By Ganiyat Tijani -Adenle
Book: Gender-Based Violence Reporting Handbook
Publisher: Centre for Journalism Innovation and Development (CJID)
The Centre for Journalism Innovation and Development (CJID) has filled a huge gap in Nigerian journalism practice with its Gender-Based Violence Reporting Handbook, which empowers journalists and newsrooms with the requisite skills they need to tell gender-based violence stories in transformative and impactful ways.
The Centre for Journalism Innovation and Development (CJID – formerly PTCIJ) launched a Gender-Based Violence Reporting Handbook which unpacks the frameworks that entrench gender-based violence in Nigeria and (English-speaking) West Africa. The handbook analyses the socio-cultural, political and economic contexts that moderate gender-based violence (GBV) management by individuals, communities, media and law enforcement agencies. It also reviews the legal and regulatory frameworks the media and civil society can underpin their reportage and advocacies on while providing ingenious suggestions on how the mainstream media can report gender-based violence in emancipatory ways.
The 15 chapter handbook by 17 authors from academia, journalism/media practice, technocrats, and civil society focuses on how journalists in Nigeria (and in West Africa) can harness the power of the media to curb the scourge of GBV on the sub-continent. I dare say that the handbook is late in coming [due to the milestones that have been lost], but it has nonetheless arrived to fill a huge gap at a crucial time when there is a tsunami of gender-based violence in Nigeria, and the world is relying on the media (as forces of change) to raise the conscience of the people and set the agenda that will tackle the menace.
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It is interesting that CJID has symbolically chosen to launch this handbook on March 8, the International Women’s Day – a day that is observed globally to celebrate women’s achievements and/or advocate for their rights. This year’s International Women’s Day theme is “Gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow” with a campaign to #BreakTheBias.
Unfortunately, women in Nigeria and West Africa have a more dangerous challenge to tackle; they need (as a matter of urgency) to break the tenacious cycle of gender-based violence meted out to them in their homes, communities, schools, religious houses, workplaces, from people in authority meant to protect them, as well as from the criminals that terrorism and insecurity have bred on the sub-continent. Now, the gems in this handbook are not meant to aid the media in helping only women surmount gender-based violence, as men also experience gender-based violence – but there is unanimous agreement that women/girls and children experience GBV at an alarmingly high proportion, compared to men. The focus of the handbook, therefore, is on women, without discounting the various ways that the Nigerian culture undermine the silent struggles of men due to the expectations that they are ‘strong’ and should not be vulnerable to abuse or violence.
The beautifully designed handbook makes a very interesting and enlightening read and for the purpose of this review, I divide its contents into five themes based on the arguments in the chapters, regardless of the order in which the chapters appeared in the handbook. The themes are; conceptual analysis of gender-based violence, legal frameworks against gender-based violence, ethical guidelines for reporting gender-based violence, women’s experience of gender-based violence in other English-speaking West African countries, while the last theme is on tenacious reporting of gender-based violence until results are achieved.
The first three chapters of the handbook provide a context about what constitutes gender-based violence, Nigerian journalists’ understanding of gender-based violence and how the Nigerian media report gender-based violence. Evidence show that while some journalists appreciate gender-based violence, most do not have adequate understanding of the concept while others unknowingly re-violate the survivors of GBV due to poor framing of the stories. The authors of the first three chapters present comprehensive explanations of what constitute GBV and how patriarchy and the Nigerian socio-cultural, economic and political contexts continue to entrench this malady.
Chapters 4 and 6 of the handbook offer comprehensive explanations of the treaties, statutes and legislations that shape the discourse of GBV in Nigeria. The two chapters highlight and explain in detail the various international, regional and national legislations promulgated to protect women from GBV, and if it were based on the strengths of these laws alone, then GBV ought to have been eradicated in Nigeria. But like one of the authors in the handbook observes, “there are serious limits to what legislation alone can achieve” if the people, the media and other institutions in the country are not empowered to apply these laws in preventing GBV or in seeking justice when the rulings of the laws are violated.
