History is made as Nigeria passes domestic violence law

As we celebrate Nigeria’s parliamentary approval of a landmark bill on gender based violence, we ask what, and who, made the difference the third time around?

History was made in Nigeria this March. On its third reading, the 360 member House of Representatives of the National Assembly of the Federal Republic of Nigeria passed the Violence against Persons (Prohibition) Bill. A law which aims to eliminate, or reduce to a minimum, the cases of gender based violence.

“There’s no way to end sexual violence unless you end impunity.”
Zainab Bangura.

The key gains in the new law – subject to approval by the Senate – include a more comprehensive definition of rape, harsher sentences for rape and other sexual offences, compensation for rape victims, institutional protection from further abuse through restraining orders and a new fund to support the rehabilitation of victims of violence.

Worldwide, 70% of women experience some form of violence in their lifetime, but in Nigeria that rises to one in three for women aged between 15 and 24. In nearly half of all cases the perpetrator is the woman’s partner or husband and, shockingly, nearly half of all cases are never reported to the police. Impunity and, worse still, gender
based violence within the police and security forces are part of the problem. But the new bill aims to change all that.

Covering a tragic spectrum of violence, including female circumcision, domestic violence, early forced marriage, rape (including marital) and harmful widowhood practices, the Bill aims to recognise the rights of all to safety both in the workplace and the home. The Bill expressly recognises the right to physical and psychological integrity in times of peace and in areas of conflict.

How WRAPA made a difference

So, who and what made the difference between the rejection of the bill in 2003 and its approval in 2008, with only minor modifications? Step forward Oxfam’s partner WRAPA – or the Women’s Rights’ Advancement and Protection Alternative. This organisation has first hand experience of the consequences of violent crime gained through providing legal aid and counselling services since 1999. As Secretariat for the Legislative Advocacy Coalition on Violence Against Women (LACVAW) WRAPA has
tirelessly built up a head of pressure on parliamentarians to vote in the VAPP Bill, powered by national and pan-African advocacy and policy connections and the critical mass of seventeen  civil society, faith and community groups galvanising support from across Nigeria’s ethnic groups and states.

In 2008 WRAPA starting working with Oxfam’s Raising Her Voice Programme (RHV). The partnership added renewed momentum to the push for poor women’s participation and the domestication of the African Union Women’s Protocol and breathed new life into WRAPA’s campaigning and advocacy around the VAPP bill.

“The issues I’ve gone through have made me realise my rights. I’ve decided to teach other women about their rights, because this is what is helping me get back on my feet.”
Tribunal testimony

Working simultaneously at regional, national, state and grassroots level, WRAPA developed a multi-faceted campaign that inexorably and relentlessly drove the Bill forward.

Skilfully drawing upon the coalition members’ strengths and connections, campaign tactics included: public information campaigns to increase the demand for rights, mock tribunals to showcase abuses of women’s rights, vox pop in schools and market places, parliamentarians bombarded by: “Vote for DV Bill or we won’t vote for you” texts, a former MP hired to navigate and fast track the Bill’s parliamentary passage, songs, slogans and always, simple, harmonised messaging.

And what about the impact of RHV’s promotion of women’s political participation? More women in decision making positions in community development associations put gender based violence on the agenda. In addition, increased confidence means more women have been able to collaborate with religious and traditional leaders. Work with law enforcement agents and journalists who cover violent crimes is also contributing to the slow institutional sea change.

The VAPP Bill’s approval is a powerful example of the power of collective action. It also demonstrates the need for a range of skills and approaches to achieve similar success elsewhere: legislative advocacy, public campaigning, grassroots activism, coalition building, communications and networking. A bulging address book is also essential.


Author: Jacky Repila
Archive blog. Originally posted on Oxfam Policy & Practice.