With the spike in Gender Based Violence (GBV) and mental ill health in the country, the Young Lawyers mentoring and Pupillage Committee (YLF) of Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) Abuja Branch, (Unity Bar), Law and Society Magazine in conjunction with Media and Teens Network, a non-governmental organisation have called for GBV to be declared a crime against state.
Rising from a recent webinar amid the ‘two new pandemics”, the group observed that GBV affects mental health as the actions of the perpetrator negatively impacts and aggravates the mind of the victim.
It was also observed that the country is likely to witness more mental health problems on account of GBV if the situation continues unchecked.
The Centre for Urban Design and Mental Health (UD/MH) for instance holds that: “Good mental health means a thriving population, but mental health problems can impede people’s abilities to realize their potential, cope with stresses, work productively and fruitfully, and make contributions to their communities…”
As a response to the persistent question of GBV violence in Nigeria, the Violence Against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) Act, was enacted in 2015. Meanwhile, the Rome Statute which promotes gender equality through accountability for sexual and gender-based crimes, contributes to accountability and redress for Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV) through its catalytic effect at the national level.
This means that if a state ratifies the Statute and incorporates its far-reaching SGBV provisions into domestic legislation, these crimes can be prosecuted by national courts.
Setting the tone of the event with a link between mental health and GBV, the YLF Financial Secretary, Ms Juliet Isi-Ikhayere paved way for Chairperson of the NBA Abuja branch, Dr. Hauwa Shekarau who joined the conversation by reiterating that the Unity Bar has tolerance to GBV whatever form.
Insisting that “GBV is a crime that affects all of us”, the first discussant, award winning poet, gender rights activist, legal practitioner and serial entrepreneur, Mr. Jude Ifesemen drew a distinction GBV and domestic abuse.
According to Ifesemen, “GBV is meted out because of the person’s gender while domestic abuse does not necessarily results to GBV. Gender Based Violence is not necessarily physical. If you deprive me what is mine because of my gender, it is a violence act.
“It also affects one’s mental health because, the actions of the perpetrator aggravates the human nature of the victim.”
Admitting that there is a lot of societal pressure on women, Ifesemen urged that everyone takes a stand on the question of GBV.
He added that: “While women may not be the target of gender based violence, the society needs to talk about it. There is also gender violence against a man when he is been exploited. There are so many demands on him. Sometimes the men become docile and depression sets in. Some sicknesses in Nigeria are mental health cases and nothing more.
“Mental health affects how we think, feel, and act, as we cope with life. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. It affects every aspect of our lives and it is exacerbated by the way we treat one another. Gender Based Violence is real and damaging.”
Proffering some solutions to the GBV challenge, Ifesemen said:
“First, it’s important we try to build the confidence of people around us.
Next, encourage people to speak out, tell the perpetrator – I don’t want this. Be firm and assert your position.
Also, people should have the confidence to leave a bad decision. No man or woman is worthy of making you feel bad about yourself. Be bold to leave.”
Another discussant and Chairman of the YLF, Principal Partner Godwin Diugwu and Associates, Mr Godwin Diugwu made a case for stronger legislation that will check the cases of GBV in the society. Thereafter, he urged: “Every one of us should put hands together and see to it that GBV is reduced and tackled.”
In addition, Moderator of the event, Co-Ordinator, Media & Teens Network and Editor-in-Chief, Law & Society Magazine, Lillian Okenwa, pointed out that:
“The stress you create for someone can snowball into so many things including mental imbalance. Children from violent relationships for instance witness violence in their homes and in most cases become violent. What that relationship has done is unleash more viciousness on the society, thereby creating an unending cycle. When children witness domestic violence, they are more likely to be victims or perpetrators of violence in the future. Checking GBV and mental health or ameliorating it in any form starts from how we treat people around us and those we meet every day. Legislations are important but this situation requires a human touch. We all have a part to play.”
The third discussant, Mimi Ayua, a Management Consultant, certified Mediator from ICMC, Senior Associate in O.J Onoja, SAN & Associates, certified Negotiator from the US Institute of Peace, and Fellow, Institute of Management Consultants delved into GBV in the legal profession and how it affects female lawyers.
“When you mention mental health, people think its mad people on the street, but mental health means mental wholeness, completeness. Some persons may look okay but underneath something is wrong. There are other types of GBV apart from the physical violence. For instance when a job discriminates based on your gender, it reduces a person’s self-esteem.
“Most offices think the female lawyer doesn’t have the capacity to handle the rigorous process of litigation. She finds it disturbing. If that female lawyer is not mentally strong to accept this, it will affect her and how she behaves.
“The legal profession needs to become aware of this challenges we have in our profession. It is a complex phenomenon that needs to be challenged and addressed fully.”
Wrapping up her thoughts, Mimi Ayua gave the following suggestions:
“We can have centres where survivors can get counselling. However, individuals must rise up, become self-aware and realise the things happening around us.
“The family, especially parents should inculcate the rights values, into their children. Let them know that they are good enough, boost their self-confidence and above all live by example. Children see and internalize everything happening in the home. Finally, the NBA should do something about GBV in the profession. A lot of female lawyers are not finding it easy but the fear of backlashes and being victimized is holding them back from speaking out.
Adding to the conversation, Vice Chairperson, YLF Unity Bar, Rahila Dauda said: Mental health is fundamental to our collective and individual ability as humans to think, emote, and interact with each other. Survivors of GBV often internalize the verbal abuse from their partner. They may blame themselves for their situation, experience fear, as well as anger and resentment towards themselves. It is indeed a tragic situation.”
Indeed the devastating effects of Gender-Based Violence can cause women to experience various mental health disorders. “Many people”, according to Clinical Psychologist Robyn Travers, who works at the Department of Health’s Tara Psychiatric Hospital in Johannesburg, “who access services at psychiatric hospitals have in one way or another been impacted or affected by Gender-Based Violence (GBV).”
Travers confirmed that GBV can lead to women experiencing various psycho-social, economic and societal stressors. “The psychological impact of GBV can contribute towards adult victims experiencing depression, anxiety-related disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder and substance-use disorders. Additionally, feelings of shame, anger, hopelessness and helplessness and suicidal urges may be prominent..
“Each women’s psychology is different and they may experience different symptoms and mental health conditions,” she said.