COUNSELLING FOR WOMEN SAFETY

COUNSELLING FOR WOMEN SAFETY

 

                                                        

     COUNSELLING FOR WOMEN SAFETY

By

                 DR ICHECHI OLATUNBOSUN

               Community Secondary School, Ubima,

                       Port Harcourt, Rivers State.

E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.         +234 (0)8160209955, +234(0)8065688943.

 

Abstract:                                                                          

Women safety has now been recognized as a public problem and human rights violation of global dimension. The safety of women is important to ensure good health, mental health and that women wholly contribute to the social, economic and political development of their communities. In this paper, the researcher explained the concept of women safety and how counselling can be used as an intervention strategy to engender the safety of women.

INTRODUCTION

The problem of women insecurity in our modern society has become worrisome. Many concerned people in the world have cried out and many researchers have researched in the past and in the present about the insecurity, danger and harm which women suffer because of their gender as women. According to research, a lot of women have lost their lives prematurely due to maternal mortality and inaccessibility to reproductive health care. It is said that one out of every three women around the world have been beaten, coerced into sex or abused in other ways in their life time, with the abuser usually being someone known to her, (Moradian (2009). It appears almost as if by being born a woman, makes one an endangered species, but this is not supposed to be so. Women are subjects of sexual harassment and violence whether married, single, going to school, selling in the market, using public transport or walking the streets. The insecurity, harm and danger that women encounter in society have devastating effect on the well-being and mental health of women. Most women are terrified by threats to their safety, and these negatively influence their lives so that they are impeded from contributing to the social, economic and political development of their communities. To achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) which aims to achieve gender equality for all by 2030, the issue of women safety has to be taken seriously. Lack of safety for women is a crime and violation of their fundamental human rights. Strict laws concerning the security of women have not ensured women safety; rather it is thought that societal changes to address gender inequalities and women empowerment will be the way to ensure women’s security and safety, (UN 2006). Counselling as an intervention strategy can be used to curb undesirable behaviours and societal vices such as insecurity and lack of safety of women.

The Concept of Women Safety

       The term “woman” evolved from the old English “wifmann” which meant “female human”. The spelling progressed over the millennium to “wimann”, then to “wumann” and finally to the modern spelling “woman”. The term “woman” is used usually to refer to an adult female human being. While the term “girl” is usually used to refer to a female child or adolescent. Sometimes, as in this case, the term “woman” is also used to refer to a female human irrespective of age, for instance “women’s right” or “women’s safety”. A typical woman is capable of giving birth to children. Generally speaking, women suffer some exclusive health problems, for instance, diseases such as lupus, other sex-related diseases like breast cancer and cervical cancer, obstetric fistulas, as well as maternal death. Women have rights; according to UN resolution on reproductive and sexual health international Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics: “The human rights of women include their right to have control over and decide freely and responsibly on matters related to their sexuality, including sexual and reproductive health, free of coercion, discrimination and violence. Equal relationships between women and men in matters of sexual relations and reproduction, including full respect for the integrity of the person, require mutual respect, consent and shared responsibility for sexual behaviour and its consequences.”

         Hornby (2005) defined Safety as a state of being safe and protected from harm. The Merriam-Webster (2020) defined safety as the condition of being safe from undergoing or causing hurt, injury or lost. The safety of women is not guaranteed in a society that upholds harmful practices, culture, and discrimination against women, where violence against women is practiced, and where women’s rights are not recognized.

      Women's safety refers to a range of strategies, practices, and policies that work to create safer environments for women and girls. It is based on the notion that women and girls have the right to live their life without the constant feeling of fear and insecurity. Some factors causing lack of safety of women have been identified as: oppressive social structure, lack of education, gender based violence, armed conflict, poverty and low economic status of women, discrimination against women,  religious and cultural beliefs that see women as unequal and subordinate to men, societal attitude and biases, lack of adequate legislation and implementation. The safety of women is threatened by several acts such as domestic violence, feticides, rape, forced prostitution, denial of education, trafficking, marital rape, honour killings, and sexual harassment at work place, child marriage, etc.

