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Helpline against Gender-based, Sexual Violence

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To achieve optimum help and support for cases of Sexual and Gender-based Violence, the Lagos State Government recently launched the SGB Virtual Response Referral System and a helpline. Rebecca Ejifoma reports that the collaborative safety measure would go a long way to protect many

Last year, when Nigerians took to social media to plead for “one pandemic at a time”, not many understood the underlying message. Given that 2020 was the year COVID-19 struck the world and led to a lockdown, survivors faced immense challenges in accessing affordable quality services.

One of such cases that activated public outburst and nationwide campaign from various groups and individual was the vicious rape and murder of 11 years old Favour Okechukwu by a gang of four in Ejigbo area last September. This left Nigerians with the feeling that the nation was battling two pandemics simultaneously- sexual and domestic violence as well as COVID-19 pandemic.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) in listing rape, sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, forced early marriage, domestic violence, marital rape, trafficking and female genital mutilation as forms of Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV), noted that it is an offence that threatens the peaceful existence of girls and women.

Over time, this destructive act has proven to cripple the health, emotions, and psychological well-being of survivors and their loved ones, leaving them with long lasting effects.

Helpline

It was to protect girls and women, and even young boys from such a depressing experience that the Lagos State government launched the virtual response system alongside the toll-free helpline, 0800333333. This aims to expand the capacity of the response team for survivors in its domain, which they were deprived of during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Unveiled in Ikeja last month, SGB Virtual Response Referral System (SGBVRRS) provides features like uninterrupted support to survivors via its helpline, which will be available 24 hours everyday, in and out of holidays. It also promises to provide sexual and gender-based services, legal, tele-medicine, and psycho social support among other services.

It was powered by the Lagos State Domestic and Sexual Violence Response Team (DSVRT) in partnership with the European Union-funded Spotlight Initiative, Women’s Helping Hands Initiative, and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

According to the Coordinator, Lagos State DSVRT, Titilola Vivour Adeniyi, the National Demographic and Health Survey 2018 report stated that 30 per cent of girls and women aged between 15 and 49 are reported to have experienced sexual abuse.

She said: “In the past four years, the Lagos State Domestic and Sexual Violence Response Team has attended to over 7500 survivors of Sexual and Gender Based Violence. In the year 2020, it became more evident that survivors face immense challenges in accessing affordable quality services, largely due to the financial constraints experienced by survivors.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has also posed a new challenge for survivors accessing justice due to restriction of movement as well as other COVID 19 guidelines. There is therefore an urgent need for survivors to be able to receive uninterrupted support either virtually or physically, irrespective of any pandemic.

“The Lagos State Gender Based Violence Virtual Referral and Response Service aims to expand the capacity of Lagos State Domestic and Sexual Violence Response Team (DSVRT) to provide services virtually leveraging on the existing GBV response program in the State. This is made possible by the European Union funded Spotlight initiative.

“The virtual referral and response service provides uninterrupted access to SGBV services. This enables survivors have access to trained SGBV service providers 24/7.”

Effective Punishment for Perpetrators

Joining in at the launch virtually, wife of the Vice-President, Dolapo Osinbajo, said these times call for a new model as a response to GBV matters, which the VRRS avails survivors.

As the Executive Director, Women Helping Hands Initiative, Osinbajo lent her voice for survivors to be helped, upheld, and restored. “We must do so now. I’m eager to advocate for effective help for victims and sufferers as it is being demonstrated here today”.

She went ahead to canvass for awareness for GBV, and enlistment of more people within the community to join the fight while calling for swift and effective punishment for perpetrators to the full extent of the law.

While commending the initiative she said: “I applaud the initiators and all implementing partners for this innovative solution towards effective help and support for victims of gender-based violence. I applaud all the efforts of Spotlight Initiative and the UNFPA and DRSVT by the Lagos State and the host of persons and organisations holding up this process to ensure that work is done.”

She also appreciated the efforts of law enforcement officials, social workers, legal aid assistants, community leaders, shelters, donors, concerned citizens, charity organisations, and all who have offered kind words and deeds to sufferers and survivors.

Leaving No One Behind

Echoing the words of Osinbajo, the Country Representative of the UNFPA, Ms. Ulla Muller, who described GBV as a gross violation of human rights, women’s rights, and violation of the right of justice, emphasised that “what we are doing here today is ensuring we leave no one behind. Providing accessible gender-based violence services is a step in attaining the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)”.

In the SDGs, the country representative hinted that gender equality is an intrinsic and stand-alone goal, adding that “if we do not deliver on SDG 5, (gender equality) we will not be able to deliver on the SDGs”. Hence, she cited the 2018 UN Nigerian Demographic Survey, which states that 27.7 per cent of women in Lagos experienced physical violence before age 15, which translates into over 2.5 million women in Lagos alone.

While describing the flagship as one with so much potential, Muller said the GBV virtual referral service as an innovative service delivery model, she said the inspiration behind the launch grew out of COVID-19. It tells us that something good can come out of a crisis”.

In her speech, the Lagos State Solicitor-General and Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Justice, Ms Titilayo Shitta-Bey, explained that the system launched will enable them to ensure holistic support to survivors at no cost. She emphasised that survivors would be encouraged to actively pursue justice on their road to healing.

Representing CP Hakeem Odumosu, the Lagos state commissioner of police, CSP Yomi-Faniyi Gladys, OC Gender Lagos State Police Command, told participants that the issue of SGBV is life and death to many survivors.

The CP assured Lagosians that “we are working tirelessly to ensure that even when you can’t talk to anybody you can walk into the police station and confidently talk to any officer. I will implore Lagosians to create more awareness for people to understand that this kind is no longer business as usual.”

Odumosu also cautioned mothers to pay attention to the activities of their children and watch out for behavioural changes. Sadly, he added, “we also have on the increase cases of sodomy. It shows there is a serious problem. If a man calls a man and wants to sleep with a man, it is either he has a mental disorder or a body disorder. In so doing, the CP has assured all that he will work with the Lagos State government in ensuring that this crime is brought to the nearest minimum.”

The CP further assured the wife of the governor that he is solidly working with her for this crime to be reduced or totally eradicated.

Promise Kept

Last year at the virtual 20th edition of the National Women Conference of the Committee of Wives of Lagos State Officials (COWLSO), the state governor had crossed his heart that his administration would do everything possible to ensure that victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse expeditiously get the necessary support to overcome the psychological trauma associated with such abuses.

In his remark, he pledged, “We will not relent until child abuse, domestic violence and other related acts are totally eradicated in our communities and in Lagos State as a whole. All the perpetrators will be prosecuted and victims will expeditiously get the necessary support to overcome the psychological trauma associated with the abuse.”

With this, there is no doubt that the state government has matched its word with actions in ridding the state of sexual and gender-based violence for the good of girls and women, as well as young boys.

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