BRIDGING THE GENDER DIGITAL DIVIDE TO PREVENT, ADDRESS, AND RESPOND TO CONFLICT-RELATED SEXUAL VIOLENCE
Conflict-related sexual violence has been prevalent in Nigeria in the past decade, particularly in areas in the northeast affected by the Boko Haram insurgency and inter-communal clashes. Women and girls have been subjected to rape, sexual slavery, forced marriage, and other forms of sexual violence as a tactic of war. The Nigerian government has taken steps to address this issue, including adopting the National Action Plan on Sexual and Gender-Based Violence in 2016. However, challenges remain in terms of implementation and accountability for perpetrators. Civil society organizations have played a critical role in advocating for survivors and pushing for justice, but they too face threats and intimidation. Addressing conflict-related sexual violence requires a comprehensive approach that addresses root causes such as gender inequality and impunity for perpetrators. It also requires sustained efforts to provide support and services to survivors, including access to medical care, psychosocial support, legal aid, and economic empowerment opportunities.
The International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict is a momentous occasion to raise awareness about the devastating impact of conflict-related sexual violence. This year’s theme, Bridging the Gender Digital Divide, which is aimed at preventing, addressing, and responding to conflict-related sexual violence, highlights the need to address how technology can be used to perpetrate sexual violence, as well as the importance of ensuring that survivors have access to digital resources and support. Daily, we see reports on the internet, especially on social media, from women who complain of being sexually violated and abused either because of their looks, what they wear, or even their achievements as women. This highlights the need for increased awareness and education on consent and respect for women’s autonomy. Survivors must have access to digital resources that can help them heal and recover from trauma. This includes online counseling services, support groups, and educational materials on self-care and coping mechanisms.
In addition, we must address the root causes of sexual violence by challenging societal norms and attitudes that perpetuate harmful behaviors towards girls and boys, women and men. This can be achieved through advocacy, community mobilization, and policy reforms aimed at promoting gender equality and human rights. By working together to create a safe and inclusive digital space for survivors, we can empower them to reclaim their agency and lead fulfilling lives free from violence.
Ultimately, we call on state and non-state actors – government, policy-makers, civil society organizations, and the private sector – to take a holistic approach toward ending conflict-related sexual violence. This includes investing in education and awareness-raising campaigns that challenge harmful gender norms and stereotypes, as well as strengthening legal frameworks to ensure perpetrators are held accountable for their actions. Additionally, we must prioritize providing comprehensive support services for survivors, including access to healthcare, legal aid, and counseling, all through digital platforms that can be easily accessible to them.
Written by Mary Udoh