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STOP-VAWIE Project

Project Title: Violence Against Women In Elections: A Threat To Democratic Gains        

The Stop Violence Against Women In Election (Stop-VAWIE) project is an initiative launched by the National Democratic Institute (NDI) in partnership with FIDA Nigeria to establish the link between gender-based electoral violence and low level of women participation in politics at large.

Stop Vawie Edo

Project Goal and Objectives

The overall goal of the project is to mitigate violence against women during elections and encourage greater women political participation.

Specific objectives of the project include:

· To collate, analyze, document and share data on incidence of violence against women in elections

· Create advocacy  with relevant stakeholders to address issues of  violence against women  in elections  

· Train women groups on how to create awareness campaigns on violence against women in election and develop mitigating strategies.

Project Overview

The Stop Violence Against Women In Election (Stop-VAWIE) project is an initiative launched by the National Democratic Institute (NDI) in partnership with FIDA Nigeria to establish the link between gender-based electoral violence and low level of women participation in politics at large. While there has been an increasing recognition of the phenomena of violence against women in elections, there seems to be a lack of understanding of its causes and impacts. The specific nature of such forms of violence and the level to which this affects women’s participation has been under-studied. As a result there is inadequate data and research on this phenomenon. Addressing this gap, the Stop-VAWIE campaign generated and documented incidents of violence against women in elections during the off-cycle gubernatorial elections in Edo, Kogi, Ondo and Bayelsa states of Nigeria. 

Focus Group Discussions (FGD), a citizens’ hotline and election observation checklists were used as tools in collating and documenting data on VAWIE. This project analysed the prevalent forms of VAWIE based on data documented, highlighting the most prevalent forms of violence and identity of perpetrators.

This project contributed to an increased understanding of the dynamics of violence against women in elections in Nigeria so that policy makers, political actors and civil society activists can develop well-targeted interventions to combat this phenomenon in Nigeria and create opportunities for women to participate in politics without fear of violence.

Types of violence with definitions of categories

Physical

Any form of physical assault, with or without a weapon, including dragging a person from the polling station, forcibly taking a person’s voter card, assault, beating, murder, assassination, ritual killing, maiming, destruction of property etc. this form of violence can occur both in the public and private sphere.

Psychological

Any act that causes or is likely to cause mental anguish, distress or pain or feelings of intimidation or low self-esteem. This includes humiliation, degradation, labeling, defamation, slander, hate language, false accusations and threats and coercion(e.g.death threats, threat of bodily harm, coercion to vote a particular candidate, threat to harm family, threat of divorce etc.). While this form of violence can happen in the public sphere, it is mostly perpetuated in the private domain. A specific form of psychological intimidation, control or forced disenfranchisement, may include spousal or parental pressure on who to support, refusal of permission to leave house to vote, refusal of relatives to watch children for women to vote, etc.

Sexual

Any act of a sexual nature that result, or is likely to result in, physical, psychological and emotional harm Includes politically motivated rape as a tool of terror and intimidation, marital rape as a tool of repression, sexual harassment, exploitation, assault and abuse with the objective of controlling, intimidating, humiliating and disenfranchising. 

Hotline Data

A citizen’s hotline was used as one of the major tools for collecting data on the Stop-VAWIE project. The use of a hotline to generate data was motivated by the need to capture forms of VAWIE perpetrated in the private domain.  Election observers are only able to document acts of VAWIE committed in the public sphere, given that, most forms of VAWIE occur in the private domain, making it extremely difficult for observers to adequately capture. It should be noted that data documented from the hotline is not representative of Nigeria as a whole, but from Kogi and Bayelsa states. However, the calls received provided an insight into the nature of violence against women in elections in Nigeria. 

The hotline recorded a total of 287 calls for a maximum of 1 month, and most of the calls were on the Election Day. 47% of verified violent related incidents documented were VAWIE incidents, 32% were generic electoral violence and 22% were generic gender based violence.

Election day situation room   Election day situation roomm

Perpetrators of VAWIE Documented from the Hotline 

According to information documented from the hotline 60% of perpetrators of VAWIE were men, while 3% were women. VAWIE acts perpetrated by a group constituting of both men and women comprised 37%.  Categories of perpetrators based on the hotline data are further summarized in the table below.

Category Family/Community Political Party Political Thugs INEC Security Personnel
Percentage 19% 18% 26% 22% 15%

Challenges

While implementing the Stop-VAWIE project, several challenges were experienced in the process of tracking and documenting VAWIE incidents. Similarly, there were lessons learned that will help inform future in interventions in this field 

Some of the challenges include - but not limited to – the following:- 

· The culture of silence around incidents of VAWIE. Female victims were not forthcoming in terms of reporting especially on cases of sexual violence/harassment due to stigmatization. Furthermore, another factor that reinforces the culture of silence is the inability of wives to report abuse from spouses, embedded in cultural and traditional beliefs that forbid a wife to speak against her husband. 

· Inability of the Joint Response Committee (JRC) to reach out to all LGAs. This made it extremely difficult to verify and follow up on calls outside of the state capital.