           The UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women (1993), states that, "violence against women is a manifestation of historically unequal power relations between men and women" and "violence against women is one of the crucial social mechanisms by which women are forced into a subordinate position compared with men," (UN General Assembly, retrieved 6 August, 2014). Gender-based violence is present at various levels, beginning with discrimination at birth, further perpetuated through discrimination in education, nutrition, employment, wages and direct/indirect acts of sexual aggression. According to WHO’s (1997) typology table, violence against women occurs throughout the life cycle, beginning with:

  • Pre-birth phase: sex selective abortion, effects of battering during pregnancy on birth outcomes.
  • Infancy phase: female infanticide, physical, sexual and psychological abuse.
  • Girlhood phase:  child marriage, female genital mutilation, physical, sexual and psychological abuse, incest, child prostitution and pornography.
  • Adolescence and adulthood phase: dating and courtship violence ( such as date rape and acid throwing), economically coerced sex ( e.g. school girl having sex with sugar daddies in return for school fees), incest, sexual abuse in workplaces, rape, sexual harassment, forced prostitution and pornography, trafficking in women, partner violence, marital rape, abuse of women with disabilities, forced pregnancy.
  • Elderly Person’s phase: forced “suicide” or homicide of widows for economic reasons, sexual, physical and psychological abuse, (WHO, 1997).

There have been several approaches to countering violence against women including campaigns, legislation and institutional mechanisms. In the 70s and 80s, women’s movements were at the forefront of waging war against gender-based violence. This broke the silence around violence against women (VAW) and led to several legal reforms including a comprehensive Prevention of Domestic Violence Act and reforms on Sexual Assault, and more women rights organizations and legislations emerged. Delhi (2009), observed that women safety involves the following strategies, practices and policies which aim to reduce violence against women, including (i) women’s fear of crime. (ii) Lack of movement and comfort which is a form of social exclusion. Town planning and policies about safety which should involve and consider women. (iii) Freedom from poverty includes access to safe water, the existence and security of toilet facilities esp. in informal settlements, slum upgrades, gender sensitive streets and city designs, safe car parks, shopping centers and public transportation. (iv) Financial security and autonomy is a major strategy for coping with abusive relationship. Women’s economic empowerment reduces their vulnerability to situations of violence as they become less dependent on men and better able to make their own decisions. (v) Self-worth; women need to have feelings of self-worth; live in safe homes and communities, women have the rights to value themselves, to be empowered, to be respected, to be independent, to have their rights valued, to be loved, to have solidarity with other family and community members and to be recognized as equal members of society. (vi) Strategies and policies that take place before violence occurs to prevent perpetration of victimization; this can happen by improving the knowledge and attitudes of people which correspond to the origins of domestic sexual violence, such as adherence to societal norms that are supportive of violence, male superiority and male sexual entitlement. Furthermore, women’s full participation in local decision making and decision making process must be promoted and finally, safer and healthier community for everyone.

       The safety of women is considered important and the international law has made provision for women’s rights which ensures women’ safety. Some of the legislations, protocols, and declarations of Women’s Rights by the UN and Ratified by Nigeria in 1984 are: 

Article 1 of the Declaration of Human Rights states that “all human beings are born free and equal,” (Adikema-Ajaegbo 2015).

Also Article 5 of the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1979 and ratified by Nigeria in 1984, “encourages nations to modify the social and cultural patterns of conduct of men and women with the view to eliminate inferiority and superiority of either sexes or stereotype roles of men and women,” (Adikema-Ajaegbo 2015).

The Solemn Declaration on Gender Equality in Africa reaffirms the principle of gender equality as enshrined in Article 4(1) of the Constitutive Act of the African Union. In chapter 7, member states declare “to actively promote the implementation of legislation to guarantee women’s land, property and inheritance rights including the right to housing”, (Adikema-Ajaegbo 2015).

The African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights (ACHPR) was domesticated in Nigeria in form of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights (Enforcement and Domestication) Act Cap 10, 1990. This Act makes the provisions of the Charter enforceable in any Court of Law in Nigeria. Article 18 of the ACHPR states that “the State shall ensure the elimination of every discrimination against women and also ensure the protection of the rights of women...” (Adikema-Ajaegbo 2015).

