Written by Sybil Nkeiruka Nmezi, Generation Initiative for Women and Youth Network (GIWYN), Nigeria
Some of the information will not be so relevant to the current situation, but we think this guide offers useful advice to SRHR advocates.
Our usual work includes face-to-face support for survivors of gender-based violence (GBV), including counselling, referral and accompaniment to protective institutions, follow up, transport and phone airtime, child support and shelter where appropriate. With the lockdown much of this was impossible, while the abrupt adjustments everyone had to make were exposing women to GBV with limited or no support. We were able to redirect our reproductive health and safe abortion information hotline (Ms Rosy) and expand its priorities to address GBV.
During lockdown we handled more hotline calls and saw much more GBV. Of all women callers, 75% shared some experience of GBV, including: marital rape, sexual assault, lack of money for essentials, lack of privacy, threats of harassment from police and criminals. Calls specifically about GBV nearly tripled, from 765 per month (March 2020) to 2,265 per month (April 2020). The closure of our face-to-face GBV counselling/referral centre cannot account for this increase alone, as visits there averaged just 120 per month. Most callers belong to vulnerable groups and are informal workers dependent on daily income.
We redirected the hotline to nearby staff (adding more from GBV department), expanded priorities for COVID-19 challenges and trained them on GBV documentation, reporting, counselling and referrals – both online and in person. We use official information from the WHO and our standard hotline protocols, assuring quality through data collection and regular manager observations and sample checks.
Our hotline staff offer:
The hotline uses the principles of empowerment and reinforcing autonomy, enabling the client to make her own decisions about whether to be called back, and what time is best for her, as she may have privacy and security concerns about accessing the hotline.
Prior to the pandemic, we promoted the hotline mainly through community outreach, in training sessions, when making referrals, through posters, leaflets and in other forums. During the lockdown this was impossible so we took to social media, promoting the hotline through channels including Facebook, Twitter, our website, bulk SMSs targeting local populations, and other online publications. The ease of readers’ sharing posts means the message could be spread further than through traditional methods. Through Facebook alone the hotline reached 315,530 visitors.
A quick response to risks by shifting priorities is vital to reducing GBV. It is necessary to make adequate contingency plans for unforeseen occurrences such as coronavirus disease in the future. The hotline strategy is a practical community intervention that empowers women with information. Documentation and data collection are important strategies to address GBV. Social media and online meeting platforms are important tools for work from home during lockdown. We are documenting GBV stories to use for evidence-based advocacy.
Sources of the extra training we provided staff are:
Sybil Nmezi is a courageous and steadfast advocate and activist for gender equality in Nigeria. She is the executive director of Generation Initiative for Women and Youth Network (GIWYN). For the past eighteen years, she has been raising funds for the organisation to implement practical community interventions in defence of women’s human rights and focusing on increased access to broad sexual reproductive health and reproductive rights (SRHR) for women and girls. These activities include workshops, training of trainers, campaigns, information hotline activities and advocacy.
Visit our website.