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Nigeria Leaders Urge Men to Protect Rights of Women and Girls

FILE - Protesters wearing face mask hold placards outside the Nigerian Police Headquarters in Abuja, Nigeria, during a rally to raise awareness about sexual violence in Nigeria, June 5, 2020.

Amid a rise in gender-based violence, Nigeria’s traditional and religious leaders are urging men to protect the rights of women and girls. The campaign coincides with the United Nations’ International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.

At an Abuja town hall meeting sponsored by the U.N. and EU spotlight initiative, only Nigerian men, including traditional and religious leaders were admitted.

But the intention was not to exclude women – the 100 participants were there to talk about ending male violence against women.

Umar Shafiu, a program officer at U.N. Women-Nigeria and one of the meeting facilitators, says men should be in the forefront of this this struggle.

"In most cases when we come out talking about women participation, ending violence against women and girls, men feel left out. For the fact that they are the perpetrators, and still in some cases there are other male champions that are trying to eliminate the violence against women and girls. So, we see this as a strategy to engage men to see themselves as allies to gender equality," Shafiu said.

Nigerian authorities say cases of violence against women have more than tripled during the COVID-19 lockdown this year.

A U.N. survey shows three in 10 Nigerian women experience gender-based violence by the age of 15. But many cases still go unreported due to stigma.

Margaret Agu says her brother-in-law raped her when she was 15. But reporting the attack nearly tore her family apart and she was eventually forced to discontinue the case.

"It brought [a] family crisis between my father, mother and my in-law and my sister. My mother was hypertensive, and she doesn't want things like that, so I called off the case," Agu said.

Ahead of the International day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, observed on November 25, Nigeria launched an e-monitoring platform to gather data and better track the culprits of violence.

Also, Nigerian authorities have proclaimed the U.N.’s country director, Edward Kallon, and the head of the EU delegation, Ketil Karlsen, as champions of the rights of women and girls.

Nigeria's women affairs minister, Dame Pauline Tallen, presented the awards in Abuja.

"With more acknowledgement and honoring them as "HeForShe," they will know that they're invited with full commitment to join in this battle. We cannot fight it alone," she said.

While it will probably take some time before the negative trend of violence against women is reversed, authorities say this can only happen if more men take responsibility.