Article 21 of The Protocol to the Charter on Human and Peoples Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (ratified by Nigeria in 2004) states that “a widow/widower shall have the right to inherit each other’s property in the event of death whatever the matrimonial regime, to continue living in the matrimonial home”. Sub paragraph (2) of the above states that “women and girls shall have same rights as men and boys to inherit in equal shares their parents’ properties”, (Adikema-Ajaegbo 2015).

CEDAW also provided the following women’s rights: Economic and social welfare rights, Rights to education and training, health and reproductive rights, rights to participation in political and decision making process, the right to dignity, Poverty and food security and adequate housing, the right to healthy environment and sustainable environment, access to justice and equal protection under the law. (Adikema-Ajaegbo 2015).

Women’s Safety and Violation of Women’s Rights (As Practiced in Nigeria Presently)

It is disturbing to observe that in Nigeria the issue of women’s safety is not taken seriously by the government; women’s rights are violated, there are persistent discriminatory laws against women, there is lack of harmonization between statutory and customary laws and application of sharia laws in the northern states. Violence against women is practiced, including widowhood rites; and obstacles to access employment, decision making positions and health services (Africa for Women Rights 2018). Recently, Nigeria’s National Assembly rejected bills seeking gender equality, (Falana 2022). The aforementioned do not guarantee safety of women.

Domestic violence

Most women suffer domestic violence in Nigeria. Despite the efforts of women’s rights organizations, the legislature is yet to pass into law, draft bills on violence against women including bills prohibiting domestic violence, sexual offences and female genital mutilation, (Africa for Women Rights: Nigeria 2018).  The rate of domestic violence is higher than what is reported in Nigeria. Husbands are permitted to beat their wives provided it does not rise to the level of “grievous hurt” (Code of Northern Nigeria, s. 55).  The husband can withdraw maintenance if his wife refuses sexual intercourse, under Sharia law (eg. Kano State Sharia Penal Code in Africa for Women’s Rights 2018). An example of domestic violence in Nigeria is the case of popular singer, Osinachi Nwachukwu who suffered domestic violence in the hands of her husband for several years until she was eventually murdered by him.

Rape crime

Women tend not to report rape because of fear of shame and stigmatization. It is almost impossible to make convictions in the crime of rape due to the very strict requirements imposed to proof the crime of rape. Under the sharia law, a woman alleging rape must produce 4 witnesses to the rape. If the rape is not proved she can be punished for adultery with a prison sentence or flogging. Even where rape is reported, the perpetrators are hardly prosecuted. This situation leaves the women unprotected.

 

Female genital mutilation

The incidence and prevalence of female genital mutilation in Nigeria is widespread despite the passage of law in some states prohibiting it. Female genital mutilation is still commonly practiced.

Transference of nationality to spouse

Women are not allowed by statutory law to transmit their nationality to foreign spouses unlike their male counterpart who are allowed to transmit their nationality to foreign wives; this practice is discriminatory and oppressive to women.

 Child marriage

 Child marriage is practiced in Nigeria, especially in the northern part, where a girl-child of 9 years is made to marry an adult male and supported by statutory law.  Nigeria has about 22 million estimated child brides – the highest in West Africa, (Ayodele 2022). According to UNICEF cited in Ayodele (2022), about 44 percent of Nigeria’s female are married before their 18th birthday. Such child marriages are hazardous to the health of the child-bride, and most times, cause diseases such as depression, sexually transmitted infections, cervical cancer, obstetric fistulas and maternal mortality. 

In divorce

The husband only is allowed to initiate divorce and can repudiate the marriage by simply announcing out loud that he intends to divorce his wife according to talaq procedure in the sharia law. While the khul’u procedure allows a woman to request a divorce by paying a “ransom” to her husband in order to terminate the marriage. These are discriminatory practices, and they are not safe for women.

Ownership of real property

Only men have the right to own land under customary law in Nigeria. Sharia law does not allow women access to real property. This practice s discriminatory and empowers men against women.

