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Breaking Barriers: Organisations Making A Difference For Women In Nigeria

As violence against women thrives, some organisations are striving towards an equitable and safe society. We look at the activities and impacts of two of them.

Kaltume Adamu was one of those considered an expert in female genital mutilation by many mothers in her community in Borno, North East Nigeria. Because of her popularity, young girls usually ran away whenever they saw her. 

She was convinced that “every woman who is not genitally circumcised is not a complete girl and would not make a good wife.”

But this impression changed when she came across Zenith of the Girl Child and Women Initiative Support (ZEGCAWIS) and benefitted from one of their awareness programmes on sexual and reproductive health rights.

“The project was an eye-opener for me. I now understand that my perceptions were wrong all this while. Since then, I have not carried out any act of genital mutilation or anything related to it again, nor will I watch any of my colleagues do the same to any girl in my community,” said Kaltume. 

A woman in a green shawl standing in front of a straw hut.
Kaltume Adamu. Photo: ZEGCAWIS

Also, Gamboya Sa’ad, a displaced person from the Jere area of Borno, said her parents believed any girl who does not undergo the genital mutilation process is not fit for marriage.

After the awareness exercise by ZEGCAWIS, Gamboya now understands that the practice is even dangerous to their wellbeing and has promised to “extend this knowledge to every part of any community I find myself in. I also plan to carry out a form of door-to-door sensitisation to create awareness on the subject”.

Female genital mutilation (FGM), according to the World Health Organization (WHO), has no health benefits for girls and women. Instead, it causes severe bleeding, urinating problems, infections, complications in childbirth, and the risk of newborn deaths. 

Speaking with HumAngle, the acting director of ZEGCAWIS, Lawan Kabu, said the initiative was established in 2016 with the aim of preventing and protecting women and girls against all forms of gender-based violence, abuse, and discrimination. He added that the NGO also advocates and influences policies in favour of women and young people.

According to Lawan, the non-governmental organisation has reached over 20,000 people through sensitisation and awareness programmes on gender-based violence (GBV), sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), and nutrition. Sixty per cent of the beneficiaries are women and girls. “These individuals were reached through focused group discussions, awareness campaigns in schools, bus stops, door-to-door campaigns, and community dialogues,” he explained.

A girl in a purple hijab is standing in front of a straw hut.
Gamboya Sa’ad. Photo: ZEGCAWIS

He also said they have impacted over 5,000 people in their advocacy for menstrual hygiene management, which aims to break the culture of silence around menstruation and to invest in providing free pads for girls, especially those in school.

“We launched the #FreePads for Girls campaign in Borno state, and we have distributed about 2,000 pads to girls still in school. We have also established a radio programme, distributed 400 radios to girls in nine schools, and provided free pad aid boxes to the schools.”

Like ZEGCAWIS, another organisation, the Stand to End Rape (STER) Initiative, is also combating gender-based violence in Nigeria. Though founded in Lagos in 2014, the initiative provides a range of humanitarian aid, including counselling services, legal assistance, medical support, and awareness campaigns for girls and women in Northern Nigeria. 

The communications officer of the initiative, Elfrida Adeleye, told HumAngle they collaborate with different organisations, including government agencies, healthcare institutions, and law enforcement bodies, to enhance service delivery in various communities of the country.

“Some of our campaigns include the #BehindHerSmile campaign, which examines the experience of abused women who suffer in silence as their abuse is normalised by society. Another is the #SayHerName, which saw us narrate the experiences of women who are victims of different forms of sexual and gender-based violence, and the most recent campaign is the #PassVappAct campaign undertaken in Adamawa, Kebbi and Plateau states,” Elfrida said.

Gender-based violence

According to the 2018 National Demographic Health Survey, 33 per cent of Nigerian women from the age of 15 to 49 have experienced physical or sexual violence. While 24 per cent are said to have experienced only physical violence, 2 per cent have experienced only sexual violence, and 7 per cent have experienced both physical and sexual violence.

When Grace* was raped, she didn’t acknowledge the fact that it could affect her mental health until a few months later when she began to have post-traumatic stress disorder, a condition that brings back memories of the trauma accompanied by intense emotional reactions.

While she reached out to different NGOs for help, STER was the only initiative that responded and connected her with a therapist who addressed her challenge. “It took time for me to heal, but I have stopped acknowledging myself as a victim,” she told HumAngle.

A group of people sitting in a room.
SGBV training in Kwara by STER Initiative. Photo: STER

Grace confirmed that STER’s services are available to everyone who has experienced sexual and gender-based violence regardless of gender, age, or background. STER says it has supported over 1,500 survivors and made significant strides in raising awareness about sexual violence.

“We will hit a major milestone by June of this year, which will mark our 10th year of impact. Moving forward, we aim to expand our reach beyond Nigeria, strengthen our partnerships, and deepen our impact,” Elfrida said.

She added that they plan to scale up their support services, advocate for legislative changes, and implement preventive strategies through education and community outreach as they work towards building a society free from sexual violence and empowering survivors to reclaim their dignity and rights.

Unlearning harmful practices

Before taking part in the sensitisation project implemented by ZEGCAWIS in partnership with Medecins du Monde (MDM), Hauwa Gwoza, one of the internally displaced people seeking shelter at the El-Meskin Camp in Maiduguri, saw child marriage and sexual exploitation as normal. In fact, she intended to give her six adolescent girls out in marriage before the encounter.

After the advocacy, she understands the provisions of the Violence Against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) Law and the punishment for cases of harassment. “I was meant to understand that these girls are too young to get married, and even if I want to marry them off, I should not be the one to force spouses on them because they have the right to make their choices and choose who to settle down with.”

While Halima Umar, also an IDP in Maiduguri, was trained on how to make reusable sanitary pads, Aisha Modu was recently a beneficiary of the dignity kits production project. The initiative also helped her with the opening of a bank account for her savings.

“Even before the insurgency, I had no bank account and had never used one. But now, I have a stable bank account,” she said. “I found everything about the project interesting, but the most interesting part of it was the allowance I received afterwards.”

Reacting to this, Lawan told HumAngle that ZEGCAWIS’s mission is to support survivors through adequate empowerment.

We aim to ensure inclusivity and accessibility to our services for all individuals, especially women and youths in need. While we strive to reach as many people as possible, we are committed to ensuring transparency and fairness.”

A group of women holding signs that say id rape.
Sixteen days of activism. Photo: ZEGCAWIS

Speaking about their challenges, Lawan said that the negative perception of the public concerning empowering women and adolescent girls, especially around sexual reproductive health and rights (SRHR), gender-based violence (GBV), and menstruation, is a challenge. 

For Elfrida, another concern is the stigma surrounding sexual violence.

“We are facing the challenges of limited resources for comprehensive support services, gaps in legal enforcement, and societal attitudes that perpetuate victim-blaming. We are also finding it difficult to navigate bureaucratic processes as well as securing sustainable funding.”

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