The handbook, in Chapter 5 and in Chapters 7 to 12 discuss in detail the various ethical considerations that journalists and news organisations must follow in covering GBV in professional and purposeful ways. Chapter 9 is exclusively on the vulnerabilities of children to GBV and the obligation of the media to report and get justice for abused children without violating their privacy, safety and overall wellbeing. The other chapters categorised under this theme provide guidelines that enlighten journalists about reporting GBV in ways that do not harm survivors, glorify GBV or excuse perpetrators.
Two chapters (13 and 14) discuss women’s experience of GBV in The Gambia and Sierra Leone and the authors’ arguments highlight the endemic nature of GBV in the Global South. The similarities in the experience of women in these countries and Nigeria show that governments in the sub-region are weak in implementing the treaties they are signatories to or the laws they promulgate themselves. Corruption, insecurity and poor governance are at the heart of these inadequacies and that is why the media have to hold governments accountable as GBV in Africa cannot be eradicated without good governance. For instance, victims of GBV will not be motivated to report abuse and seek justice if their assailants can easily break out of jail and return to assault or kill them after prosecution. For instance, a prisoner who was among the 1,993 inmates who escaped Edo prison in October, 2020 went to his former residence and killed a neighbour who testified against him. This is a strong deterrence for women and their families from seeking justice against GBV.
The editors of the Gender-Based Violence Reporting Handbook saved the best idea for the last as the most remarkable argument (for me) in the collection is on the RUSH Strategy to tackling GBV. The idea is for journalists to stay on gender-based violent stories, do adequate follow-up until justice is served, impunity is exposed and citizens are motivated to act and demand for change. All the previous arguments will amount to nothing if all that the media do is to report the GBV spectacle and move on to the next breaking news without following through.
The RUSH strategy has gotten professors who harassed students sacked while I am sure that most Nigerians are not even aware of the case of Aishatu Adamu, a 14 year old Internally Displaced Person (IDP) who was alleged to have killed herself after she was raped by Hussarf Abdurauf, 35, a humanitarian worker in the Kaleri Area of Maiduguri, Borno State. Media reports published on January 19, 2022 state that neighbours claim Abdurauf invited her to do some domestic chores for him but they started hearing noise of struggles after she entered his apartment. The girl was already in a pool of blood by the time neighbours forced the door open because the rapist refused to open the door.
The perpetrator claimed she killed herself. Sadly, a dearth of knowledge that this handbook is out to teach is evident in a follow up of the story published on January 30, 2022 by a national and highly regarded newspaper with the headline “It’s Possible 14-year old IDP got jealous and killed herself after seeing a lady’s photo in my room – Borno Humanitarian Worker”, even as he insists there was no relationship between him and the teenager. While this may seem like a balanced report of the rapists’ defence, making it the headline despite the story not adding up, and with no opportunity for Late Aishatu to defend herself, shows a lack of empathy and compassion for the poor girl that was violated.
No more reports have been written about the incident since January 30. Without media attention, the family of Late Aishatu Adamu will not likely get justice. And this might have been an inspiration for Nollywood actor, Olarewaju James, alias Baba Ijesha, to testify on Friday, March 4 before an Ikeja Special Offences Court that he was acting a script in the viral video which showed him sexually assaulting a minor. Like in Aishatu’s case, journalists published the ‘defence’ without any form of interrogation, despite having seen some of the video evidence against him.
It is no longer in doubt, therefore, that the knowledge and skills that this handbook offer are in demand in Nigeria, by journalists, editors, journalism educators, communication students, media regulators, policy makers and the civil society. CJID should make this resourceful material widely available. The journalism centre need to liaise with stakeholders in the Nigerian news industry to promote and use this outstanding resource. What’s more; CJID can also organise seminars, develop online modules or master classes (from the handbook) to educate journalists on how to better report GBV in Nigeria.
The Nigerian and African continent cannot thrive when more than half of its population are daily violated, and constantly exposed to violence which rob them of social, emotional, psychological, physical, economic and general wellbeing. The media is the only institution that can rally all the sectors to work to tackle this problem and CJID’s Gender-Based Violence Reporting Handbook is the tool to help the Nigerian media achieve this.
Ganiyat Tijani-Adenle teaches in the Lagos State University School of Communication