Violence against women is very widespread and spoken about internationally. There is an international effort to address it through CEDAW (Convention for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women), and throughout the world the subject of violence against women and girls has been raised, but ratification and enforcement of the Convention has been slow. Nigeria is no exception. Violence takes many forms. Sometimes violence is physical, but often it is psychological, such as denying education to girls, forced early marriage, enforced genital mutilation, denial of right to own land, etc. Some are related to cultural practices in various ethnic groups.
Violence against women and girls is often a topic of discussion when women meet together, and in HVCF, we explore ways in which we can assist women. One effort now being piloted in two communities is the community paralegal system. Paralegals are community members who are trained to identify forms of violence against women, to call attention to cases of violence where it is a public issue, to work closely with traditional rulers, victims and perpetrators to see that justice is done and to promote actions that will put an end to violence against women.
HVCF has trained some community paralegals and has set up pilot schemes in two communities in order to evaluate the effectiveness and usefulness of the work before expanding to other communities.
Are paralegals accepted? Is their work not seen as interfering in personal things?
Yes, at times their work is seen as interfering and resented. Sometimes this is because violence is the silent dweller in the home, not addressed for a number of reasons. But we note that as the work of the paralegals is producing some good results, their work is more accepted.
What has enabled any acceptance of their role and their practice?
As noted, some success has been recorded in cases of violence. There are also other factors. E.g., there is monitoring by HVCF staff, and discussion with community members. In addition, where traditional rulers give their approval to something, that usually promotes acceptance.
Do the paralegals sometimes take things too far?
Yes, especially initially after their training, paralegals were quite enthusiastic about removing violence and promoting justice in their communities. However, HVCF staff hold meetings periodically with the paralegals to discuss issues, to talk about creative solutions, to share difficulties, etc., and this has assisted the paralegals to be more reasoned in their approach.
What are some examples of success they have attained?
One example is the situation of a wife leaving the home because of beatings from her husband. With the aid of others and the traditional ruler, they were able to reconcile the two, and the situation is now improved. Another success involved the case of a man who refused to take responsibility for a child of whom he was the father. That was also resolved. Finally, another type of success is that women now feel they have an avenue for reporting cases of violence and therefore see more hopes of resolution.
You keep talking about violence against women. Are there no men experiencing violence?
Yes, unfortunately there are, but the great majority of cases of violence are directed against women. This does not mean that HVCF or the paralegals would not try to address instances of violence against men.