"We live in a patriarchal society where women are subjugated, and men are seen and treated as the more dominant gender. Boys are raised to feel entitled whilst girls are encouraged not to speak out against any form of violence perpetrated against her."
“We live in a patriarchal society where women are subjugated, and men are seen and treated as the more dominant gender. Boys are raised to feel entitled whilst girls are encouraged not to speak out against any form of violence perpetrated against her.”
What is it like to administer care to a 2-year-old child who had been brutally raped? It’s jarring and somewhat life changing.
Obstetrician and Gynaecologist, Anita Kemi DaSilva-Ibru, speaks to YNaija’s Toluwanimi Onakoya on how this experience inspired the birth of the non-profit organization, WARIF NG. She espouses the nuances of gender-based violence and how the community plays a role in engendering it by being complacent watchers.
Tell us about your organisation, Women at Risk International Foundation, and the role it plays in the fight against gender-based violence.
Women at Risk International Foundation (WARIF) is a non-profit organisation founded in 2016 in response to the prevalence of rape, sexual violence and human trafficking of young girls and women in communities across Nigeria. Our vision is to build a society free of rape and sexual violence.
The organization achieves this overarching objective using a unique holistic strategy known as the “WARIF Approach” – specifically designed, measurable initiatives that are successfully implemented in communities across Nigeria under 3 specific pillars – Health; with the provision of intervention and treatment at the WARIF Rape Crisis Centre, preventive, empowering strategies and programs under the Education and Community Service pillars.
What role does power dynamics in relationships play in producing gender-based violence and inequality? / What role do gender roles and societal stereotypes play in encouraging gender-based violence?
We live in a patriarchal society where women are subjugated, and men are seen and treated as the more dominant gender. Boys are raised to feel entitled whilst girls are encouraged not to speak out against any form of violence perpetrated against her.
This environment is fostered by traditional norms, and cultural practices are harmful to women. There is stigmatization and social bias that exists in communities that encourage this pattern of behaviour and has allowed it to become permissible. These prevalent power dynamics has led to inequality in all spheres of a woman’s life ranging from her political, economic, financial and social construct.
We find that young girls are increasingly becoming victims of gender-based violence. However, children approach life with a certain innocence and might not fully understand the nuances of certain concepts. How do we protect and prepare girls for this hostile situation?
Violence against young girls and child sexual abuse can occur from infancy. As parents/guardians, it is important to recognize this and equip ourselves with the knowledge and ability to talk to our children/wards with age-appropriate words when they are relatively young and beginning to comprehend the world around them.
The conversation about their bodies and their functional parts is typically a good first conversation to have with your child. Educating them on inappropriate sexual behaviours, identifying a groomer (a child molester /abuser) and what to do in circumstances if faced with these scenarios should also be discussed.
It is as important to believe your children when they come to you and entrust you with vital and, oftentimes, scary information. Keep the channels of communication open and encourage then to come to you with any concerns and for advice. Teach and encourage them to speak up when they have witnessed or experienced any form of sexual abuse because abusers typically manipulate children into staying quiet about sexual abuse, believing they are complicit, by using several different grooming tactics.
How does WARIF help with this?
WARIF is successfully tackling these issues of child sexual abuse and violence against adolescent children through educational initiatives that have been specifically designed for adolescent girl children between the ages of 12 and 16. The initiatives are known as the WARIF Educational School Program (WESP) and the Boys Conversation Café Program ( BCC) – the program designed for the boy child between in this age bracket.
The target age of both programs is deliberate as this period has been identified as the most vulnerable age group; during the formative years of growth when sexual abuse is most likely to occur. The WESP Program with the girls educates them on the effects of rape and sexual abuse, how to identify perpetrators and how to report these cases. The BCC Program aims to change the existing negative mindsets of these boys towards rape and sexual violence.
Using mentors in a relaxed setting, they are educated on the prevalence of these issues and encouraged to be protectors rather than perpetrators. WARIF also organizes a parent-teacher forum as part of these programs; to engage parents and teachers on the importance of active listening and participation in addressing the issues of child sexual abuse in their homes, schools and communities; how to identify signs of abuse and what to do to appropriately care for affected children is highlighted.
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Solutions to gender-based violence could stretch as far as increasing the socio-economic status of women, but what are the little things we can do as individuals to combat gender-based violence?
We can start by identifying that we have an epidemic in our nation; where 1 in 4 girls will experience at least one sexual encounter before age 18. We should recognize that communities, if not an enabling one, limits women’s ability to speak out against abuse, get the important medical and emotional healing she needs and the justice she deserves. Many of our communities are not.
We start by ensuring we believe her always and give her the right platforms to speak out and engage. In families, we raise our boys to be protectors of women, and we raise our girls to be proud and equal partners to the male gender. We become good active bystanders, each using our circles of influence to continue to keep the conversation on gender-based violence going. We place a spotlight on the problem and intervene where necessary until it is no longer acceptable in our society for violence against women to be a frequent and common occurrence.
We can also personally lobby our policy and lawmakers, starting in out LGAs to adopt and implement updated laws that will deter perpetrators.
In this age, where even rape kits are sometimes not enough evidence, how do we get accountability and justice in cases of rape and, generally, gender-based violence?
It is important to ensure that gender-based violence is included in the essential services provided by the government. The issue of rape kits is more to do with ensuring we have enough facilities, trained personnel, and the kits readily available across all communities. Then raising awareness on the importance of seeking care, preferably un- bathed and within a 72-hour window from the time of the attack at a Rape Crisis Centre like the WARIF Centre to ensure a forensic medical examination is carried out. The necessary DNA samples can be retrieved properly and in a timely fashion.
Lobbying the lawmakers and ensuring the government of all states of the Federation domesticate the relevant laws in each state. This includes the Violence Against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) Act which has only been domesticated in 15 out of the 36 states of Nigeria, as well as the Child Rights Act which was adopted in 2003 and still only 25 States has domesticated the law.
What was that personal experience that shifted your perspective and caused a change from you identifying with a movement to actively participating in that movement?
The issue of Violence against Women and Girls is not a movement. It is best described in the words of the late great stateman, Kofi Anan, as the most shameful and pervasive humans rights violation across the world. It has always existed and today has become a systemic problem affecting not only women and girls but men and boys too. It is a human problem that affects us all.
I am fortunate to come from an upbringing that was filled with the love and the support of a close-knit family; unaware of the abuse and neglect experienced by young girls and boys every day until I grew much older as an undergraduate medical student.
In my subsequent years in practice as an Obstetrician and Gynaecologist, I have witnessed first-hand the alarming number of cases of violence perpetrated against women and girls- the youngest under the age of 2. Establishing WARIF in 2016 to address this prevalence and find measurable and impactful solutions to the problem was as a result of this. It has since become one of the nation’s foremost anti-sexual and gender-based violence organizations working in this space.
The organisation has assisted with the direct care and support of almost 2,000 survivors at the WARIF Rape Crisis Centre. We offer free forensic medical examinations, treatment, HIV testing, testing for other sexually transmitted diseases, treatment with post-exposure HIV drug administration, psychosocial counselling for emotional healing and social welfare services with access to shelters, legal aid and vocational skills training- all FREE of charge.
The YNaija #RapeCulture Special Series will run from September 15th to September 30th. Visit YNaija.com/Specials to catch up on all essays and excerpts from our Instagram interviews.
Toluwanimi Onakoya is a spirited writer, creative and videographer. Her biggest drive is to connect with people and depict tales using various forms of media.
Toluwanimi is available on Instagram and Twitter @nimi_onaks