Widowhood rites

Widowhood practices are not safe. Widows continue to suffer widowhood rites and denial of their rights; such widowhood rites include forcing widows to drink the water used to bathe the husband’s corpse or to crawl over his corpse, a widow can be forced to marry her deceased husband’s male relative.

 

 

Inheritance rights

Many times, properties acquired by the widow and her husband while her husband lived are forcefully taken from her in the event of her husband’s death by her deceased husband’s relatives. Also in many cultures only boys and men inherit their father, despite the legislation that a widow/widower has the right to inherit each other’s property in the event of death whatever the matrimonial regime and that women and girls have same rights as men and boys to inherit in equal shares their parents’ properties. This is far from being the reality.

 Trafficking in women

Trafficking in women is practiced in Nigeria and this practice is widespread, despite the adoption of the Trafficking in Persons Prohibition Law Enforcement and Administration Act in 2003 (amended in 2005) and the establishment of the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons, (Africa for Women Rights: Nigeria 2018).

Illiteracy among women and unemployment

There is gross unemployment among women in Nigeria and the rate of illiteracy among women is greatly higher than that of men. Therefore, the women who have jobs are employed mainly in informal sectors where they are poorly paid and cannot access social security service. According to the National Bureau of Statistics cited in Ayodele (2022), women constitute 35 percent of the 23million Nigerians that are unemployed.  Again, In a report by World Wide Web Foundation and the Alliance for Affordable Internet ( A4A1) cited in Ayodele (2022) on Nigeria and 31 other lower and middle income countries, it was discovered that the government lost an estimated $126 billion in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) because women were unable to contribute  to the digital economy. This may not be surprising because women are less likely to have access to the internet than men. About 60 percent of women in northern Nigeria have no access to the internet due to cultural and gender norms in this region, (Equal access International (EAI) cited in Ayodele 2022). It was also discovered in another research by the Centre for Information Technology and Development (CITAD) that 55 percent of men in northern Nigeria do not want their wives to use the internet and 61 percent of fathers discourage their daughters from using the internet. Mckinsey cited in Ayodele (2022) says that the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of Nigeria could grow by $229 billion by 2025 if women participated in the economy the same extent as men.   

 

Poverty among Women

Although less than 50 percent of the population is women, yet women constitute more than 70 percent of the poor, (National Bureau of Statistics cited in Ayodele 2022). Nigeria ranked 139th position out of 153 countries in the gender gap index in 2021 by World Economic Forum (WEF), (Ayodele, 2022). This means that the majority of the poor are women. Nigeria does not have a social security plan for providing food and housing to the poor. This makes the situation of women precarious and exposes them to sex trade and destitution.  (Africa for Women Rights: Nigeria 2018).

Underrepresentation of Women in decision-making position

Women are grossly underrepresented in decision-making positions. Only 6 percent of seats in the national parliament are held by women, against the 35percent minimum quota of women representation in decision making positions as stipulated by the National Gender Policy. If women are adequately represented in decision-making positions, they will be able to ensure that the decisions and laws promote women’s wellbeing and safety.

Maternal mortality

According to WHO cited in Ope (2020), the Maternal Mortality Rate (MMR) in Nigeria is 814 (per 100,000 live births) and the lifetime-risk of a Nigerian woman dying during pregnancy childbirth, post-partum and post-abortion is 1 in 22 in contrast to the lifetime-risk in developed countries estimated at 1 in 4900. The maternal mortality rate is so alarming because women do not have access to adequate ante-natal and post-natal care. In addition, unsafe abortion, inadequate post-abortion care, child marriages, early pregnancies, inadequate family planning services and lack of sex education have been blamed.

