As the cases of the COVID-19 infection in Lagos state continue to rise daily, an increasing number of cases of violence against women and girls is also being recorded, Women at Risk International Foundation (WARIF), one of the nation’s foremost NGOs tackling the prevalence of gender-based violence in Nigeria, has become concerned with the number of these cases not being attended to in the rural areas. Recognizing the need to address this issue at the grassroot level, the organization has launched the WARIF COVID 19 Response in Rural Communities Initiative.
This sensitization program was designed in collaboration with traditional birth attendants, previously trained by WARIF as first responders on gender-based violence cases. These health care providers, already educated on the prevalence of domestic and sexual gender-based violence within their grassroot communities and the immediate response and management of these cases, have been galvanized into small cell groups and are making house to house visits in their various communities to offer assistance to women who are in lock down with their spouses and partners. Cases of abuse in these households are being identified and recorded and are referred to the WARIF Rape Crisis. Centre.
The first cycle of the program is being carried out in five local government areas of Lagos state – Epe, Alimosho, Ikorodu, Kosofe and Apapa. These LGAs were selected due to a high number of women in these communities with Alimosho the largest with a population of 5,700, 714 in number.
Additional support and assistance is given to these traditional birth attendants by the organization, with the distribution of personal protective equipment such as face masks, hand sanitizers and gloves to protect these frontline workers and reduce the risk of spread of the virus in their respective communities.
Dr Kemi DaSilva-Ibru, founder of Women at Risk International Foundation stated that “54% of the population of Nigeria still reside in rural areas, with the shadow pandemic and increasing number of cases, women in these remote areas are isolated and locked away with their abusers with no means of communicating with the outside world and with no services available to them. This Initiative brings help to their door step, providing an opportunity for care and safety from their abusers that they would not ordinarily have”
She added, “It is important to provide care and protection to all women at risk, including those in our rural communities. To educate women on the impact of Covid-19 and also sensitize them on safety planning protocols during this period. This initiative builds on an existing relationship already present in these communities, with the traditional birth attendants, and so it is helping to foster stronger community ties and provide another platform for women to seek help.”
WARIF operates a 24-hour confidential helpline 0809 210 0009) to assist survivors of gender-based violence and provides free immediate medical care, counselling and social welfare to all women at risk at the WARIF Rape Crisis Centre.