Kemi DaSilva-Ibru: Giving help, hope to abused women
As the founder of WARIF, what does your work entail?
Women at Risk International Foundation (WARIF) is a non-profit organization founded in 2016 in response to the high incidence of sexual violence, rape and human trafficking occurring amongst young girls and women in Nigeria. The foundation was established to raise awareness, advocate and implement initiatives to address this prevalent problem and its consequences.
You recently launched WESP, what do you hope to achieve with it and what areas would you be focusing on?
The WARIF Educational School Program (WESP) Initiative is a preventive initiative, which commenced in May this year. This school educational program consists of two phases. The recently concluded Phase 1 is a baseline survey that was carried out in selected government secondary schools; to establish the prevalence of cases of sexual abuse and violence among adolescent school children in our communities and to identify the existing patterns of behaviour of the adolescent boy and girl child between the ages of 13 and 16 years of age.
The data collated was then used to assist in the design and implementation of an intervention strategy – the second phase of the WESP Initiative – to tackle the issues of Gender Based Violence (GBV) among the children in these schools. The data, which will be made available, can also be used by other organisations and related agencies to assist with the implementation of other effective intervention strategies. The positive impact achieved by the increased awareness, knowledge and behavioural change through these interventions will help reduce the gender inequality that currently exists as a result of the cultural, social and political norms in our environment and will lead to a decrease in the incidence of gender-based violence which is very likely to occur as these adolescents reach adulthood.
As a frontline supporter for the eradication of gender-based violence, would you say it is on the increase in Nigeria?
I cannot necessarily say there is an increase in GBV in our communities, but I can say without a doubt that this is a major problem that has existed for a very long time. The UNICEF data of 2014 on Violence Against Children in Nigeria confirmed one in four females reported experiencing sexual violence in childhood with approximately 70 percent reporting more than one incident. With more organizations such as WARIF working in this health space and facilities like the WARIF Centre being made available to offer free care and services to survivors of rape and sexual abuse, there is currently a spotlight that has been placed on the prevailing problem. And so there is more dialogue about the issue of gender-based violence.
I would also add that an increased awareness and better reporting of these cases by the media has contributed to this and with the advent of social media, more and more survivors have more platforms to speak out from and this should be encouraged.
According to a report by the Lagos State DSVRT, 70 per cent of teenage girls suffer abuse before they even leave secondary school. How does your organization intend to change this?
The Women at Risk International Foundation serves to address the sexual abuse and rape of girls and women in our communities through the implementation of target –oriented initiatives that are measurable and impactful. Our interventions target immediate concerns such as the health and safety of survivors with the provision of free medical care, counselling and social welfare services in our fully functioning sexual assault referral centre- The WARIF Centre, as well as preventive initiatives such as the implementation of strong advocacy campaigns to raise awareness and school youth educational programs like the WESP Initiative on Gender Based Violence.
How do you intend to use your flagship centre in Lagos to fight incessant rape cases and sexual violence?
WARIF has established the WARIF Centre, Yaba – a fully operational sexual assault referral centre, which is open six days a week Monday to Saturday (including public holidays) from 8:00am -5:00pm. It offers medical care, forensic medical examinations by trained medical staff and counselling with qualified counsellors. It also provides an efficient referral system with both government and non-governmental agencies to address the social welfare needs of survivors such as shelters for accommodation, legal aid and vocational skills acquisition. The services provided are free to all women in need; in a warm secure environment, where confidentiality and safety is assured by experienced and friendly staff.
WARIF Centre also offers a 24-hour confidential helpline available | 0809 210 0009 . This service is operated by qualified staff, available 24 hours; 7 days a week, who are trained to meet the needs of survivors over the telephone. Calls may come from those who prefer the anonymity of calling in for help or who are unable to reach the centre.
What assurance is WARIF giving to many that have been sexually abused that whatever information is disclosed would remain undisclosed?
All information including the identification, care during her visit at WARIF Centre and the subsequent whereabouts of all clients seen at the centre remain strictly confidential except where an expressed consent is freely given by the client to release such information. This is a strict code of conduct followed and adhered to by all members of staff at the centre.
In your opinion, do you think government is doing enough in this regard?
The Lagos State Government has set up a Domestic and Sexual Violence Response Team (DSVRT) made up of a select number of ministries and related regulatory organizations such as Law Enforcement to address all aspects of sexual and domestic violence in the State. As a member of this regulatory body, WARIF works hand in hand with other qualified representatives to reduce the number of these cases in Lagos State. I believe this unprecedented level of collaboration created by the Lagos State Government among all professionals all working towards ending Sexual and Gender Based Violence is seeing positive results.
The Law pertaining to rape and sexual violence in Nigeria has recently been amended with stricter punishment to offenders.
What are the challenges you face in your line of work?
The stigmatisation and the shroud of silence that surrounds cases of sexual violence and rape in our communities oftentimes make it difficult for the young girls and women to seek help. She is made to feel guilty and ashamed of this abuse and reluctance to visit centres like WARIF Centre to get the necessary medical and psychosocial care needed.
Funding is also a huge challenge and we are constantly seeking. Being a Non-Government Organisation, all our services and initiatives are offered at no cost to the survivors we assist and we rely solely on donor funding from corporate bodies, private organisations and the goodwill of private individuals.
Women and the girl child suffer sexual violence in our society today, more than men. What can be done to improve this? What do you think can be done to encourage more women and girls to be independent?
Everyone has a role to play in eliminating sexual violence. This is not just a woman’s issue, but it is everyone’s issue. It does not concern only regulated government agencies and non- government organizations but all organizations. This extends to families and individuals. To parents/family members: Let your loved one know that you believe them, that it is not their fault and that you support them. Encourage them to seek assistance if they are willing and able.
Existing regulatory bodies should devote support and resources to prevention and community engagement efforts. Education especially of the girl child and women’s empowerment are also key elements in ensuring a woman rights are addressed and ensured.
Violence Against Persons Prohibition (VAAP) Act 2015 which stated the penalty for rape is life imprisonment; this act has been extended to include gang rape and rape of a man as well as the introduction of a sex offender registry for all perpetrators convicted. This amendment by the judiciary of this law will certainly bring a positive impact on the reduction in the number of rape cases seen.
What would you tell women and girls that are looking up to you today?
We all have a role to play in addressing the injustices that occur, no matter how small. Women need to come together and support one another, learn from and lean on each other. Celebrate each other and play on the same team. Your collective voices are much louder as one. Your time is now.