It is early in 2015 but several cases of domestic abuse and violence have already reached CHELD’S doors. What many of these cases have in common aside from the abuse is financial considerations. Financial issues have featured prominently in the stories we have heard about abuse ranging from husbands preventing their wives from working or/and denying them funds for necessities that include children’s school fees, health services and even food. This abuse feeds into an inability to access helpful organisations such as those listed in The Red Diary. For instance, several women I have talked to this year have had problems with as little as funds to buy credit to make calls. Beyond this, financial issues prevent women from leaving really bad and abusive situations. Many of the women have been beaten down and prevented from working and earning any income in order to keep them financially dependent on the abuser. In one case, a client of ours, a university-educated graduate, went back to her abusive husband after leaving because she could not afford a place to stay and she could not pay school fees or take care of other necessaries required by the children.
There are several recommendations that can be made to address the challenges around financial insufficiency and financial abuse. One key one would be continued education and awareness. At CHELD’s last Conversations on Domestic Violence, an awareness-raising, thought leadership and training seminar run by this organization, held on December 6, 2014 to mark the 16 Days of Activism to End Violence, MsFunmi Johnson gave a passionate talk about the need to recognise and address financial abuse as domestic abuse and violence. Moreover, one of the summary points that came out of the seminar was the need for a Women’s Fund, which would address some of the challenges that arise around finances and domestic abuse.
Beyond the need for greater awareness, there needs to be palpable plans to provide access to basic financial assistance to victims and survivors of domestic violence and other types of gender-based violence. Some of these monies can be used for resettlement, rehabilitation, hospital expenses etc.For those who leave domestic abuse, starting small businesses would be helpful as would taking remedial courses to re-establish themselves in the workplace. This may, however, be almost impossible because of lack of funds. Many non-profits, like CHELD, while willing to assist, have limited funding. At CHELD, we have helped with hospital expenses, phone credit, monies for necessaries, et cetera. But we find that we are quite limited about what we can give in the face of overwhelming need. Hence, the need for a common Fund that can address some of these needs.
The Ekiti State legislation on gender-based violence – – is one of the few pieces of legislation on gender-based violence in Nigeria. It recognizes that gender-based violence includes economic abuse. Economic abuse is defined in the Law as including the denial of funds, refusal to contribute financially, denial of food and basic needs and controlling access to health care and employment.(Section 2). The Law further goes on to provide in Section 31 for a Gender-Based Violence Fund. The Fund is to provide among other thingsbasic material support for victims of gender-based violence and their dependants affected by the violence, rescue, rehabilitation and re- integration of victims of gender-based violence;the construction of shelters from victim of gender-based violence in different local government areas and for training and capacity building of persons connected with the provision of shelter, rehabilitation and re-integration. The legislation can be found on CHELD’s Domestic Violence Resource Centre www.domesticviolence.com.ng
The Lagos State Protection Against Domestic Violence Law 2007 also recognizes economic abuse. It does not, however, include provisions for a fund to address the needs of people who are victims of domestic or other kinds of gender-based violence. However, last year, the Lagos State government indicated its intentions to establish a Fund which would allow young lawyers to provide free legal services to women and children who would find it difficult to access legal services otherwise.
The Violence Against Persons Bill (Violence Prohibition Bill) also provides for a Trust Fund for Victims of gender-based violence. A Commission to be Established by the Bill will administer the operation of the Victims Trust Fund. This Bill has been in the making for over ten years, awaiting passage by the National Assembly. One can only hope the wait will be over when the new administration takes the reins of government.
These are helpful legal provisions that we hope can be implemented around the country to provide assistance to the vulnerable. The lack of a Fund that can assist victims and survivors of domestic and other kinds of gender-based violence is a serious vacuum. The lack of options occasioned by penury often brought on by violence and abuse requires an immediate solution. This gap, only minimally plugged by non-governmental organisations like CHELD, causes a vicious cycle that allows domestic abuse to continue and allows perpetrators to go free while those who are able to escape remain in biting penury.
Certainly, some of the issues arise in connection with establishing this fund: Should it be a national, state, or local fund? Who should benefit from the fund – all women, battered women, or all victims/survivors of all kinds of gender based violence? What should be the eligibility requirements for benefitting from the fund? How will the fund be financed – government, private sector, a combination of both? Who will manage the fund? What would be the purposes of the fund – only legal access, business capital, medical bills or all of these? These are all pertinent issues that must be addressed before a fund is set up. But we as a country and as a society have to agree in principle with the need for the Fund and address these issues as part of the process of establishing the Fund.
CHELD looks forward to the implementation of extant legislation and the passing of the necessary legislation for the implementation of a Women’s Fund/Gender-Based Violence Fund. Until this happens, CHELD looks forward to partnering with other organisations, including the business world in establishing a fund that provides for women to establish small businesses that can allow them to have financial independence and ultimately freedom from abuse and the effects of abuse.
Dr. Cheluchi Onyemelukwe-Onuobia,
Founder/Executive Director, CHELD