           Ways of Fostering Women’s Safety as Advanced by Africa for Women Rights (2018)

  1. Reform or repeal all discriminatory statutory laws in conformity with CEDAW and the   Maputo Protocol, including provisions within the Constitution and the Criminal Code.
  2. Harmonize statutory, customary, and religious law in conformity with international and regional instruments on women’s rights and ensure that where conflicts arise between formal legal provisions and customary law, the formal provisions prevail.
  3. Strengthen legislation and other measures to protect women from violence and support victims, including by adopting specific legislation to criminalize domestic violence, marital rape and other crimes of sexual violence; and reforming the evidence requirements to prove rape; removing obstacles to victims’ access to justice; ensuring effective prosecution and punishment of offenders; implementing training for all law enforcement personnel; and establishing shelters for women victims of violence.
  4. Increase efforts to ensure women’s equal access to employment and decision-making positions, including by strengthening measures to combat sexual harassment in the workplace and implementing temporary special measures, including quotas.
  5. Improve women’s access to health, including by strengthening efforts aimed at reducing the incidence of maternal and infant mortality; increasing knowledge of and access to contraception; improving sex education and establishing family planning services.
  6. Adopt all necessary measures to reform or eliminate discriminatory cultural practices and stereotypes, including through awareness-raising programmes targeting women and men, traditional and community leaders.
  7. Implement all recommendations issued by the CEDAW Committee in July 2008.” (Africa for Women Rights: Nigeria (2018)

Legislations have not ensured the safety of women, but it is said that societal changes to address gender inequalities and women empowerment will be the way to ensure women’s security and safety, (UN 2006). And counselling is among the leading specialist areas that can curb societal vices such as violation of women’s rights and engender safety of women. It is against this background that the researcher deemed it necessary to explore how counselling can be used as an intervention strategy to engender the safety of women.

 

 

The Concept of Counselling

Counselling, according to Burks and Stefflre (1973), Feltham and Dryden cited in McLeod (2009), is defined as a professional relationship between a trained counsellor and client(s) characterized by the application of one or more psychological theories meant to help clients make meaningful well-informed choices. British Association for counselling and Psychotherapy (2008), said that “counselling is a way of enabling choice or change or of reducing confusion…” The counsellor may help the client to examine in detail the behaviour or situation which is proving troublesome and to find an area where it would be possible to initiate some change as a start. The counsellor may help the client to look at the options open to them and help them to decide the best for them”. Lamido (2017) said that “counselling helps an individual to take an honest look at him, locate his thoughts and weaknesses, consider those feelings thoughts and behaviour patterns in the context of laws, rules and regulations approved by society. Counselling makes him to consider alternatives in the light of existing facts and information to make an informed, wise and personal decision.” This means that human beings can solve their own problems if assisted. Counselling helps to remove the blocks that impede the development of the individual, so that they can attain self-growth, self-development and self-actualization which also bring about societal development and actualization.

Counselling can be individual counselling (one to one counselling) or group counselling. During group counselling, members are free to express their views and feelings. The responsibility of the counsellor is to help open up the problem with his professional competence and knowledge. In a group counselling to curb violation of women’s rights, the duty of the counsellor is to enable the individual/society understand the pains that it causes women and the loss that society incurs by impeding women from fully contributing to the economic, social and political development of their community.

The counselling environment, which is the relationship which exists between the counsellor and his client, should be warm based on mutual trust and respect. There should be rapport between the counselor and client. The counsellor should have empathy, unconditional positive regard and congruence. He is expected to accept the client and treat him with respect. Rapport is essential for the counselling goals to be achieved. On the part of the client, there should be readiness to change which comes by the knowledge that something is unsatisfactory and trust in the counsellor to help bring about this change. It is up to the counsellor to help the client arrive at a place where he feels free to make decisions or choices that are in harmony with the aims of society. Another phase of counselling relationship is the growth of the client’s capacity to solve his own problem. As counsellor helps client to explore and fully utilize his potential, gain independence and actualizes himself, the client also acquires skills which will enable him overcome other problems in future. Counselling environment must be devoid of criticism, fear and judgment, but an atmosphere of frankness and openness where client feels that there is no need to hide from self or others any longer. The counsellor should recognize that the matters being discussed are the properties of the client and should be held in confidence.

Warm and cordial relationship between counsellor and client connotes that counsellor carefully listen to what client is saying with rapt attention in other to observe and make meaning of what he is saying and the emotions attached to what he says.

