Kemi DaSilva-Ibru: Giving Hope To Survivors
When Dr Kemi DaSilva-Ibru was met with a case of a sexually assaulted 18 months old girl in a society she calls home, her view of the world took an even more drastic turn.
Kemi DaSilva-Ibru is one of these women whose deliberate actions are focused towards putting an end to sexual assault, rape and human trafficking occurring amongst young girls and women across Nigeria.
She is changing the status quo in present-day Nigeria through her organisation WARIF, the Women at Risk International Foundation.
Her personality expresses WARIF’s impression in the public space; welcoming, empathic, trusting and open to listening to different opinions.
As a practicing specialist in Obstetrics and Gynaecology with a medical background that extends to Public Health, Dr DaSilva-Ibru has witnessed first-hand cases of rape and other forms of sexual abuse.
The experiences of women after surviving these cases of rape, trafficking, sexual violence, and domestic violence have led to post-traumatic issues such as low self-esteem, self-injury, depression, suicide, sexually transmitted diseases among many others. And this has had her and WARIF at the forefront of these battles.
To suggest this is a problem in Nigeria is a vast understatement however what was missing appeared to be a structured and more holistic approach to addressing the needs of these women.
The current statistics confirm that 1 in 4 girls in Nigeria today by the age of 18 would have endured one violent sexual encounter, with an average of 10000 girls being sexually assaulted daily. The statistics concerning boys are also significant with 1 in 10 boys (5000 boys daily) surviving similar encounters before age 18.
In her bid to tackle these issues, she has put what she calls a WARIF approach in place. This approach bothers on the implementation of a defined series of initiatives that fall under 3 pillars which are Health, Education and Community Service. These three initiatives are focused on penetrating every aspect of society and enabling women are stronger after all they must have gone through.
While considering the sustainability of these approaches, the effectiveness is also of paramount importance and the approaches have been seen to successfully reduce the cases of gender violence in the society.
Furthermore, while these approaches are in place, a referral centre is also available where tests, examinations, treatments are available. Also, the mental health of the women here are taken seriously.
“To address the harrowing impact from the emotional trauma by these events, the Centre also offers psycho-social counselling with trained counsellors who schedule individual therapy for each beneficiary seen and group therapy sessions are also offered each month to the public,” she says.
Also, the mental and physical health are being taken care of, the financial and legal aspects aren’t left out as these services are given free of charge. She notes, “Shelters and accommodation is arranged for those at-risk homes, legal aid is offered to women who seek justice and vocational skills acquisition is offered to women with financial constraints.”
The question that comes to mind is how a non-government organisation that is financially responsible for many women is able to manage when it comes to funding. She succinctly replies:
“The WARIF organisation is a non-profit organisation which relies solely on donor funds and grants awarded for specific initiatives. We have been fortunate to partner with international organizations such as the USAID and UN Women and local partners like the ACT Foundation and other corporate bodies who have been very helpful in assisting with the implementation of our programs.”
Another major source of concern to people all over the world is the rising case of girl trafficking and the reports are continuously baffling.
In 2017, ILO showed that 99% of the 4.8 million victims of commercial sexual exploitation in 2016 were women and girls, with one in five being children.
In July 2018, the Global Slavery Index in July 2018 revealed that there are 40.3 million victims of modern slavery worldwide, 71% of this number are women and girls and 25% of which are children.
Again, in 2019, the UNODC (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime) Report indicated that the number of children in slavery increased to almost 1/3 of all global victims.
To tackle this issue, Kemi Dasilva-Ibru through WARIF, has liaised with important government parastatals such as the Ministry of Justice and Education, Women’s Affairs and Poverty Alleviation and Law Enforcement as well as with other non-governmental organisations to fight this epidemic.
In addition, of importance to women advocacy is gender-based violence which she explains is paramount because we are in a “patriarchal country” where the traditional and cultural practices encourage the subjugation of women. In her words,
“We need to change this narrative, we need to raise the awareness to this issue. We need to give women a platform where they can find their voices. There is a lot of victim blaming that goes on when women are abused and violated.”
However, some issues are also as prevalent as the above. People including celebrities levelling false accusations against members of society, especially as a form of revenge, Dasilva-Ibru says the issue of false allegation is not only in Nigeria but rather, one that happens all over the world.
“This is also a travesty of justice that typically stems from an act of revenge or another common scenario is a young teenage girl trying to get out of trouble so she cries rape, which is usually then reported by a parent and this adversely affects the life and liberty of the perpetrator that’s is falsely accused. It must be noted that false rape accusations very rarely lead to wrongful convictions and jail time and the general thinking is the fact that the numbers of these claims are so insufficient when compared to the number of real rape cases that are never reported, that all cases should be taken seriously and investigated.”
On how to handle and manage cases of false allegation, she says that there is a “need to be sensitized to the provisions of the laws and the issue of consent in order to understand what is considered appropriate and what is not. Secondly, legal measures should be adopted to address such cases of false accusations to discourage them from happening.”
To fix these issues, WARIF’s approach sees to the education of young girls in secondary school, girls between the age of 12 and 16. The focus of this training is protection, and to ensure they understand what sexual violence and rape is and to know there are helplines available.
In a place like Nigeria, where non-governmental organisations thrive to be successful because of policies that are not favourable, thoughts of giving up has never crossed the mind of Dasilva-Ibru.
“Every girl and women we are able to help, we see as a win and we feel very privileged to be able to do this.”
For a woman who has stepped up her responsibility game to back the needs of other females like her, who together with her team are taking one step at a time to battle the different issues confronted by women in the society, a concern for her mental health as well as that of her team arises, and she has this to say:
“Self-Care is very important and ensuring your mental health is well looked after is an essential part of being able to effectively tackle the cases we see. At the organisation we are mindful of the fact that we don’t take our “work’ home with us and we have mandated deliberate breaks.
“…we have independent psychologists which the organisation makes available to assist the staff in providing well-rounded objectivity and assuring their mental health is well looked after…”
Dr Dasilva-Ibru is continuously showing that women can be so many things and they can be all these things successfully.