Kemi Dasilva is a specialist obstetrician and gynaecologist with a medical back-ground that extends to Public Health. In December 2016, she established the Women at Risk International Foundation, (WARIF) a non-profit organisation to address the high incidence of rape, sexual violence, and trafficking of young girls and women in Nigeria and across Africa. In this interview with DESMOND OKON, she talks about the Gatekeepers Project, an initiative through which five hundred Traditional Birth Attendants, (TBAs) and a hundred law enforcement agents were trained on gender based violence.
Could you give an insight into the Gate-keepers project?
The first cycle of the WARIF Gate-keepers Project took place in 2017 and was funded by a grant from the ACT Foundation where the first 500 birth attendants from 15 Local Government Areas across Lagos State, were trained and assessed on the identification of signs of gender-based violence, the difference between rape and sexual assault, provision of first responder confidential counselling to survivors, and reporting sexual violence to WARIF.
The second cycle which was recently launched with the training of 500 more traditional birth attendants (TBAs) was expanded with the training of 100 law enforcement agents over ten local government areas across the rural outskirts of Lagos State. This second cycle, with the expansion to include this other ‘gate-keepers’ in the community– the Police Force, will have a much more significant impact and further enforce the organisation’s commitment to tackling the incidence of gender-based violence.
May we know what led to the project?
The rural population in Nigeria is reported at 51.4 percent (according to the 2016 World Bank Report) which accounts for slightly more than half of our total population; 50 percent of who are women. Recognising this fact and the urgent need to address the issue of Gender Based Violence (GBV) on a grass-root level in rural and peri-rural communities led WARIF into designing and implementing this project.
What are the objectives of this initiative?
The objective of the project is to reduce the incidence of gender-based violence in additional target communities by 30 percent within a nine-month period. WARIF’s ethos is to ensure that no woman is left behind as we address the problem and seek zero tolerance towards sexual violence in all communities.
What have been the response and level of achievements so far?
This approach to tackling the issues of rape and sexual violence on a community level in rural and peri-rural areas has had a significant positive impact on the awareness of traditional birth attendants towards the signs and prevention of GBV; as no previous training has ever been recorded to have been offered to them in handling these issues prior to the WARIF Gate Keepers Project. The WARIF Gate Keepers Project to date has been one of its kind in this regard.
Some of the project’s achievements to date include: 15 Local Government Areas have been reached, 500 TBAs were trained, over 150 cases of gender-based violence were reported, and three rape cases are currently undergoing persecution.
Why did you select Traditional Birth Attendants for this training?
A traditional birth attendant is typically a pregnancy and childbirth care provider. Also providing other primary healthcare needs and addressing specific female concerns that affect young girls and women in their communities. Though not formally trained, most TBAs serve in this capacity and are recognized as well respected ‘Gate-keepers’ in their communities. They are highly regarded and are custodians of all issues and concerns surrounding young girls and women, including gender-based violence and rape.
TBAs belong to the same community as many of these women, understanding their culture, speaking the same language and usually have a personal relationship with the women. This sacred trust between this community leader and the women in their communities plays a critical role in dealing with the sensitive issue of rape and sexual violence. Identifying this important fact, and recognizing the critical role these TBAs play in their community was the key factor in our decision in selecting them as the Gate-keepers in the communities to train.
Talking about funds as an NGO, how is the project currently being funded?
The project is funded by the Aspire Coronation Trust (ACT) Foundation. We are very excited to be working with the ACT Foundation again on cycle 2 following their sponsorship of the first cycle in 2017.
As an NGO, what is the impact of the initiative on your overall vision?
This initiative will have a tremendous impact on the vision of the organization which is to eradicate gender-based violence and live in a society free of rape of sexual violence. By addressing this issue on a community level in rural areas where over 50 percent of the population still resides, it will certainly make a huge difference to the high incidence of this problem and help achieve this vision.
What are the benefits of the WARIF Community Gatekeepers Project 2.0 over the first cycle in these communities across Lagos?
Incorporating the police training program to this cycle of the Gate-keepers project will ensure that police officers in the local government areas are aware and sensitised to the needs of the women in their communities and the significant role played by the TBAs in reporting these cases to them. This will not only create a working relationship between the traditional midwives and the policemen but will also improve on the relations between the police force and the community at large –especially the women who will have an increased sense of security and trust for these new Gate-keepers which is at present missing.
This approach is an innovative and a timely one in many of these communities as the first point of call is the police station when there is an issue of rape. However, very few of these police stations have a unit trained to handle cases of gender based violence, and as a result most cases of sexual violence inadequately reported, the survivor’s needs are not met and perpetrator goes unpunished. All cases seen and reported by both “Gate-keepers” will be referred to the WARIF Centre where affected women can receive the necessary medical care and counselling and have their social welfare needs met.