In the months since COVID-19 was first reported in Nigeria, rippling effects with devastating impacts have been felt across the global economy and on individual livelihood. The crisis, characterized by border closures and lockdowns, comes as a shock to the majority impacting not only the economical but physical and mental health of many within and beyond the Nigerian constituencies. In Nigeria, rural communities make up the largest portion of these constituencies and in this crisis, these communities are particularly important, as they are among the most vulnerable. However, most of the burdens of COVID-19 in rural areas have been under the radar.
For rural households, the impact of the virus will likely be felt first in compromised livelihoods. The health impact, however, cannot be overlooked or understated. With the gradual ease of the lockdown coupled with a fast-rising number of reported cases, Women at Risk International Foundation (WARIF), one of the nation’s foremost NGOs tackling the prevalence of gender-based violence in Nigeria, have observed that the pandemic and disruption of the present moment is one which requires efficient sensitization on safety protocols for survival while also addressing the prevalence of domestic and sexual gender-based violence within their communities. Shocking statistics by WARIF revealed that domestic violence has surged since the initial period of the coronavirus lockdown. This led to the NGO re-opening its centre to cater to survivors of sexual violence. This decision was made after the NGO observed a 64 per cent increase in call cases, during the lockdown mandated by the Federal Government in March 2020. Dr Kemi DaSilva-Ibru, Founder of WARIF, voiced the need for a more aggressive sensitization scheme for rural communities – “There is an urgent need for rural communities to be sensitized about these pandemics as they have little access to adequate healthcare facilities. Building on this, WARIF has become more concerned with sensitizing rural communities around the state about the pandemic. Through a recently launched Covid-19 response initiative, the NGO commenced a one-month sensitization program designed to engage women in grassroots communities. The relevance of initiatives like this cannot be overemphasized, as programs targeted at the most vulnerable individuals within the society ultimately influence the greater good of the society. It is all about education, information and sensitization; and individuals, government and non-governmental organizations (NGO) all play a critical role in making sure the right information and materials get to the people within these communities. In response to this urgent consequence of the pandemic, WARIF has also implemented safety planning protocols to assist survivors in need of help. These protocols designed and implemented by the organization to protect both adults and children are aligned with the recently released set of procedures by the UN to keep children safe while the pandemic lasts.
WARIF has noted that it is one thing to propose a sensitization program and another to maximize its efficiency. This is why the program has been implemented through the leverage the support of trained Traditional Birth Attendants (TBAs) from the WARIF Community Gatekeepers Project, a pre-existing initiative by the NGO. The Traditional Birth Attendants were identified to carry out this sensitization as they are familiar with the people and the environment. These trained attendants, already educated on the prevalence of domestic and sexual gender-based violence within their grassroots communities and the immediate response and management of these cases, have been galvanized into small cell groups and are making house to house visits in their various communities to offer assistance to women who are residing with their spouses and partners. The Traditional Birth Attendants will go into communities weekly to create awareness on services provided at the WARIF centre and identify if there has been an increase in cases of sexual and domestic abuses. Cases of abuse in these households are being identified and recorded and are referred to as the WARIF Rape Crisis Centre. It is commendable to note that WARIF had successfully completed the first cycle of its rural sensitization program which engaged 10, 774 individuals in Alimosho, Kosofe, Apapa, Epe and Ikorodu LGAs of Lagos state. Regardless, there is still much work to be done as private sector inclusion and partnerships are encouraged by the NGO.
It is no news that women are still at risk during this period and this is why WARIF through its initiative aims to get first-hand insight to GBV cases within these communities and engage survivors with all the support they require. This is a major factor which leads to the NGO’s Police Awareness Initiative, which gives survivors access to a select number of police stations across Lagos. In these stations, there are assigned officers to assist survivors with their cases and protect them from any further harm from the perpetrator. With collaborations such as this, WARIF is ensuring that survivors can get prompt and satisfactory responsiveness from the police in locations closest to them. In its 2020 vision, WARIF aims to impact I million lives and as far has successfully influenced 340,000 people this year. The NGO continues to operate a 24-hour confidential helpline (0809 210 0009) to assist survivors of gender-based violence in Nigeria.