Did you know that Sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) refers to any act that is perpetrated against a person’s will and is based on gender norms and unequal power relationships?
Now you know and there is more, because it encompasses threats of violence and coercion. According to the UNHCR, it can be physical, emotional, psychological, or sexual in nature, and can take the form of a denial of resources or access to services. More so, it inflicts harm on women, girls, men and boys.
Since the lockdown occasioned by the nouvelle Coronavirus, also known as Covid-19, there has been a surge in Sexual and Gender based violence in Nigeria where some NGOs and other experts have given various reasons why there is measurable spike in cases this period.
The Daily Report’s Ify Onyegbule sat down to a chat with Mrs Bose Ironsi, a Community Health and Rights advocate and the Executive Director of Women’s Rights and Health Project. She takes on the issues of Sexual and Gender Based Violence, the implications and what people who face this form of abuse can do to deal with the menace. She also sheds light on what the newly established Ireti Resource Center is doing to help fight the scourge of Sexual and Gender Based Violence in Nigeria.
What is your assessment of the cases of SGBV this period of lockdown?
SGBV has been rightly described as a “shadow pandemic” within the COVID-19 global pandemic. Pre-COVID, SGBV has always been a major issue in Nigeria with at least 1 in every 3 girls and women being a survivor of one or more forms of sexual/domestic violence. The restrictions imposed during the COVID-19 lockdown simply highlighted the limited capacity of our system to respond to SGBV in emergencies as well as the gross socio-economic inequalities that continue to affect women/girls’ health, rights and well-being. For instance, Women’s Rights and Health Project (WRAHP) has seen a sharp rise in cases of spousal battery, child abuse, and landlord-tenant disputes (especially between male landlords and female tenants). The lockdown separated a lot of women from their informal social support systems and coping strategies, leaving them unsafe in their own homes and stuck with their abusers. Even after the lockdown has been eased, the negative economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic has left women and girls even more vulnerable than before. We continue to receive reports of domestic violence as a result of tensions within homes caused by a reduction in income. There has also been a rise in defilement and child sexual abuse as schools remain shut and girls continue to remain at home with potential abusers. This is our sad reality and more than ever before, it has become critical for SGBV prevention and response efforts to be effective in order to protect the rights of women/girls who are the most vulnerable at this time.
Why is there still the culture of silence amongst women and family members?
With the advent of social media and increasing advocacy around SGBV in mainstream media across Nigeria, times are definitely changing. In many unprecedented ways, the Nigerian society is speaking out about gender issues and tackling SGBV in particular. Still, a lot of work has to be done to increase the rates of reporting and fully eradicate the culture of silence – particularly within families, religious communities and at the grassroots. Generally, Nigerian culture advocates for close-knit family and community systems and this is a positive attribute in many ways. However, this often means that SGBV incidents which are criminal offences are often dealt with “privately” without recourse to the justice system and the law of the land, especially where the perpetrators are known family/community members. Again, widespread stigmatization of SGBV survivors and fear of victim-blaming is another factor that sustains the culture of silence as people continue to believe that silence protects. As a society, if we truly want to end the culture of silence, educating community members about the need to end stigma against survivors and the process of navigating the justice system to report SGBV incidents is the way to go.
People with disabilities are not left out in these ugly cases of SGBV, how can they protect themselves?
Due to widespread discrimination, extensive rights violations, neglect, and stigmatisation, women and girls living with disabilities are at 3 times greater risk of suffering from SGBV compared to other women and girls living without disabilities. In order to protect themselves and preserve their rights, it is important for women and girls living with disabilities to be knowledgeable about their rights, how to recognise threats of domestic/sexual violence and how to report any threats of or actual SGBV incidents. However, beyond empowering women/girls living with disabilities to protect themselves, we need to continue to sensitise the general public to embrace people living with disabilities and end the stigmatisation against them. There is also a need for increased advocacy to ensure that the justice system is considerate of the unique needs of people living with disabilities and that more social support systems are created to cater for their rights and well-being.
What is the role of WRAHP in this fight against SGBV?
As a non-profit organisation that advances the rights and health of women and communities, WRAHP actively engages in advocacy and community sensitization around SGBV, while providing holistic legal and psycho-social support for SGBV survivors. On the advocacy front, WRAHP continues to engage and educate key stakeholders such as the police and community gatekeepers to ensure that there is accurate information around SGBV and to create a system that supports effective SGBV prevention and response. Also, WRAHP supports survivors of SGBV to access justice, heal and reintegrate into society through referrals for medical services, provision of psycho-social support services (such as counselling and therapy) and provision of logistics support to rescue survivors and facilitate arrests/court arraignment of perpetrators.
What are the statistics of women who have reported cases of SGBV this period?
During the period of complete lockdown in Lagos, Women’s Rights and Health Project (WRAHP) recorded 45 cases of SGBV in April 2020 alone, compared to 13 cases recorded in March 2020, before the lockdown. Subsequently, with the easing of the lockdown in Lagos, we have continued to respond to an average of 20 new SGBV cases per month.
Is there a center in your local community where women can report cases of abuse?
Yes. With the support of the British Council Rule of Law and Anti-Corruption (ROLAC) Programme, Women’s Rights and Health Project (WRAHP) established Ireti Resource Centre in March 2020. Borne out of the increasing reports of various forms of domestic and gender-based violence (particularly in Alimosho Local Government Area), Ireti Resource Center is committed to providing integrated legal and psychosocial support in a safe space for women, survivors of domestic violence, and other vulnerable persons across communities in Lagos State. The Centre is located at an accessible area in Alimosho, where women and girls (as well as other community members) are able to report cases of abuse and obtain the support they need. In addition to reporting cases, community members are also welcome to the Centre once every month for a Community Legal Clinic where they can receive pro-bono legal information and advice on matters relating to their rights and well-being.
What is the process of lodging reports and how do they get justice?
Survivors/mandated reporters can walk in to lodge reports at the Centre which is located at Idowu Anisere Bus Stop, Governor’s Road, Ikotun Lagos. Also, reports can be lodged through Ireti Resource Centre’s helpline – 07003333111. In addition to psycho-social support services offered to survivors at the Centre and through the helpline, the Centre also provides the requisite referral services to the police, government ministries/agencies and other relevant service providers as appropriate. In cases that require investigation, arrest and prosecution by the police, the Centre also provides logistics support to facilitate these processes where necessary.