As Access Bank Joins War against Gender-based Violence

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By Oluchi Chibuzor

Over the years, the incidence of Gender-Based Violence (GBV) especially against women and female children has reportedly grown enormously, posing a high-risk security threat to the female gender.

These acts of violence against women and female children range from physical to mental and emotional abuse.

The most common expressions of these abuses being sexual harassment, early marriage, physical violence, and harmful traditional practices that put the female gender at a disadvantage.

A recent study commissioned by the Ministry of Women’s Affairs and Social Development in conjunction with the United Nations Population Fund (UNPFA) Nigeria shows that 28% of Nigerian women aged 25-29 have experienced some form of physical violence either from or before the age of 15.

The study also revealed that 15 per cent of Nigerian women experienced physical violence in the 12 months preceding the survey. Also, 44 per cent of divorced, separated or widowed women were reported to have been experiencing violence since the age of 15, while 25 per cent of married women or those living with their spouses have experienced violence.

An Effective Solution

Professionals have advised that there are effective methods to eradicate the existence of gender-based violence.

These methods demand that cases be given appropriate attention, and existing policies and laws be reviewed. In the event that the existing policies and laws do not sufficiently make provision for handling cases, new policies and laws should be enacted.

Also, there has to be a profound response to support victims or survivors of GBV at national, state and local levels; with offenders getting punished.

Actions which have been shown to hinder the fight against GBV include a culture of sexual ignorance, enforced stereotypes, stigmatisation, shaming and demeaning of survivors who are known to have openly spoken about their experiences.

In response to this, various institutions and initiatives have been created to address the root cause of the GBV menace. They are tackling deep-rooted problems by creating awareness, educating people and helping victims to recover from the trauma and hurt caused by GBV. One of such is the ‘W’ Initiative led campaign against Gender-Based Violence sponsored by Access Bank Plc.

Setting Standard to Confront the Challenge

The W-Initiative was established by Access Bank Plc to offer banking products and services tailored to meet the financial needs of women.

The W-community which sprung from the W-Initiative has fast become an online resource for women to share information, expand their network and share experiences relating to their lifestyles.

Over the past seven years, the initiative has focused on raising awareness about issues affecting women and children in particular –being the most vulnerable class of society worst hit by societal ills, and archaic value systems.

This year, due to the alarming statistics on violence against women and children in Nigeria, the W-initiative has chosen to focus mainly on this pressing issue.

This resolution birthed a partnership with the Nigerian Governors Wives against Gender-Based Violence (NGWA-GBV).

To flag off the collaboration, they jointly organised a virtual webinar themed, ‘Tackling the menace of Gender-Based Violence in our society’.

During the webinar, W-initiative reaffirmed its vision to create a society where sexual and Gender-Based Violence is eradicated, leading conversations which centred on foundational topics comprising definitions and types of Gender-Based Violence, the contributing factors, mode of responses, ways to handle gender-based violence in minors, red flags and signs to look out for in victims, ways to eradicate this act and suggestions on where/how victims can seek and get help.

Although there is an increase in awareness and education of the masses as it concerns Gender-Based Violence, the W-initiative acknowledged that there is still a lot of work to be done just as it shows commitment to the cause.

Addressing rationale behind the Bank’s drive against sexual and GBV, the Group Head of the ‘W’ Initiative at Access Bank, Ayona Trimnell, spoke extensively on how the issue is fast becoming a global pandemic.

Her focus was its impact on physical and mental health, dignity and well-being of the victims amidst a culture of silence and shame.

She stated that Access Bank, through the ‘W’ Initiative remained committed to addressing this menace publicly on a broader, national scale. Trimnell further encouraged victims to speak out and seek help while advocating a continuation in the Gender-Based Violence conversation to a point where the perpetrators are made to face the full wrath of the law.

Trimnell said, “Violence against women is not just a Nigerian issue, just like the COVID-19, it has become a global pandemic. Gender-based violence affects the physical and mental health, dignity and overall well-being of the victims , yet it remains masked in a culture of silence.

