The UN Women has highlighted the central role of cultural and religious leaders in addressing harmful practices and instances of Gender-Based Violence (GBV) that affect women and girls’ health and safety.

Ms Beatrice Eyong, UN Women Representative in Nigeria, said that faith leaders, including decision-makers and policymakers “shaped the status quo.”

She made this assertion at a roundtable discussion of cultural and religious leaders on ending GBV, organised by UN Women on Wednesday, in Lagos.

According to her, the roundtable is simultaneously geared towards listening and learning leaders’ experiences in tackling the challenge of violence against women and girls.

She said UN Women had worked closely with Imams and priests to integrate faith-based teachings amongst their congregations on a weekly basis.

“This is just one powerful and promising practice. In our recent interventions, 1,329 women and men regularly attended community programmes that promote progressive gender-equitable norms.

“Through these actions, positive behaviours that stop GBV are more likely to be practiced. Working with, rather than against traditional leaders in West Africa is crucial to ending violence.

“A life free from the fear and experience of violence is a social and economic imperative and we owe it to ourselves and our communities to ensure that we eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls.”

Eyong said GBV had real-time effects on economies, citing the case of Egypt where an estimate of 500,000 working days were lost yearly due to marital violence and the health sector bears over 14 million dollars in costs to serve one quarter of survivors.

She also said data from the Mirabel Centre in Lagos showed that 81 per cent  of reported cases of sexual assault between 2013 and 2019 were perpetrated against children and 67 per cent  of the perpetrators were known.

These statistics, Eyong said, are staggering and should shake humanity to its core.

According to her, GBV destroys the fabric of communities and puts a stain on communal identity.

The discussion also marked the launch of a novel three-year programme titled, “Traditional and Cultural Leaders for Ending GBV by Advancing Advocacy, Policy and Social Norms Change in Nigeria and West Africa (LEAP),” in partnership with Ford Foundation.

The LEAP project recognises the importance of cultural and faith leaders in preventing and responding to GBV and leverages their extensive knowledge and experiences in their respective jurisdictions.

Oba Aderemi Adedapo, Alayemore of Ido-Osun and Convener-General, Council of Traditional Leaders of Africa (COTLA), also made some remarks at the programme.

He said the vintage position of traditional and religious leaders could influence attitudes, beliefs, and behaviours towards gender norms and violence.

“Our influence in communities should be used to promote positive gender norms, provide support to survivors of GBV, raise awareness about the harmful effects of GBV and harmful practices, and advocate for laws and policies that protect women and girls.”

Adedapo said UN Women was instrumental in the formation of COTLA in 2018 and had since then, provided ongoing capacity and institutional strengthening.

Included in this, he said, was the recent development of a training manual and annual work plan to guide the work of COTLA in Nigeria on social mobilisation, advocacy and community programmes on the prevention and response to GBV.

“The support by UN Women has culminated in COTLA members spearheading the abolishment of harmful practices including money-wife practice in Obanliku in Cross River State, abandonment of female genital mutilation in Ameka community in Ebonyi State, among others.

“With the launch of the LEAP project, I am pleased that the achievements and work of traditional and religious leaders across Nigeria and West Africa will be sustained.

“By preventing GBV and harmful practices, we can promote human rights, improve health, increase economic productivity, foster social cohesion, and advance gender equality,” he said. (NAN)


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