The 16 days of gender activism this year took a different turn, as the focus was not solely on the female gender, as is normally the case, but on violence against all genders. The theme ‘Gender and the World of Work’ sounded quite neutral, pinning the focus on gender discrimination as it affects the workplace.
The HIFASS-LOPIN 3 project, funded by PEPFAR through USAID, has contributed immensely to empowering women and adolescents as well as worked to provide healthy home environments for children to grow in, by empowering their parents. It has also set up structures to help combat and manage Gender Based Violence, one of such structures is the furnished response center at the Child Protection Network secretariat in Calabar, a safe haven for victims of GBV. Also, Adolescent Girls and Young Women (AGYW) meetings are used to teach young girls life skills and to protect themselves.
The project organized a 2-day sensitization exercise on Gender Based Violence (GBV). The event which held at Marian Hotels Calabar began on the 5th of December, 2018 with a sensitization exercise on GBV with existing stakeholders as well as other relevant organizations in the state. In his opening remark, the Chief of Party, Dr. Ademola Adetunji, stated the need to look into GBV identification and management, then response. The Commissioner for Women Affairs, Mrs. Stella Odey, commended the project for continuous support to Cross River State and she stated that there are policies in the state to help women. She acknowledged the fact that “men are equally being violated” and assured participants that the state is coming up with a gender policy along with an implementation framework which will help address the subject.
Presentations were made on Gender Based Violence as well as GBV Care Services by the Gender and HIV Prevention Advisor to help people understand the concept as well as what to do when there are cases. In her presentation on GBV and HIV, the Director General, Cross River State Agency for the Control of AIDS (SACA), Mrs. Rose Nyambi, corrected a long-standing opinion by stating that “GBV is beyond women being beaten by their husbands, she showed other modes of violence that are not necessarily physical and spoke on the relationship between GBV and HIV.
During the discussion segment, observations were made by representatives from different parastatals; the representative of the Christian community stressed the need to repeat the presentations before larger representatives of her community as it needs to be shared, the representative of the Muslim community expressed his reflection on the fact that early marriage can cause GBV and promised to take the message back to the league of Imams and scholars.
There was also a question and answer session which facilitated the definition of rape according to Nigerian law by the representative from Child Protection Network (CPN), Mr. Kebe Ikpi – sex without consent as well as sex with a minor (below 18). Others were centered around spousal rape and gang-raping of boys and young men as well as of teachers by their students, same-sex rape and rape of toddlers. In response, the representative from Medical Women Group, Dr. Okoi Obuli, said there is a place set up for women who are afraid to speak up on their husbands’ defilement of their toddlers. She encouraged parents to speak with their children regularly, pointing out that in visits to secondary schools by her team, they realized that a lot of young people refuse to use condoms because their parents will find out.
The Deputy Chief of Party for the project, Dr. Al’Rashid Usman in his closing remarks pointed out the availability of pre and post exposure prophylaxis for rape victims and Female Sex Workers.
The second day’s event was basically for secondary school students. Presentations were made by the Gender and HIV Prevention Advisor on Understanding Gender, the representative of Medical Women on Knowing Yourself, the representative from Child protection Network on when sex becomes a crime and what people should do when they are abused sexually. They were also taught about hygiene and the girls were given re-usable sanitary pads which were received from The Red Cross.
The day’s event also included an interactive session which encouraged the students to ask questions which were answered immediately. The excited students were glad to share what they learnt from the workshop, like Jomso Happiness Etodem who said she learnt that “not only girls can be sexually abused”. Bassey Onoyom learnt that “rape does not have to result to HIV infection.
The project also participated in the state rally on the 10th of December to mark the sensitization on gender for the year and provided refreshment for 500 participants.
In all, the icing on the cake for this year’s activity came a few days after the state event when the Gender and HIV Prevention Advisor got a call from the chairman of Child Protection Network, Barr. James Ibor, about a young female victim of continuous rape who has had 3 abortions at age 15. She was like a sex slave who had to meet the sexual demands of old men, one of whom has been arrested, a state executive. Every time she got pregnant, her mother took her for an abortion, but the last one was not properly done and she was bleeding and collapsed in school. She confided in a teacher who escalated it. This 15 year old was terribly traumatized by her situation and fear of what her mother would do to her for speaking up that she started taking Tramadol and drinking.
With logistics support from the USAID-funded HIFASS-LOPIN 3 project, she has been moved around comfortably, her mother and the state executive have been arrested. Our case monitor assigned has provided psychosocial support continuously to the young girl who is being prepped for surgery.
This story has provided a greater drive for the fight against GBV as the media sphere has been agog with discussions centered on the issue. We hope that with this awareness, more cases will be thrown to light, more perpetrators will be prosecuted and more people will be helped out of the pain.