History was made in Ekiti State on November 25, 2011 when the bill prohibiting gender-based violence was signed into law by the Governor, Dr Kayode Fayemi, in Ado-Ekiti
With the development, Ekiti became the first state in the federation to pass such law that seek to protect both genders against physical and psychological abuse and violence.
The signing ceremony was witnessed by members of the state Executive Council, House of Assembly; officials of the ministry of Women’s Affairs, Women Wing of the state Action Congress of Nigeria, led by Chief Ronke Okusanya; market women and several other interest groups.
The Deputy Governor of the state, Mrs. Funmilayo Olayinka; Speaker of the House of Assembly, Dr. Adewale Omirin; Chief of Staff, Mr. Yemi Adaramodu, were some of the dignitaries that graced the ceremony.
The symbolic ceremony took place on the day the International Day of International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and 16 Days of Activism for no violence against Women and Children was celebrated worldwide.
The journey towards the passing and eventual signing of the bill into law began on November 25, 2010, when the wife of the governor, Erelu Bisi Fayemi, who is the chief initiator and promoter of the bill, led some notable women on advocacy visits to relevant authorities.
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Other active players in the sponsorship of the bill were the state ministry of women affairs, social development & gender empowerment, office of the special adviser to the governor on planning and Millennium Development Goals, as well as the state chapter of International Federation of Women Lawyers.
The First Lady, who was then barely 41 days old in the Government House, had led the train of concerned stakeholders on visits to the governor, state House of Assembly and the judiciary.
The visit was part of last year’s activities to commemorate the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and 16 Days of Activism for no violence against Women and Children.
According to the governor’s wife, the women leaders had made three requests aimed at protecting the rights of women and the girl-child in each of the places visited.
These were assurances that there would be zero tolerance for all forms of abuse against women and girls and enactment of legislations to protect women and girls from violence.
The lobby group also advocated provision of adequate financial, material and technical resources towards promotion of women empowerment and gender equality in the state.
The Assembly had passed the bill into Law on November 2, a day after it conducted a public hearing that attracted an unprecedented crowd, including wife of the Governor of Oyo State, Mrs. Florence Ajimobi, to the hallowed chamber.
The new law seeks to protect the human rights and fundamental freedoms of women, children and a minority of men against physical, economic, mental or sexual harm or suffering, as well as threats of such acts, coercion and other deprivations of liberty within the public or private spheres.
It frowns on harmful traditional practices, such as Female Genital Mutilation and widowhood rites; imposition of dress codes under any guise; child marriage and criminalising pregnancy outside marriage.
Addressing a press conference shortly after the bill was signed into law, Erelu Fayemi said the state now has a clear road map and a framework for effective planning and allocation of resources for the promotion of gender equality and women’s empowerment in the state.
She expressed gratitude to the governor, speaker and members of the House Assembly, particularly the House Committee on Women Affairs for working very hard to ensure the speedy passage and signing of the bill into Law.
Erelu Fayemi said,
“My joy knows no bound today. Exactly one year ago, that is on November 25, 2010, I led a delegation of women to pay a number of advocacy visits to His Excellency, the Governor.
We also went to the House of Assembly and the Judiciary. And those advocacy visits were to commemorate the International Day of Elimination of Violence against Women.”
She solicited the support of concerned individuals and groups to ensure the continued relevance of the new Law in the lives of ordinary citizens it seeks to protect.
Addressing the gathering, the governor noted that at least one in every five women had been physically or sexually abused at one time or the other, which he said was a universal reality in every society.
He said it became expedient to put appropriate legislation in place to combat violence against women, given its devastating effect on women’s wellbeing and development.
The governor said,
“Cautions should be put in place for severe penalties against perpetrators, protection of victims and enhancement of public awareness on the danger of continued silence due to cultural influence and shame.
I wish to state here equivocally that the state government would continue to protect human rights and ensure justice takes its course against those who commit crimes rather than sweep it under carpet.
I enjoin all segments of the society, including the organised private sector, faith-based organisations and other non-state actors to get more involved in stemming the ugly trend of violence and abuse against women and girl-child.”
Quoting the United Nations General Assembly 1993 declaration, the governor described gender-based violence as any act of violence that results in physical, sexual, psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts and coercion; whether in public or private life.
He stated that the government would continue to protect human rights and ensure that justice takes its course against crime of all forms.
Governor Fayemi enjoined the organized private sector, faith-based organizations and other non-state actors to get more involved in stemming the ugly trend of violence and abuse against women and girls.
“Now that we have legislation in place, the greater challenge is to raise the level of consciousness among our people; that the maximum weight of the law would be brought against domestic violence.”
The State also has Laws that protect the child rights and another one that forbids female genital mutilation; while the gender equality bill is under consideration in the House of Assembly.