The way Forward in Engendering Women Safety through Counselling

Counselling progammes of education, massive campaigns and awareness creation about women’s rights and safety as well as the cooperation of government and the entire populace including the strengthening of implementation agencies, will help in bringing about women’s safety. Counselling can be used as an intervention strategy to foster the safety of women in the following ways:

  • In school setting, gender sensitization workshops can be organized in schools (at all levels) by professional counsellors in conjunction with other social organizations to create awareness of body safety rules and abuse, as well as awareness of the rights of women for girls in age appropriate levels. This is important to curb health issues, rape, and subjugation of girls. It will help to build self-confidence in the girls, since they will become aware that they are not inferior to boys but equals, contrary to cultural stereotype.
  • Women’s rights and security education can be incorporated into the school curriculum at all levels of education to help bring about societal changes in attitude and knowledge to address gender inequality and women empowerment.
  • Professional counsellors can through the Parents Teachers’ Association (PTA), counsel parents to be good role models for their children to emulate. Through awareness creation and counselling programme of education, parents learn to give equal educational opportunities to their daughters and sons, and equal rights in the sharing of family inheritance at the event of death.

Counselling for women’s safety should not only be concentrated in school setting. In non school setting, counselling can also engender women’s safety in the following ways:

  • Professional counsellors can counsel couples in pre-marital and marital counselling with the aim of assisting couples to be effective in living with one another and cope with family/work role conflicts as well as against gender based violence through public seminars or symposium from time to time.
  • Professional counsellors and gender-based organizations like National Association of Women Journalists, the judiciary, Association of Nigerian Female Lawyers, Female Students Association of Nigeria, together with Ministries of Women and Social Welfare can organize massive awareness campaigns against gender-based violence on women in Nigeria in encouraging rationality in marriage and cohesion among women and their husbands. This can also help in fostering greater unity among the women folk.
  • Counselling organizations can join the coalition against violence against women and work together with other stake holders to mount pressure on the relevant bodies including the Federal and State governments of Nigeria to implement all recommendations issued by the CEDAW Committee in July 2008.
  • Professional counsellors in Nigeria can work together with other disciplines and governmental bodies to influence the strengthening of governmental and social enforcement agencies to reform or repeal all discriminatory statutory laws in conformity with CEDAW and the Maputo Protocol, including provisions within the Constitution and the Criminal Code.
  • Counselling associations can work with stake holders and other relevant bodies to influence the harmonization of statutory, customary, and religious law in conformity with international and regional instruments on women’s rights and ensure that where there are conflicts between formal legal provisions and customary law, the formal provisions prevail.
  • Counselling associations can work with other stake holders to influence the strengthening of legislation and other measures to protect women from violence and support victims, including by adopting specific legislation to criminalize domestic violence, marital rape and other crimes of sexual violence; and reforming the evidence requirements to prove rape; removing obstacles to victims’ access to justice; ensuring effective prosecution and punishment of offenders; implementing training for all law enforcement personnel; and establishing shelters for women victims of violence.
  • Counselling associations can work together with gender based organizations to increase efforts to ensure women’s equal access to employment and decision-making positions, including by strengthening measures to combat sexual harassment in the workplace and implementing temporary special measures, including quotas.
  • Counselling associations, through their federal and state chapters can work with gender-based organizations to pressurize the federal and state governments of Nigeria to improve women’s access to health, including by strengthening efforts aimed at reducing the incidence of maternal and infant mortality; increasing knowledge of and access to contraception; improving sex education and establishing family planning services.
  • Counselling associations can work together with women organizations to influence the Adoption of all necessary measures to reform or eliminate discriminatory cultural practices and stereotypes, including through awareness-raising programmes targeting women and men, traditional and community leaders.
  • Counselling associations and other stake holders can work together to influence the implementation of all recommendations issued by the CEDAW Committee in July 2008.
  • Professional counsellors can mount campaigns through the print and electronic media against violence against women, highlighting its negative effects on the women and the society and how women can be safe.

 

  •  

Women's safety is a critical issue. It refers to a range of strategies, practices, and policies that work to create safer environments for women and girls. It is based on the notion that women and girls have the right to live their lives without the constant feeling of fear and insecurity. Therefore there is an urgent call to all and sundry and particularly to professional counsellors, as agents of change, to use their training and competence to help curb gender-based violence and engender women safety.

 

 

 

 

 

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