It has been my pleasure to serve as the Chair of Nigeria Governors’ Wives Forum (NIGWF) from June 2020-October 16th 2022. One of the many lessons I learnt was that on our own as individual State First Ladies we do impressive work, but together, we are formidable. In June 2020, at the height of the COVID19 pandemic, Nigerian Governors’ Wives came together to establish a forum known as Nigerian Governors Wives against Gender Based Violence (NGWA-GBV). What started as a small working group for interested Governors’ Wives has now become a flagship program of the Nigerian Governors’ Wives Forum (NIGWF) with almost all State First Ladies actively engaged.
The COVID 19 pandemic provided an opportunity for a global as well as national conversation on Sexual and Gender Based Violence. The awareness that was raised during this period led to demands for accountability and action. It was not enough to keep making speeches, women and girls continue to experience increasingly alarming levels of all forms of violence. I am pleased to note that Governors’ Wives were able to rise to the challenge as mothers and leaders in their own right. Over the past thirty months, the NIGWF has achieved the following as their own contribution towards mitigating SGBV in Nigeria:
- Advocacy for a State of Emergency against Sexual and Gender Based Violence in Nigeria which was passed by the Nigeria Governors’ Forum on June 20th HE President Muhammadu Buhari also supported the calls for urgent action through the establishment of an inter-ministerial Presidential Task Force on Sexual and Gender Based Violence.
- Effective advocacy for passage of the VAPP Law. In June 2020, only fourteen States had domesticated the VAPP Act. As of December 2022, 34 States (including the FCT) have passed the VAPP law. This is an indication that the local advocacy of Governors’ Wives has been effective.
- Convening annual High-Level Policy conferences with State Governors to assess progress made in the implementation of the State of Emergency on GBV. This conference is the 3rd since December 2020.
- Development and implementation of a GBV Mitigation Action Plan for use by all State First Ladies. This Action Plan was launched at the December 2020 conference and is being used by each first lady to guide their GBV interventions
- Providing leadership for State GBV Coordinating Mechanisms, hereby facilitating the implementation of the VAPP Act. Several First Ladies Chair the State GBV Coordinating bodies.
- Increase in the number of Sexual Assault Referral Centers (SARCs) as well as shelters for women and their children, mostly due to the efforts of First Ladies. As of June 2022, there were 33 SARCS in 17 States. With the support of MacArthur Foundation, NIGWF has recently established SARCS in States such as Osun, Imo, Niger (2), and Abia. States such as Benue, Cross River, Plateau and Taraba States are in the process of setting up their own SARCs. An additional two SARCS were also opened by the Ekiti State government in September 2022 bringing the total SARCs in the State to three. The implication is that NIGWF has facilitated the establishment of 11 new SARCS in Nigeria in 2022.
- Advocacy for a SGBV Resourcing Framework as well as establishment of a GBV Survivors’ Fund that supports survivors to rebuild their lives. Several States now have a Survivors’ Fund domiciled in the Ministry of Women Affairs. The NIGWF also regularly makes donations to GBV survivors.
- In February 2021, The Ford Foundation started a pilot project called Pathways to addressing Sexual and Gender Based Violence’ with four States – Abia, Edo, Ekiti and Niger States. This initiative, under the leadership of the State First Ladies, has enabled the participating States strengthen their GBV responses and implement the VAPP Act effectively. Examples of some of the project outputs include Development of Standard Operating Procedures for GBV interventions, adoption of comprehensive referral pathways for GBV interventions, a GBV Training manual, community Town Hall meetings, Anti-GBV clubs in schools, radio and film production and more.
A question those of us who work on SGBV get asked often is, are the number of those affected increasing in spite of our efforts? Or are more women and girls simply coming forward now that they feel they will be heard and supported? The truth lies somewhere in-between.
A victim of SGBV deserves the right to move from being a Victim to a Survivor. A victim is voiceless and powerless, with no agency. A Survivor has a voice, hope and the power to take control again. A victim becomes a survivor through the quality of support they receive ranging from prompt medical attention, short-long term psycho-social support, access to justice, economic empowerment if needed and patient, compassionate and experienced champions. This can only be made possible by knowing where to go and who to ask for help.
