LOUD WHISPERS: The Womanity Index Report

On December 4th 2023, I attended the launch of the Womanity Index Report, a project of Invictus-Africa in collaboration with Budg-It. The report is an attempt to assess sub-national responses to the fight against Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV). The findings of the report had both good and bad news. The bad news first. In spite of the numerous pronouncements and commitments to addressing SGBV in our communities, many States across the country still do not have the required political will, technical expertise, institutional frameworks and adequate resources to make their promises a reality. The good news is there are some States who have been doing well and it is hoped that they will build on their successes and sustain them. The rankings of the report are colour coded – Blue, Green, Amber and Red, with States performing differently according to the theme under assessment. Lagos State had an overall ranking of Blue State, having performed well across all the five areas under review. States such as Ekiti, Rivers, Edo and Ogun had Green State rankings, though Ekiti State was given Blue Status under Laws and Policies.  Please see below an abridged version of my keynote address:

The continued rise in SGBV cases has made it imperative to scale up multi-dimensional approaches and strategies in combating all forms of GBV.

In June 2020, only 14 States in Nigeria had passed the VAPP Act. Now, 35 States (including FCT) have passed the VAPP or at least have legislation to protect women from GBV. This is evidence that the June 2020 GBV State of Emergency declared by the Nigeria Governors Forum at the insistence of the Nigeria Governors Wives Forum (now the Nigeria Governors Spouses Forum) and the advocacy that has sustained it is working.

As we commemorate another global 16 days of activism, we should take a look at the theme for this year’s campaign: ‘Invest in Women and Girls’. The Womanity Report we are here to launch challenges all of us to take a closer look at the full range of investments that are required to guarantee a future free of SGBV in our communities. It is a call for accountability from governments at Federal and State level and the need for partnerships to address the gaps that need to be closed. The report tracks how five key areas – Laws and Policies, Access to Legal Justice, Support Services, Information and Awareness and Budgets and Spending are used to provide a robust SGBV response framework at sub-national level. It is heartwarming to see strong political will and results from a number of States, while we should also be alarmed at the lethargy and lack of interest in many others.

WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE WITH THESE REPORT FINDINGS

ADDRESS STRUCTURAL AND UNDERLYING CAUSES OF VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN

SGBV does not occur in a vacuum. It is grounded in attitudes, beliefs and mindsets about the status of women and girls. For lasting solutions, we need to ensure that gender equality and women’s empowerment continues to remain a priority. Women’s economic empowerment, education, and their full and equal participation in public and political life are vital for addressing the structural causes of violence against women and girls. We also need to stop fueling practices, beliefs and stereotypes that undermine the physical and emotional well-being of women and girls. All harmful traditional practices which minimize the personhood of women should be avoided. Their time has passed. Widow abuse, FGM, child marriage, male preference, disinheritance of women and so on, are not compatible with the doctrine of inalienable human rights.

PROVISION AND IMPLEMENTATION OF STRONG LEGAL AND POLICY FRAMEWORKS

Implementation and enforcement of GBV laws remains woefully inadequate, creating the basis for a pervasive culture of impunity. We still have significant gaps and challenges, and we should all be concerned about our lack of institutional capacity to enforce laws and policies. Inadequate implementation frameworks, lack of reliable data, lack of financial, technical, material and human resources, lack of cohesion and coordination, insufficient analysis and research, lack of continuity, and much more, make implementation extremely difficult.

TREATMENT, CARE AND PROTECTION OF GBV SURVIVORS

There are currently at least 40 Sexual Assault Referral Centers (SARCS) in 22 States in Nigeria and two in the FCT. Every State in the country needs a SARC, ideally more than one. Every State needs a Shelter. It is important for State Governments to take up this responsibility, regardless of whether there is donor funding available or not. GBV Survivors also need support to enable them make empowering choices. This is why we need a GBV Survivors’ Fund to make this happen. In Ekiti State where this fund was pioneered in 2011, this has been used to help hundreds of women seek new accommodation, return to school or start a business.

Alongside resources for the care of GBV Survivors, we need investments in our Mental Health infrastructure because of the links between mental health and GBV.

SYNERGY OF MULTI-SECTORAL AND INTER-AGENCY SERVICES

A key challenge in the implementation of strategies to prevent violence against women or to support and rehabilitate survivors, is the lack of inter-agency collaboration and capacity. Without these, efforts to address this issue, no matter how well meaning, will not be sustainable. It is therefore important for the Presidential SGBV Task Force to be reconstituted, and State GBV Coordinating Mechanisms strengthened or put in place where they do not exist to continue to address the need for collaboration with governmental and non-governmental actors, budgeting, synergy, peer learning, knowledge management, monitoring and evaluation and showcasing of best-practices.

COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT

All our best intentions will amount to nothing if communities do not own the issue of SGBV. We have to make the necessary investments in sensitization and awareness raising to make everyone a stakeholder in this issue. Communities, especially in rural areas, should be sensitized to work with relevant bodies on a range of intervention strategies such as counselling, reporting incidents of abuse, legal literacy, aiding the criminal justice system, and providing a strong support network for survivors of abuse. Communities should not take laws into their hands, but they should be prepared to support the implementation of laws and not obstruct justice which is what happens in many instances. Traditional rulers, religious bodies, political leaders, community associations and male champions are all key to this.

ADEQUATE BUDGETING

Funding for SGBV interventions needs to be sustained and scaled up. There can be no effective response without resources. Every State needs a GBV costed-action plan or its equivalent. One of the most effective ways to do this is to mainstream GBV funding through key Ministries and Agencies. State Governments must own the funding of SGBV mitigation strategies, donor funding is always very helpful but State governments should prioritise this in their budgets and spending.

PEER-LEARNING AND CAPACITY BUILDING

We can all learn from one another. All that has been achieved so far has been through looking at best-practices and innovations around us. There are States in Nigeria who have things that we can learn from throughout the ecosystem of GBV prevention and support. Lagos, Ekiti, Borno, Adamawa, Edo, Bauchi, Rivers, Kwara, for example have a lot other States might be interested in. There are also things to be learnt from across the Africa region such as in South Africa, Kenya and Rwanda. We also need to continue engagements with policy makers, political leaders, policy advocates, women’s rights activists, journalists, donor partners – the opportunities for learning and sharing are limitless.

  • POLITICAL WILL

Political will is needed to ensure effective implementation of any SGBV prevention or mitigation strategy. This is expressed through the personal commitments of political leaders, leadership from the front, allocation of required financial, material, human and technical resources and a commitment to adherence to best practices. In the Womanity Report, this is what sets the ‘Blue’ and ‘Green’ States apart from the others.

CONCLUSION

Sexual and Gender Based Violence is a terrible scourge. We all need to fight back, without exception. Every victim deserves to be called a Survivor. We all have a voice, no matter how small. Let us use our voices to create a mighty sound. I thank and congratulate Invictus-Africa and Budg-IT for this important report and I hope all of us will make the best use of their findings. 

Abridged keynote address at launch of Invictus-Africa Womanity report on SGBV, December 4th 2023, Abuja, Nigeria.

Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi is a Gender Specialist, Policy Advocate and Writer. She is the Founder of Abovewhispers.com, an online community for women. She can be reached at BAF@abovewhispers.com

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One Response to LOUD WHISPERS: The Womanity Index Report

  1. Adegbola Opeyemi December 11, 2023 at 4:28 pm

    Thanks for sharing with us these facts ma’am.

    Reply

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