During the second quarter of 2018, the Women at Risk International Foundation (WARIF) implemented the Boys Conversation Café (BCC) a project sponsored by Diamond Bank PLC. The interactive session involved a set of students predominantly male between the ages of 13 and 17 years old, in SS1 and SS2 levels. Experienced male mentors interacted with the students using a guided curriculum for four consecutive weeks. The discussion centered around sexual abuse, boys as protectors not perpetrators, peer pressure, responsible behaviour and the law on rape. The objectives include changing the attitude and mindset of boys about rape and sexual abuse, to educate boys to participate as protectors rather than bystanders or perpetrators and to equip young boys with the knowledge and the tools to assist in the prevention of gender-based violence with the provision of the services provided by WARIF Centre. In this interview with WARIF Founder, Dr Kemi Dasilva-Ibru, she talks in length about this project and what she aims to achieve with it.
You recently launched the Boys Conversation Café. Tell us more about this?
The WARIF Boys Conversation Café is a new initiative launched by the Foundation which is designed to educate young secondary school boys between the ages of 12-16, on the prevalence of sexual violence in Nigeria and aims to change the attitudes, perception and behavioural pattern that exist amongst these group of boys, towards gender inequality and sexual violence against women. The WARIF Boys Conversation Café runs a series of informal sessions with cohort groups of these young school boys, with vetted male volunteers, recruited from different organizations who facilitate as mentor’s /role models at these café sessions. On the issue of sexual-based violence in Nigeria, there are no existing curriculums in schools and elsewhere that directly address these topics for boys and so specific guidelines have been designed by the Foundation and are used as the basis for the topics and issues discussed at the Café sessions. These conversations also highlight already existing issues of gender disparity that exist between the sexes in our communities and the potential for violence against women that occur as a result. It teaches young boys to become protectors of women and not potential perpetrators as these boys reach adulthood.
What does WARIF aim to achieve with this feat?
We spend most of our time discussing how many women are raped in a community, how many school girls are harassed or whether or not consent was given and not enough time asking how many men rape women in that community and how many school boys harass young girls. This initiative plans to shift the focus of attention from educating girls and women on the prevention of sexual violence and rape and how to protect themselves, to teaching boys and men about positive masculinity and standing up for women and changing their mindsets so we prevent them from becoming perpetrators in the future.
How many schools/boys do you hope to reach and in what time-frame?
The goal of the initiative is to reach as many boys as possible across Lagos State. Following the conclusion of the first session sponsored by Diamond Bank in Surulere in May 2018 and the positive measured impact the initiative had in this school district, the Lagos State Domestic and Sexual Violence Response Team (DSVRT) has recently entered a partnership with WARIF where the Boys Conversation Café will be introduced into secondary schools across all six school districts in Lagos State from the next school calendar year in 2018. Through this partnership I believe we will be able to achieve this.
What other activities have WARIF been involved in recently?
The Foundation effectively tackles the issue of rape and sexual violence by working under its three main pillars. The WARIF Centre: a Sexual Assault Referral Centre in Yaba offers free treatment, counseling, accommodation and legal aid to all beneficiaries that visit the Centre free of charge. There is also a 24-hour confidential help- line available to all in need of services, but wish to remain anonymous or are located too far away to reach the Centre. The Educational Pillar of the Foundation has in addition to the Boys Conversation Café – two other initiatives being carried out across the State; the WARIF Educational School Program (WESP), is a preventative initiative where the identification of the signs and the prevention of sexual violence and rape is taught to secondary school girls between the ages of 12 and 16 through a specifically designed curriculum by the Foundation. The WARIF Through the Arts Program is the initiative targeting tertiary level male and female students in universities and colleges across the country. Using the performing arts as a tool for social change, a short powerful skit depicting scenarios of abuse is shown to large audiences of these young adults in these schools and used to create awareness, encourage dialogue and educate and prevent sexual violence amongst this target audience. Under our Community Service pillar, through sponsorship from the ACT Foundation, we have successfully trained 500 traditional birth attendants from several rural local government areas across Lagos State on the signs and prevention of sexual violence under the WARIF Gate Keepers project. This was the first time traditional midwives had received any training in this area and are now equipped to becoming first respondents in the prevention of gender based violence and related issues in their different rural communities. All cases are logged for data collection and referred back to the WARIF Centre for continued care. Advocacy, awareness and sensitization programs are also carried out in more urban areas where public spaces such as market places and known brothels are visited.
Would you say you have recorded increased success in the war against GBV, Sexual Violence and rape since you started and how?
With regards to our various initiatives, the WARIF Centre has attended to over 470 beneficiaries since December 2016; The WARIF Educational School Program has educated 300 girls so far and will continue in the next calendar year with an additional 500 secondary school girls. The recently launched BCC Boys will be introduced throughout all six school districts across Lagos State in the next school calendar as well; impacting on the lives of as many young adolescent school aged boys as possible. With the Gate Keepers Initiative we have trained 500 traditional midwives and have attend to 132 cases from different local government areas and we intend to continue our training with an additional 400 midwives in August 2018. We have also addressed over 550 beneficiaries in the urban areas. Our strong advocacy and awareness programs and campaigns through online social media platforms, radio and TV as well as in traditional newspapers has also reached a significant number of individuals in the thousands; so I would say we have certainly recorded a significant number of beneficiaries we have had a large positive impact on in the war against GBV. There is, however, so much more to be done.
What do you think the government can do in helping to address the problem of GBV?
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 an official 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 these professionals all working towards ending sexual and gender-based violence is seeing positive results. The Police Force are also sensitizing more police officers to tackle this problem in some police stations; Gender desks with trained sensitised officers are now available to address these cases. This must be encouraged and emulated in all police stations across the country.
What would you tell survivors and how can they seek professional help?
It is very important for a survivor of a sexual attack to immediately visit a rape crisis centre such as the WARIF Centre located in Yaba. We have specialised qualified staff and offer readily available services that offers an all-round holistic approach to her care. For forensic medical examinations to be carried out, a 72-hour window from the onset of the attack in when specimens for DNA evidence in a rape kit can be retrieved. When a woman is seen at the Centre, she is walked through the event in a very sensitive and least intrusive manner; all the necessary tests are carried out and professionally trained medical personnel examine her. It is the most natural thing to feel the urge to wash away all signs of the attack as soon as it happens, as most women immediately feel dirty and used; but it is important to emphasise that important forensic evidence may be lost in this event; so she must visit the centre prior to washing/ bathing. She must also bring along with her the clothing that was worn during the attack. Other tests and medication also need to be administered to her within this 72-hours period, including the post – exposure HIV drugs to reduce the incidence of HIV. She is also seen by a trained social worker for counseling as her psycho –social needs must also be met. This component of abuse is as traumatic as the physical attack suffered. Before leaving the Centre, her social welfare needs such as accommodation and legal aid are addressed where necessary.
By; Tobi Awodipe for Guardian