don’t respond to their advances. You find men dismissing the accounts of sexual violence. This has to stop,” Molua told CNN.
Nigerian celebrities have also denounced the latest sexual violence cases on social media and citizens continue to gather in several cities, demanding law enforcement bring the women’s killers to justice.
Nollywood actress Hilda Dokubo joined a women’s group demonstration to the police headquarters in Lagos on Friday in the wake of the killings and a group of students protested in Benin City on June 1.
Efforts to combat violence
One in four girls in Nigeria has experienced some form of sexual violence, according to UNICEF.
Meanwhile Amnesty International, which has launched petition demanding justice over the killings, said femicide and rape cases go under-reported in the country, allowing perpetrators to go unpunished.
However the latest cases have forced authorities to reckon with the scale of the problem.
Nigeria’s Human Rights Commission has launched a social media campaign to educate men about consent and the country’s police force, whose officers have been accused of gender violence in the past, has announced plans to allocate more officers to tackle cases across the country.