In the United States yesterday, President Obama signed a renewal of the Violence Against Women Act which expands the protections extended to victims of domestic abuse and sexual assault. The original bill was written by Vice President Joe Biden, and in his statements reauthorizing a strengthened version, Obama said,
...we’ve come a long way. Back when Joe wrote this law, domestic abuse was too often seen as a private matter, best hidden behind closed doors. Victims too often stayed silent or felt that they had to live in shame, that somehow they had done something wrong. Even when they went to the hospital or the police station, too often they were sent back home without any real intervention or support. They felt trapped, isolated. And as a result, domestic violence too often ended in greater tragedy.
So one of the great legacies of this law is that it didn’t just change the rules; it changed our culture. It empowered people to start speaking out. It made it okay for us, as a society, to talk about domestic abuse. It made it possible for us, as a country, to address the problem in a real and meaningful way. And it made clear to victims that they were not alone -- that they always had a place to go and they always had people on their side.
It is good news to hear know that the rights of women are protected in the country I live in, and tears almost came to my eyes as I listened to the President's speech on the radio as I drove back from an errand. It's almost impossible to think of an America such as he described, but even America started from somewhere.
It made it even better hearing Obama's words, knowing that also in Nigeria, those who make laws are beginning to listen to the needs of women in ways that count. As reported by Linda Ikeji, the Nigerian House of Representatives on March 5th approved a bill mandating life imprisonment for any person convicted of rape, among other gender hate crimes against women.
"They also approved a minimum of 20 years without an option of fine for persons convicted of gang raping someone. The bill, which was sponsored by Hon Abike Dabiri-Erewa, also approved 25 years imprisonment for any person who attempted to use chemical, biological or any harmful liquid on another person. (e.g pouring acid on anyone). The bill also approved 4 years in jail or a fine not more than N200,000 or both for any person convicted of performing female circumcision and general mutilation or engaging someone to carry it out. Aiding female circumcision attracts N100, 000 or two years in jail or both.
The world we live in a still a good way away from being Utopia, least of all for women, but it is these, sometimes little, steps today like in the Violence Against Women Act and the Nigerian Bill on Rape, Assualt and Female Genital Mutilations, that will hopefully make it a better place for young women and girls tomorrow.
Let's join hands to stop violence against women. And if you're so minded, some bloggers are driving a blog and twitter conversation supporting the International Women's Day 2013 #IWD2013 with an online event on twitter via the hashtag #EndVAWNG.