“For this reason, we, at Access Bank, through the ‘W’ Initiative have taken it upon ourselves to address this menace publicly and on a national scale. We also encourage victims to speak out and seek help.”

The webinar featured notable guest speakers such as Mrs. Erelu Bisi Fayemi, the First Lady of Ekiti State; Dr. Olufolake Abdulrazaq, First Lady of Kwara State; Mrs. Bola Tinubu, Founder, Cece Yara Foundation and Dr. Kemi Dasilva-Ibru, Founder, Women at Risk International Foundation (WARIF).

Access Bank also recently joined the Lagos State Domestic & Sexual Violence Response Team (DSVRT) to commemorate the United Nation’s 16 days of activism against Gender-Based Violence by organising various activities to create awareness, educate and encourage participation of the public in the fight against the menace.

For a period of 4-weeks, the bank conducted school sensitisation programs across three educational districts in Lagos State, and hosted a stakeholders’ forum titled “It’s on you and I to end Violence against Women and Children”.

The forum attracted over 300 guests from various segments of the society encompassing children, secondary school students, university undergraduates, human rights activists, media/entertainment professionals, medical practitioners and community leaders. Government officials and special guests in attendance included the First Lady of Lagos State, Dr. IbijokeSanwo-Olu; Group Managing Director, Access Bank, Herbert Wigwe; Lagos State Commissioner of Police, and the Attorney-General of Lagos State.

Through this initiative, and the bank trained more than 1,500 primary school children and teachers from over 100 state and private schools.

The bank provided educational materials such as books and fliers and pledged the sum of N1 million to fund the Lagos State DSVRT’s priority projects over the next year.

This is aimed at creating a shift in the mindset of the public as it relates to GBV such that individuals and communities are encouraged to take action where necessary.

Similarly, the W-initiative in collaboration with the phenomenal, award-winning film producer and director, Kunle Afolayan on his movie ‘Citation’, which aired on Netflix, emphasized the need for stakeholders to join the conversation.

The Chairman, Access Bank, Dr. Ajoritsedere Awosika, stressed the importance of the bank’s efforts towards bridging the gaps that still exist, saying, “At Access Bank, we believe in gender equality and we also believe that there is a need to make women feel safe not only in Nigeria but indeed, across the world. In many societies, women have been setback by issues such as sexual and gender-based violence, denied access to education, finance, and healthcare. We have therefore made it our mandate to put women where they ought to be and where possible, promote initiatives that will foster a better society for all.”

Commenting further on the issue of GBV at the private screening of the movie held at Terra Kulture, Trimnell said, “The issue of gender-based violence reaches every corner of the world and Nigeria has indeed been plagued by this issue for too long. With about 30 per cent of women and girls aged 15-49 having experienced sexual abuse, it is important that all stakeholders – private and public –contribute to the conversation, offer support and put in place frameworks to ensure that the scourge of gender-violence is eradicated from our society.”

Expressing excitement about the partnership, Ayona Trimnell stated that, since the establishment of the Access Bank W initiative in 2014, the bank has executed countless initiatives targeted at empowering women.

“We believe that women are key catalysts for change in any society. We were very excited at the opportunity to be a part of a project that will not only spotlight some of the prevalent issues around sexual and gender-based violence in Nigeria, but also serves as catalyst to addressthe long-term behavioural change we seek.”

Quizzed about his decision to partner with Access Bank on the project, Kunle Afolayan added that, “I have seen and heard about the impact Access Bank has been making on the lives of women through its W Initiative, hence, it was easy to select the bank as a partner given their body of work.

“Sexual harassment is an issue that is very rampant globally. ‘Citation’ wasn’t created to announce that these issues exist; rather incite conversations about the measures that need to be put in place in other to curb the menace that is sexual and gender-based violence.”

While the menace of Gender-Based Violence continues to ravage the world it is high time other organisations joined the conversation and support the movement.