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17 million Nigerian women have experienced gender-based violence – Derby Collins-Kalu

Derby Ifeanyichukwu Collins-Kalu is a senior program officer in charge of Gender Based Violence (GBV) at the Institute of Human Virology, Nigeria (IHVN). In this…

Derby Ifeanyichukwu Collins-Kalu is a senior program officer in charge of Gender Based Violence (GBV) at the Institute of Human Virology, Nigeria (IHVN). In this interview, Collins-Kalu who is also a registered nurse and midwife, and a seasoned lawyer with human right protection skills, speaks on the state of awareness and services for people experiencing gender-based violence in the country, ways to tackle it, and IHVN’s prevention and clinical programmes against the scourge, among others.

What is your assessment of gender-based violence in Nigeria?

If we start looking at the data, the number is alarming. The World Health Organisation (WHO) reported that one in three women have experienced physical or sexual violence from their intimate or non-intimate partner in Nigeria.

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To break it down further, 17 million Nigerian women have experienced intimate or non-intimate violence.

So, the number is alarming. In the last four years, IHVN has provided service to 20,378 persons who have experienced physical and emotional violence and 3,872 people that have experienced sexual violence. That is a huge number and an enormous problem.

The number of services that are available in the country for gender-based violence is so little compared to the volume of the problem at hand. The services are not even enough to meet up with the number of people experiencing gender-based violence.

These are just for the people who have presented their cases in the facility. There are people in the community who are not reporting the gender-based violence they suffer. In fact, our program has even gone a step further to ask questions by conducting routine screening.

Routine screening involves asking people questions about violence when they present in the facility for other services. There are people that see violence as part of their lives. They don’t even consider it a problem.

What is the One-Stop Strategy about?

The One-stop strategy is a WHO strategy where a location is built for all the services that an individual will need. For example, if you have a location where you provide clinical services, the person will have access to psychologists; if there is a need for livelihood support – that individual can get livelihood support.

If there is a need for safe housing, the person will have access to safe housing within a locality. It is programmed to happen like that in all the locations.

Right now, there are very few states where there are gender-based violence one-stop shops. However, we don’t need to wait to have the one-stop shop before we can respond.

What we are practicing now is the integrated response where gender-based violence services programming, services and responses are integrated into existing healthcare service delivery system.

So, the health facilities that are also equipped to provide other services can now provide gender-based services and responses to individuals where the one-stop shops were not in existence.

Ideally, the one-stop shop should be just the way you have the primary health care centre in every locality. But because of staffing, provision of consumables, and a lot of things, it is very difficult to have because we are operating in a low-resource setting.

What do you think fuels gender-based violence in Nigeria?

The culture of silence is one of the norms that encourage the surge of gender-based violence in our society – where women are not allowed to speak out, especially in cases of violence against children. 

For instance, when children are being defiled and they present to us as an organization, by the time we want to take it up to make sure that the perpetrators are brought to justice, the family may come out to prevent that from happening or in the cases of intimate partner violence where a woman is being violated by her spouse and she cries out, her family will come out to say, “you don’t take family matters to the public or third party.”

We have been trying to educate our people that the culture of silence has not helped us instead we have had a lot of people dying in silence. So, people should speak out so that they will receive help before it becomes too late. 

The culture of silence is something that everybody, including the media, should help talk about so that people experiencing violence or who need help will speak out without being stigmatized because a lot of times people who experience violence are stigmatized when they speak out.

Can you briefly tell us about the gender-based violence program being implemented by IHVN?

Gender-based violence is trying to address the violence that people receive as a result of their gender.  So, violence is said to be gender-based if it happens to somebody in relation to that person’s gender.

IHVN is working in four states to provide gender-based violence services. These states are Nasarawa, Rivers, Katsina, and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). 

Gender-based violence is very wide and all-encompassing but for IHVN, we are looking at gender-based violence from the health sector perspective, and then being that one of our primary programs is HIV related, we are also looking at gender-based violence from the eyes of HIV prevention. 

Our program works to prevent HIV among those who experience gender-based violence. We also want to reduce the vulnerability index of people that are living with HIV from experiencing gender-based violence.

In both ways, we are trying to address it; people who experience gender-based violence should not contact HIV and gender-based violence should be mitigated and prevented, if possible.

In the area of prevention, we try to educate people in the community; we work together with civil society organizations and community-based organizations to provide awareness messages targeted at gender norms and cultural norms that fuel gender-based violence.

We also organize school health programs where we provide awareness and sensitization campaigns to school children about the aims of gender-based violence, how it can be prevented and how the children can identify red flags as well as how to report to appropriate persons.

We also provide training for counsellors in the schools to be able to respond to gender-based violence among the students when the issues are reported to them.

So, on a larger scale for the community, we try to also conduct community engagement, especially with community gatekeepers.

To address the issues of gender-based violence, we have also scaled up male involvement because we understand that we cannot really address gender-based violence prevention without male involvement.

Where the violence has occurred already, we provide clinical service and refer survivors (survivors are people who have experienced gender-based violence services) for non-clinical services.

For clinical services, we provide HIV testing as an entry point into HIV self-testing, and then we also provide psycho-social counselling as well as post-exposure prophylaxis within 72 hours for people that experienced rape.

We also provide screening and treatment for sexually transmitted infections. In addition, we provide emergency contraceptive pills within 52 hours for people that experienced rape because it will not be a good thing for someone to have unintended pregnancy from a rape incident.

Then, we also refer our clients or survivors to other services that they may require, that we do not offer as part of our program services. 

The response to gender-based violence is all-encompassing. There are a lot of services a survivor may require from different organizations.

The response is based on what their funder has enabled them to provide. For us, these are clinical services we provide, especially prevention service and clinical services but where we have survivors that need legal services, we collaborate with civil society organizations, especially the International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA) to help them take up matters for that individual.

This is according to how individuals make their need known to us because of our interaction with them.

Do you offer pre-exposure prophylaxis (PREP) in some of the facilities you support?

The capacity of all our support facilities have been built to provide PREP. We are also doing sensitization, especially among people living with HIV (PLHIV). We are trying to have them invite their partners to receive PREP for the ones that are eligible.

We also have a program for female sex workers and we make sure they receive all the services we have to offer within their community and within their one-stop-shop, so that they will not need to go out or somewhere else by referral.

What is your advice to women on domestic violence considering the increasing deaths of women from it?

Marriage is a contractual relationship and that means there is a part each party has to play for the contractual relationship to happen.

Nobody should be violated, not only women. In our data, men also cry – they experience intimate partner violence too. Nobody should be violated in their relationship. You don’t need to keep to yourself; talk to a trusted person, talk to professionals, and seek help.

When people keep these attacks to themselves, the perpetrators continue. But when you speak, you will get help and it will stop. Do not try to protect the person that is violating you.

What will you say to perpetrators of gender-based violence, especially with the Violence Against Persons’ Protection Act now in place?

With the act in place, it is a thing of joy for all of us in the fight against gender-based violence. A few weeks ago, we saw judgment against Baba Ijesha. It is not going to be business as usual for any perpetrator, for anybody that thinks that he or she can perpetuate gender-based violence and go away with it.