LOUD WHISPERS: Demand and Supply

Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi

I walked into the conference hall alone, leaving all my aides outside and stood at the high table waiting for the national anthem to start. I looked around at the audience and my heart started to beat faster than normal. I could not believe what I was seeing. When you have been engaged in a line of work for a while, you are tempted to believe you have seen it all. I whispered to the person next to me, ‘they are mostly children!’. She nodded in confirmation. As the introductions were being made, my head was bent, I kept staring at the program in my hands. I was trying to hide my tears anger and frustration.

In 2020, during the height of the COVID19 pandemic, Sexual and Gender Based Violence became part of a global conversation. It was nothing women’s rights activists and human rights organisations had not been saying long before then, but the COVID19 lockdowns helped beam a strong light on the fate of women and girls locked in with abusers in their homes and communities. Before the COVID19 pandemic struck, the Ekiti State Gender Based Violence Management Committee had made plans to establish a Sexual Assault Referral Center (SARC) a one-stop shop to tend to survivors of sexual violence. Our Attorney-General Mr. Wale Fapounda SAN, facilitated a series of meetings and we also invited Ms. Itoro Inaba, the founder of Mirabel Center, Lagos, the first SARC in the country to advise us. The process faced a serious set back when the person responsible for working on the project, Barrister Seyi Ojo passed away in December 2019. Seyi was a Lawyer with the Ekiti State Ministry of Justice and Coordinator of the Gender and Vulnerable Persons Unit in my office. Seyi had worked hard to make the establishment of the Ekiti SARC a reality. Her passing left us adrift for a while. The Ekiti State University Teaching Hospital (EKSUTH) had promised to give us space for the SARC, but we did not finalise this arrangement till COVID struck.

On June 10th 2020 the Nigeria Governors Forum declared a State of Emergency on Sexual and Gender Based Violence, in response to advocacy from the Nigeria Governors Wives Forum, the Minister for Women Affairs and women’s organisations. In Ekiti State, the GBV Management Committee, which I Chair, went back to EKSUTH and finalised arrangements, and on June 23rd 2020 we opened the Ekiti SARC known as the Moremi Clinic. The Governor had put in place a Covid 19 Resource Mobilisation Committee to attract resources to the State for short to long-term investments in health and human services. With the help of some members of the Committee, I was able to make a case for a permanent site for the Ekiti SARC.  I also received support from the Susan and Richard Kiphart Family Foundation in the United States, facilitated by US-based Professor Funmilayo Olopade who is a member of the Covid 19 Committee. The Ekiti State Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) office also supported the Moremi Clinic with furniture and equipment. The permanent site was launched on November 25th 2020.

In September 2022, the Coordinator of the Ekiti SARC, Barrister Rita Ilevbare asked me to host a forum for some of the 250 survivors who had used the services of Moremi Clinic over the past two years. I said yes without hesitation. I walked into the Survivors Forum and almost regretted this decision. I discovered to my shock and dismay that 25 out of the 40 survivors who were present were minors ranging from 3 years-15 years. Though not present, the youngest client of the Moremi Clinic is six months old and the oldest eighty-five years old.

Even though it was awful to see so many young survivors of sexual violence, it was gratifying to see that they were all accompanied by parents or guardians who felt strongly about seeking justice for their children. Majority of the predators have either been convicted already while some are awaiting trial. Predictably, some managed to disappear without trace.

I hate the fact that we have had to spend so much time and effort to preach the gospel of safety and bodily integrity for women and girls. I shudder every-time I get a text about yet another case of abuse, sometimes each new case is worse than the last. I resent seeing the aesthetically beautiful Moremi Clinic knowing that its purpose is to serve victims of terribly ugly crimes. I am dismayed to admit to myself that no matter how hard we try, there are those who will continue to find a way to violate the bodies and minds of others. However, even though I have come to terms with our limitations, I have learnt that giving up is not an option. The predators are counting on exactly that, so that they can continue unchecked, their victims perpetually shamed into silence. With the existence of resources such as SARCS, victims are now speaking up to break the culture of silence because they know there is a place to go for healing and justice, so they can move from being victims to survivors.

The sad thing is demand continues to exceed supply. In June 2020 when the State of Emergency against SGBV was declared, there were 26 SARC Centers in 17 States. On September 29th 2022, we opened two satellite Moremi Clinics in Ekiti State, bringing the number of SARCs in Ekiti to 3 and the total number of SARCS in Nigeria to 35. These facilities are still woefully inadequate in a country where millions of women and girls are at risk. Ideally there should be a SARC and Shelter in every local government in the country. That is how bad the demand is.

At the Nigeria Governors’ Wives Forum, we have all been working on increasing support for GBV Survivors in our States. In addition to advocating for the domestication of the 2015 Violence Against Persons Prohibition Law (VAPP) we have been involved in setting up SARCs as well as Shelters. Over the next two months, with support from MacArthur Foundation, Governors’ Wives will facilitate an additional 8 SARCs in States across the country. As these SARCs and Shelters are being set up, we are also advocating for governments to ensure budgetary provision for sustainability. Strong political will is integral to sustaining SGBV mitigation efforts and allocating the required financial, material, human and technical resources is a key indicator. I thank HE Governor Kayode Fayemi for demonstrating how political will can make social change and gender justice possible.

 In Ekiti State for example, there is a GBV Budgeting Framework that provides funding for the SARCs, State Shelter, training and empowerment, as well as a fund for GBV Survivors. I am very grateful to key agencies on the Ekiti GBV Committee – the Ministry of Health and Human Services, Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development and Ministry of Education, Science and Technology for the unique collaboration that made the Moremi Satellite Clinics in the State Specialist Hospital Ikole-Ekiti and State Specialist Hospital in Ikere-Ekiti possible. The Adolescent Girls in Learning and Empowerment (AGILE) project funded by the World Bank and domiciled in the Ministry of Education, will also enable Ekiti State set up a Shelter/Safe House for women and girls in all 16 local governments of the State, hereby easing the pressure on the Shelter in the State capital.

All these SARCs/Shelters require ongoing support from the State governments and general public. Please find out if there is a SARC or Shelter in your State. It does not matter if they are owned by the government or a civil society organisation. You can donate clothing, bedding, towels, toys, toiletries, raw food or simply cash. I felt terrible at the GBV Survivors Forum. I wanted to cry, rave and rant.  Yet, my feelings do not matter. Doing the best I can, and finding kindred spirits who are willing to do the same is what counts. Please join in any way you can.

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