Anthonia Obokoh (Lead Writer)
Any form of violence against women and girls is a human rights violation. Based on World Health Organisation estimates, one in three women are subjected to physical or sexual violence. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, reports have shown that all types of violence against women and girls, particularly domestic violence, has intensified. A UN Women report calls it the ‘Shadow Pandemic’.
Response to violence against women and girls (VAWG) remains extremely inadequate and barriers to reporting such assaults often make it hard for victims to seek legal redress. Therefore, when a programme like the Spotlight initiative addresses VAWG in Nigeria, it is important to highlight their work.
Established in 2017, Spotlight Initiative is a global, multi-year partnership between the European Union and the United Nations to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls by 2030. The Initiative is being implemented in eight countries in Africa including Nigeria.
Spotlight Initiative in Nigeria began implementation in January 2019 with the aim of achieving a country where all women and girls, particularly the most vulnerable, live a life free from violence and harmful practices. This vision is being realised by addressing the root causes of gender-based violence and harmful practices, such as child marriage and female genital mutilation, and ensuring access to inclusive, timely and quality services for victims and survivors. It is currently being implemented in Adamawa, Cross River, Ebonyi, Lagos and Sokoto States and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
How Spotlight Initiative works in Nigeria
The Spotlight Initiative intervention focuses on six mutually reinforcing programming pillars: laws and policies, institutions, prevention, services, data management, and women’s movement. These programming pillars are tailored to meet specific challenges in the countries where Spotlight Initiative is implemented.
The four year programme is implemented through surveillance and response teams domiciled in local communities. These teams gather data on VAWG from the communities which helps them develop location-specific programs. They organise community dialogue sessions to teach community members how to articulate and identify cases of women and girl-child abuse. They also respond to the unique needs of victims by ensuring that they receive the right component(s) of essential services at the right time; referring them to specialised legal and medical services and psychosocial support and aiding those seeking to claim compensation.
As a result of the sensitive nature of their activities, they partner with government agencies such as the Ministries of Justice, Health and Women Affairs, the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP), the Nigerian Police, Civil Defence and civil society organisations providing social service and psychosocial support.
Speaking on the impact of the programme, Pius Uwamanua, a child protection specialist who serves as the coordinator of the Initiative in Sokoto state told the story of a nine-year-old girl who was forced to marry a 42-year-old man in Ilorin, Kwara State. After the wedding, she was able to escape and found her way back home to Binji Local Government Area in Sokoto State. However, her father rejected her and threatened to kill her if she didn’t go back to Ilorin. It was on this journey back that someone who was aware of the Spotlight Project noticed the child and reported to the community-based child protection surveillance committee. The case was brought before the District Head and the State Child Protection Response Committee who instructed her father to make sure that the girl was kept safe. The response team made it clear that if anything happened to the girl he would be arrested. The security arm of the response team also worked on ensuring that the husband divorced the girl. Having secured the divorce, a team is now working with her to ensure she goes to school.
The Spotlight Initiative team in Lagos State is active in Yaba and Ikorodu Local Government Areas where they conduct community dialogue sessions which have helped enlist the support of the traditional rulers in ending VAWG. Akangbe Abiola, a businesswoman and a member of the surveillance response team in Iwaya, Yaba, Lagos State shared her experience in the response service. “This year alone, we had about 30 cases of child abuse and three cases of physical abuse as well as seven domestic violence reports. We have a lot of child abuse at Iwaya here. But we have seen a big difference as the community has trusted us and the numbers of reported cases have increased,” she said.
However, things don’t often go as planned. Affected families have been known to sometimes withdraw their cases midway through for fear of being stigmatised by their community. Abiola recalled a particular rape case where the family involved stopped picking calls from the surveillance team and reported them to the Baale saying they no longer wanted the team involved in the case.
Media engagement is another core strategy of the Spotlight Initiative. Khadijah Ibrahim Nuhu, Spotlight Initiative communication coordinator at UNICEF, said, “We are engaging the media because it is most suited to promote a campaign to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls to policymakers, technocrats, traditional and religious institutions and, all communities due to its reach.” A network of media partners was created and engaged to co-design public messages and participate in conversations. According to Khadijah, as a result of this, reportage and media advocacy has increased among members of their network.
Violence against women and girls impacts their health and wellbeing. It also affects the children who witness these acts. Ending VAWG requires strong legislation and the political will to implement it. An inadequate legal framework is one of the challenges the initiative has encountered. In Nigeria, the violence against Persons Prohibition Act (VAPP) was signed into law in 2015 as a deliberate national action plan towards ending violence against women and girls. Till date, only 16 states have fully domesticated the law.
Governments at all levels must adopt and enforce the VAPP Act as it will ensure programmes such as the Spotlight Initiative get justice for victims of all forms of violence against women and girls.