Safe Space Initiative: giving hope to SGBV victims

Michael Dibe

The non-profit organization which was co-founded by Osasu Edobor, a social development and gender space expert, Oluwatosin Akinbode-Osho, a legal practitioner and Dr. Gbonjubola Abiri Babalola, a psychologist and therapist, combines individual diverse skills in supporting women and girls in fighting gender-based violence.

The group uses new media and technology solutions in helping women and girls break free, find shelter and recover from Sexual and Gender-Based Violence which includes domestic violence, trafficking and other types of exploitation.

A non-governmental organisation, Safe Space Initiative (SSI) focused on supporting victims physically, mentally, socially and financially is giving voice to victims of Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV) in Nigeria.

This is being done through mobile app development, community advocacy and storytelling, Tehila, a support group therapy event for survivors including employability and entrepreneurship projects.

According to Akinbode-Osho, the focus the organisation is gender-based violence and anything that has to do with women and girls affected by violence.

“So, we have a structure that addresses their needs. We identify it as social support, we provide them with therapy, shelter, we have legal support, therapy for the children, mostly for women in our communities,” she added.

Edobor says there are a lot of Non-profit organizations in Nigeria ensuring that women are given adequate care when it comes to gender based violence, but for safe space, it is important to find out how to integrate it.

“Our biggest or mean product is the Herfessions app. It is a mobile application that aggregate other service providers. Service providers are those who provide therapy. It’s the police that provide security. Hospitals where women go for forensic checkups and legal aids that speak to different legal organisations that offer pro bono services to women who have survived or witnessed gender-based violence,” she explained.

Projects

To provide an online platform of engagement, and minimizing the physical movement of Sexual and Gender-Based Violence, the mobile app Herfessions was birthed by the group to build a community for much needed support.

The Curator of the app, Edobor with over twelve years’ experience as a gender advocate says it helps to access resources, group support, information and ultimately a community to work-out the journey to recovery.

One of the key differentiating features of the app is access to on demand shelter either short term or long-term stay using a platform model that brings survivors in need of shelter with families. 

The group also uses community advocacy and storytelling (CAST) as an advocacy tool for promoting social justice, peace for women and girls, these stories are used (with approved consent) to develop film scripts, produce short films and documentaries used in advocacy and prevention activities.

“So advocacy helps to illustrate how it affects both gender, and that is how we want to tell our story. We are a Non-profit that works with gender-based violence survivors but we use storytelling, technology and psychology in our work,” Edorbo said.

As an avenue to strengthen women in their struggles, Safe Space adopts Tehila, a support group therapy event for survivors of sexual and gender-based violence that supports physical, mental, social, and financial wellbeing of members.

“In Tehila, we speak to women. We have various avenues. We have a chat room where these women share their experiences. In Lagos and Abuja, we have a physical location and also hybrid where women come in and share their stories with one another including some members in foreign land.” Oluwatosin said.

In a bid to provide a whole support system for the victims who have suffered violence, the group also birthed the Employability and Entrepreneurial project (EE) where they ensure adequate therapy for women in various communities, a project which helps to integrate women back into the society.

According to Edobor, the initiative has partnered with some organisations like Jobberman to help women back into the workforce.

“Also we have had donors who helped women in getting funds to start a business, and we ensure that before they get the grants they go through therapy sessions as one of the requirements,” she added.

Challenges

In most cases, violence against women and girls has become normalised in the society, despite efforts by all stakeholders to stamp out the vice through massive awareness and frontline response services. On this premise, reporting gender-based violence in Nigeria is seen as a big challenge.

Edobor says when cases are taken to the police, most times it is referred to as a domestic issue or family matter. She reiterated that the main problem is ensuring that everybody know the law including the police.

The initiative is also faced with the challenge of providing a whole support system for the victims who have suffered violence which invariably gave birth to E and E.

“Another challenge we have is the children because we have some women with kids. So we are also faced with the challenge of ensuring that the children go for therapy,” Edobor said.

Beneficiaries

One of the beneficiaries of the initiative From Lagos who prefers to be anonymous said she was a victim of domestic violence and had left her marriage since 2019. She explained it has not been an easy journey for her trying to fix her life then she met Safe Space.

“The foundation has been a blessing to me because they have really encouraged me, supporting me, using a therapist to talk to me and also helped me to get an apartment here in Lagos. They paid for it and fix it for me and also started a business for me, a food stuff business for vie mama monie,”

Another beneficiary from Lagos, a mother of three who also prefers to remain anonymous said she was in a bad marriage, being beaten by her ex -husband, and didn’t know how to take care of herself and the children. She contacted Safe Space initiative, and narrated her situation and immediately they got a shelter for her and her three children for some months.

“During the period, they helped me with therapy for myself and the kids because in some occasions, the kids witnessed the violence. So, they helped me with some empowerment fund to help me get a place in Lagos. From time to time, they hold therapy programmess with me and other women, who share their stories too. At a time, my ex was stulking me but they helped me get a restraining order”.

A single mother who currently lives in the UK said Safe Space is a community that listens to women’s issues and concerns for free. According to her, the organisation is genuine and provides hope for members, adding they have helped her in her relationship with people because before now, she finds it difficult relating with people.

Future Projects

For the coming years, Safe Space plans to utilize the mobile app as something that can be used consistently and increase its data base. The group which sees stage plays as vehicle and conversation starter plans to amplify its advocacy and intend to take “Mirror Mirror” a stage play to communities, schools, and various places in Nigeria.

And in trying to instruct people with their stories, the group is also working on CAST this year and plans to show a stage play in six states in Nigeria across universities, communities and government houses. Edobor says they hosted a play at the Nigerian governor’s wife forum last year and they have committed to bringing the play to their individual states.

As part of their support group therapy event, Safe Space says it plans to host one in February this year and currently seeking for sponsors to facilitate the employability and empowerment program.

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