IN a bid to curtail the prevalence of sexual and gender-based violence in rural communities in the country, a group has launched a series of dialogue sessions in three communities in Abuja to address issues of child and sexual abuse.
The Sexual Offences Awareness and Response (SOAR) initiative in collaboration with Action Aid Nigeria kicked off, in 2021, a mentorship programme to train community members to monitor and report incidents of rape and sexual crimes to appropriate authorities.
At the dialogue session held at Barangoni community in Bwari Area Council Abuja, government officials and community members gathered to take stock of progress recorded by the mentorship programme, its limitation and mechanisms to report sexual and child abuse.
A Project Assistant at SOAR initiative Oladayo Davis, who spoke with The ICIR, said the expectation from the programme was to ensure that Barangoni, Kuchiko and New Kutunku, three designated communities, attained zero-tolerance for gender-based violence.
“The major aim of our programme in the three communities we are working on is to ensure that they all have a zero-tolerance status to Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV) perpetrated against girls and women, which is based on their participation and response from the programme.
“We selected a team of 24 people from different tribes in the community who came together and were trained to identify, monitor and report incidents of child and sexual abuse to the appropriate authorities.”
She explained that SOAR initiative assisted the community in drafting bye-laws based on the Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act, while community stakeholders identified the challenges and drew up solutions.
“And they came up with bye-laws for their community which were basically things that are criminalised by the law in the VAPP Act and the constitution of the country, for which we were able to streamline and codify their provisions in simple language that they could relate with,” she said.
Violence against women is a frequent occurrence in Nigeria, where 25 per cent of girls have experienced sexual violence before the age of 18, compared with 10 per cent of boys, according to a 2014 UNICEF study.
Secretary of the palace chief of Barangoni community Damas Ibrahim said the programme had created awareness about physical and sexual abuse as cases in the area had reduced.
He said it was the collective responsibility of the community to ensure that the initiative was sustained as defaulters would not be spared.
The dialogue session was moderated by SOAR’s Project Assistant Yakubu Levi and it featured ideas-sharing between community members and mentors trained by the SOAR initiative.
There was a deliberation on how locals would strive to hold people in the community, who engaged in child and sexual abuse, to account.
One of the mentors Sonia Agbenyo joined other mentors on the programme to share the challenges they encountered in the course of training community members during the dialogue session.
“Early marriage for young girls as early as 15 years of age is very common in the community. This has led to increased unwanted pregnancy and denied these young girls of having an education at a young age,” she said.
A catechist in the community Bello Ibrahim explained that some men in the community absconded from their responsibility of providing for their families, leaving the burden for their wives and children.
“Most of the women in this community are saddled with the responsibility of their families because men feel women should be breadwinners and they neglect the girl-child. And this puts the burden of the family on women and children to sell and hawk,” he said.
A 2021 UN Women report reveals that 48 per cent of Nigerian women have experienced at least one form of violence since the COVID-19 pandemic.
The research was conducted in 13 countries, namely: Albania, Bangladesh, Cameroon, Colombia, Côte d’Ivoire, Jordan, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Morocco, Nigeria, Paraguay, Thailand, Ukraine.
It also showed that exposure to violence was highest among women in Kenya with 80 per cent, Morocco with 69 per cent, Jordan with 49 per cent, and Nigeria at 48 per cent.
The report launch kicked off this year’s 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, from November 25 to December 10, themed, “Orange the World: End Violence against Women Now!”
Amos Abba is a journalist with the International Center for Investigative Reporting, ICIR, who believes that courageous investigative reporting is the key to social justice and accountability in the society.