Undoubtedly among the major social epidemics confronting Nigeria and the world at large, sexual violence has attracted growing concerns from all quarters.
Sexual abuse takes different forms ranging from defilement, rape, pedophilia incidents, incest and child-to-child sexual harassment.
Preparatory to the UN 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence in Abuja, the United Nations Women in November 2020 said 11,200 rape cases, including children raped to death, were reported in Nigeria during the year.
The Technical Specialist, Spotlight initiative of the UN Women, Tosin Akibu, noted that violence against women and girls had continued to grow at an alarming rate.
“In 2020, a total of 11,200 rape cases were reported; some of these included children who were raped to death. In the survey we conducted last year, about 43.5 per cent of female children were given out in early marriages, 18.4 per cent suffered from female genital mutilation, 17.4 per cent suffered from lifetime physical or secular intimate partner violence,” she said.
Keying into intervention efforts to stem these social vices, Ford Foundation and Open Society Initiative for West Africa in December pledged $3.75 million in support of $10m funds hosted by African Women’s Development Fund to strengthen rights organisations to raise awareness of sexual violence and rally support to combat it.
Codenamed Kasa (meaning ‘speak’ in the Twi language), the project, which would last five years, was targeted at boosting advocacy against sexual violence in West Africa with a primary focus on Nigeria, Ghana and Senegal.
“Kasa is an ambitious multi-year initiative leveraging the current global outcry against sexual violence to address the widespread and deeply ingrained sexual violence crisis in West Africa,” said Olufunke Baruwa, Programme Officer in the Office of West Africa, Ford Foundation.
A December 3 report by African Media Agency announcing the funds noted that in West Africa, insecurity, the COVID-19 pandemic, economic meltdown and growing inequalities had led to increased sexual violence particularly against women and girls with more than 30 per cent of women and girls between ages 15 and 49 having experienced sexual violence in their lifetime in Nigeria alone.
According to the report, Kasa will focus on a three-pronged approach of prevention, accountability and support (including post-rape care and comprehensive sexual violence services) and make grants available “primarily to local organisations as well as a few key women-led national and regional organisations.”
It stated, “Sexual and gender-based violence is one of the most prevalent human rights violations in the world and undermines the health, dignity, security and autonomy of women and girls. Worldwide, an estimated one in three women will experience physical or sexual abuse in their lifetime, yet it remains tolerated in many societies and shrouded in a culture of silence.
“Limited resources and attention to the challenge by development partners and government continue to undermine progress particularly in the areas of prevention and response—despite the increased rate of sexual violence in West Africa and the efforts of feminist and women’s rights organisations to address the problem.”
The report maintained that the regional initiative would support women and girls affected by or at risk of sexual violence by addressing the deep-rooted drivers of the crisis through multi-year grants, advocacy campaigns and collaboration with various partners.
It further read, “The fund aims to achieve positive attitudes and behaviours towards women’s bodily integrity, support new and existing responses to emergencies, provide support to survivors and their families and amplify the voices and actions of women’s rights organisations at the forefront of ending sexual violence.”
Speaking on how Nigeria could benefit from the funds to tackle the prevalent cases of sexual abuse in the country, the Coordinator, Advocates for Children and Vulnerable Persons Network, Mr Ebenezer Omejalile, urged the funding organisations to do background checks on any potential rights groups and advocates that the funds would be disbursed to. He said this would prevent the possibility of diverting the funds to another purpose.
He stated, “I hope it is not going to end up as a jamboree. I hope the opportunity will not be hijacked by a select few because that is what has been going on for the past years. How active are the organisations that will benefit in terms of field work?
“The funds must not be hijacked so that at the end of the day the purpose would not be defeated. The funds should be managed by people of credible personalities working at the grass-roots.
“There should be a pivot of the intervention funds. We have heard of many intervention funds without knowing how they disappeared. The next thing you hear is that they are now implementing the second phase. The funds should be genuinely monitored.