In this interview with The Voice Reporter, VICTOR BAJAH, Gladys Nick-Madubuike, the Programme Manager of Scripture Union West Africa (SUWA), a faith-based organization that works with vulnerable people, has suggested ways of tackling Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV), among other issues. Excerpts:
What motivated you to work with those who are sexually abused?
At a point in time, SUWA worked on HIV/AIDS project, from there, we discovered that family values were not upheld, we went into working with couples, radical live skill education for secondary school students, we discovered that peoples’ behavioural pattern had not changed, we saw abuse as a result of our work. This is an issue or should I say, it is endemic as it has escalated to alarming levels. Most people exposed to sexual abuse are afraid to speak out for fear of been stigmatized or believing that nothing would be done and so keep quiet about it. Some fall into depression, develop anti-social behaviours and sadly, even take their lives.
SGBV is rooted in historical and structural inequalities in power relations. What approach have you adopted to deal with these cultural abnormalities?
This is true. Even though men are also exposed to SGBV but historically, women have borne the brunt of SGBV and there are researches to support this position. Gender inequality is embedded in every aspect of life and is a main driver of violence against women and girls in every sphere of society. Studies show that many social norms and individual behaviours around gender inequality largely stern from the belief that men and women were not created equal. Our approach is engaging leaders and stakeholders; training of uniform people, legal practitioners, health workers, faith leaders and gender champions that handle our community dialogue sessions that run for ten weeks; at the end of the sessions, the men and women write letters to express what they desire to be changed, the boys and girls are not left out; which is already changing harmful cultural practices. We have several testimonies from the community dialogue sessions of a gradual change in addressing some of these cultural abnormalities.
Another aspect is the community awareness campaign held in different communities which is an enlightenment campaign to deconstruct the notion that SGBV is normal and build confidence in women to stand up for themselves. Also empowerment, been empowered gives you a voice and doesn’t leave you at the mercy of just anyone.
In 1993, UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women categorized SGBV issues as criminal. What steps has SUWA taken to address these issues in Nigeria?
We are in collaboration with Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA), and Ministry of Women Affairs. We have toll free lines given to us from the Ministry of Women Affairs in Benue State, where SGBV cases can be reported; in Kaduna State we are working with Salama Centre which is a government owned establishment, where SGBV cases can be reported as well.
We are also working with the security operatives and health workers as allies to help curb the menace.
Recently, you launched your campaign in Benue, Kaduna and Plateau States, among others. What are the prospects of dealing with SGBV issues in these states?
People are beginning to speak out. People are getting justice, we are also working in secondary schools where students will stand up against SGBV; there will be formation of committees that will be set up to help survivors.
We are experiencing transformation in the communities where we are working, there will be a revolution of new men and women, boys and girls who value equality, skills and capacity, where people are engaged based on their capacity and skills not their sex.
Throughout our lives, men and women receive messages from family, media, and society about how they should act and relate to others. For example, boys fight, girls cook. Many of these differences are constructed by society and are not part of our nature or biological make-up. Society’s definition of masculinity and ferminism is sometimes a tool that perpetuates violence in our communities and puts men and women at risk. People, men mostly, can choose to live their lives confidently and free of these rules by starting to understand the suffering caused by these social inequitable norms/rules which may also put men themselves, their partners and their families at risk for sexual and gender based violence and HIV. Violence-free homes lead to happier and healthier families. Everyone has a role to play in addressing gender inequitable norms. We must all identify our roles and take action.
Because of the stigma that floast with SGBV issues, how do you protect, build up or sustain the image of survivors who are already stigmatized by their communities?
We provide psychosocial support to survivors; trauma programme which is journey to healing which is therapeutic. When people are healed they will be eager to tell their stories.
Most SGBV survivors are ranked economically low in standard of living. Do you have a programme that covers their economic rehabilitation?
We have self-help groups or Village Savings and Loans Association (VSLA) which are formed basically to help survivors cater for their basic needs and have a means or source of income; we have the VSLA for that purpose. These survivors save up money as an association where every member has the privilege of collecting loans that are collateral free, with very low interest rate as agreed by the association. This has been tested in different communities and the result has shown that it works well. For example, we have women in Barkin-Ladi Local Government Area of Plateau State that have built houses for themselves from this savings scheme and many other similar examples of small businesses that are flourishing and bringing some income for these families.
What happens to those who deliberately violate the rights of SGBV survivors? Do you have a rehabilitation programme for them too?
We expect people who have gone through the life changing dialogue sessions to affect others, we are not out to arrest or lock people up but to help change behavioral patterns in the lives of people. We will work with people who are willing to change. However, there are cases where you find some people who are not willing to accept change, such people have become dangerous to their societies by their obstinate nature to positive changes in behaviour. For such, we are willing to seek justice.
What would you want to advise the public about your activities with SGBV?
We expect everyone to join this bandwagon and embrace all the enlightenment programmes and information been passed regarding SGBV through our community dialogue sessions that run for ten weeks, that are life changing sessions. We also expect stakeholders to support this work so there will be a difference in Nigeria. It is a work that requires the collective efforts of all and sundry to address this social evil.