· Language barrier. Some of the calls made to the hotline were in native languages, which the desk officer could not comprehend. The desk officer tried to forward such numbers to the JRC in the field to call back, which was a challenge in itself as the callers were unwilling to respond to numbers they didn’t know. 

· Poor telecommunication network which affected the volume and quality of calls received on the hotline, as some callers were incoherent.  

· Lack of proper follow up on referred cases. While the JRC team did a good job of referring these cases to appropriate stakeholders, they however failed to follow up to find out what action was taken on such cases, and how many of such cases were resolved. 

· Adoption of legal approach by FIDA discouraged VAWIE victims who would rather prefer to settle some cases out of court.   

Lessons Learned

· Consistent engagement is required to sustain interest of key stakeholders: key stakeholders such as the police, INEC and the media require consistent engagement and interaction to keep them interested on the project.

· Victims of VAWIE are afraid of speaking out, partly as a result of stigmatization and fear of retribution. It is therefore of paramount importance to keep the identity of such victims anonymous.

· It was realized that most VAWIE victims do not even realized they are victims on the one hand, and perpetrators on the other hand do not even realized they are perpetrating VAWIE. The most perceived conception is that VAWIE only relates to physical violence. Based on this, more needs to be done in terms of creating widespread awareness on what constitutes VAWIE and a clear categorization of victims and perpetrators.  

· Contrary to popular belief, that acts of VAWIE are only perpetrated by men, implementation of the Stop-VAWIE project revealed that women are sometimes perpetrators of VAWIE. 

· Sometimes men report acts of VAW on behalf their sisters. This is an indication that men too, file reports on her behalf of their sisters. Going forward, it is critical to tailor campaign messages that will encourage such group of men to report VAWIE incidents. 

Recommendations

A number of recommendations have been proposed below to stakeholders to help combat violence against women in the electoral process and politics at large. 

To INEC

· INEC should set guidelines for elections that protect women from acts of VAWIE such as sexual exploitation, coercion and threats. Electoral violence should include those perpetrated both in the public and private domains. Incorporating all these into the electoral act will expand entry points for intervention and a better understanding of the challenges.

· INEC should partner with security agencies and care providers to put in place an effective and functional mechanism for responding to acts of VAWIE on Election Day.

· INEC should incorporate Stop-VAWIE campaign messages as a cross-cutting issue into its voter education materials and provide targeted documentation and training on what constitutes VAWIE.

Security Agencies

Security agencies should ensure that adequate number of officers is posted to the polling units where voters can easily access and call in cases of VAWIE.

The Police and the Civil Defence Corps stations should have a designated officer responsible for attending to reported VAWIE acts on Election Day and also ensure that identity of victims and callers are safeguarded.  

It is critical that security agencies in collaboration with INEC ensures that perpetrators of VAWIE are prosecuted and penalized using the VAPP Act, to serve as deterrent to other perpetrators.

Security personnel should also refrain from being used as instruments for perpetrating VAWIE.

 Political Parties

· To this end the political parties need to ensure that their structures are sensitive to women’s peculiarities to accommodate their needs.  Party documents should reflect such sensitivity and inclusivity.

· Political party leaders also need to have an in-depth understanding of what constitutes VAWIE and the different levels through which it occurs. This will help provide guidance on how to mitigate and prevent it.  

Religious and Traditional Institutions

Traditional and religious leaders can use their platforms to reorientate their community members and followers and eliminate practices that suppress women participation in politics and restrict women from opening up on issues revolving around VAWIE. They can also serve as mediators on incidents of VAWIE that involve the community/family.

 royal fathers support stop vawie  royal fathers support stop vawiee

Civil Society Organizations

●  There should be coordination and collaboration with other groups working in related fields to track and document VAWIE incidents. Organizations should work to integrate gender based electoral violence topics into their election period programming.

●  Platforms for strategic networking and information exchange should be put in place by organizations.

●  Organizations engaged in election observation also need to refine data collection on electoral violence. Training manuals and handbooks for election observers should provide an understanding of gender based electoral violence and how it is manifested.

Media.                                                                                            

• Journalists have the potential to play a lead role in changing perceptions and negative stereotypes (through their reportage), which reinforce electoral gender-based violence.

• Journalists can make use of new and old media to raise public awareness, shape the opinions and decisions of people in all spheres of society through their stories, and spark transformative debate which will pressure leaders to take action to prevent and respond to VAWIE.

• Journalists can (through their reportage) highlight horrific VAWIE stories of women who have experienced and survived incredible injustice. This type of reporting can be used by activists to inform advocacy.

Conclusion.                                                                                    

The 2015 general elections in Nigeria were widely quoted by both international and domestic election observers to have been free, fair and credible. The question therefore is; should elections be classified as free, fair and credible when a significant amount of the population is deliberately hindered from participating fully in an electoral process, either as voters, candidates or election administrators?  VAWIE limits the participation of women (who constitute about half of the voting population) in an electoral process therefore undermining the integrity of the process and its outcome. This is in total violation of democratic principles, which stipulates that all citizens have the legal right to participate in the process of electing leaders. All hands must be on deck to make a case against VAWIE. Acts of VAWIE should be rendered visible to the public, thereby fostering public intolerance for all forms of VAWIE.

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