Today, at our 3rd annual conference which we organise as part of activities to mark the global 16 Days of Activism campaign against Gender Based Violence, the NIGWF is presenting three projects which we have been working on as our contribution towards the mitigation of GBV in the country.
- SGBV Accountability Tracker
The first is the SGBV Accountability Tracker, a collaborative project of the UN-EU Spotlight Initiative, the Presidential Inter-Ministerial Committee and the NIGWF. The GBV Accountability Tracker was developed to address the complexities of accessing quality, reliable and survivor-centered information. The Tracker is an outcome of multiple inter-agency collaborations between the NIGWF, the inter-ministerial management committee on GBV and the EU-UN Spotlight Initiative. The Tracker is a one-stop platform for GBV related information. It is a live platform containing milestone achievements in GBV prevention and response across the 36 States of Nigeria. It provides real time updates on significant indicators, including laws and policies, SGBV Response Teams, GBV Specialized courts, SARCS and helplines.
- National Directory of SGBV Responders and Service Providers in Nigeria
The second project is a National Directory of SGBV Responders and Service Providers in Nigeria. The NIGWF SGBV Directory was inspired by the Orange Pages project of Invictus-Africa which was launched in July 2021. This partnership with Invictus-Africa has provided us with an opportunity to expand the Orange Pages project to reflect more agencies and resources across the 36 States of Nigeria. This is a critical addition to the existing efforts to tackle SGBV and ensure support for survivors. This directory contains the names and contacts of verified and validated individuals and organisations, including the Sexual Assault Referral Centers (SARCS) all of whom respond to SGBV.
The SGBV directory will be available in both digital form as well as printed copies which will be made available where people at risk can find them such as government institutions, local government areas, worship centers, private offices, police stations, hotels, community centers, schools and higher institutions.
I thank Ms Bukola Shonibare, Founder of Invictus Africa for encouraging us to work on this project with them. This Directory has been made possible with the kind support of the MacArthur Foundation.
- National Guidelines for GBV Standard Operating Procedures.
The third project we are presenting today is National Guidelines for GBV Standard Operating Procedures. In April 2016, the Gender Based Violence Area of Responsibility (GBV AOR) under the guidance of the Federal Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development and UNFPA Nigeria developed SGBV SOPs in line with globally acceptable standard practices. It was expected that all States and relevant stakeholders across the country would adapt the SOPs for use.
With the support of MacArthur Foundation over the past year, the NIGWF has now made these national guidelines available for use by all those concerned about responding to SGBV. These guidelines can also be adapted to suit local contexts when necessary.
The GBV Standard Operating Procedures is a tool that can be used to train and sensitise a range of stakeholders critical to the struggle against all forms of Gender Based Violence. It is meant as a guide for everyone, regardless of the depth of their familiarity with the subject matter. It is hoped that this document will be used to enhance the knowledge and skills of many interested parties who will in turn use it to inform others.
The NIGWF set up a Technical Working Group (TWG) made up of staff and advisers of State First Ladies, representatives from relevant State Ministries, Departments and Agencies and Civil Society Organisations. The Working Group was led by Dr Abiola Akiode of Women Advocates Research and Development Center (WARDC) who is a Technical Adviser for NIGWF. Through various consultations, the Working group worked tirelessly to make this project a success.
I would like to thank all those who have made these projects possible, particularly the MacArthur Foundation, the Ford Foundation, UN/EU Spotlight Initiative, the Federal Ministry of Women Affairs and the Nigeria Governors Forum. Together, UNITED, we can truly make a difference.
These were my speaking notes at the recent annual conference of the Nigeria Governors Wives Forum in Abuja held on December 5th, with the theme Awareness, Accountability and Action: Sustaining the State of Emergency Against Gender Based Violence’.
Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi is a Gender Specialist, Social Entrepreneur and Writer. She is the Founder of Abovewhispers.com, an online community for women. She is can be reached at BAF@abovewhispers.com