Gender based violence survivors rescuing victims

Fawaz Adebisi

Nigerians who have been victims of Gender Based Violence (GBV)  are rescueing children and women from assault, abuse and violence.

Balogun Israel was 10 years old when he found himself on the streets in Ibadan, the capital of Oyo state in Nigeria, left to die or fend for himself

Being from a polygamous family with four wives contributed negatively to Israel’s upkeep as his father found it tough to feed eight children.

Spending 12 years on streets from 1992 to 2004, Israel recounted his experiences which included being stabbed by a thug as a kid, and seeing his street friends other boys and girls  being raped.

However, his harrowing experience didn’t stop him becoming what he is today. He founded AKHIN Foundation which has helped over 70 homeless youngsters and vulnerable children in the last five years.

With support, Israel, who couldn’t read at 22, successfully graduated with a Mmasters degree in Bbehavioral Mmedication and Ccareer Ccounselling from the University of Ibadan.

“I started my programme in 2019 after I had the opportunity to leave the streets through the help of a man who housed me for six months. The helper saw me by the road, laying there to die,” he recalled.

Though he said he failed woefuly when he began, the Foundation now have centres at Ogun State (Ibafo), Oyo State (Oyo town), Osun State (Okuku) and has the “capacity to put an end to homelessness in these regions within a year.”

From being a rape victim at 22, to being abused in her marriage, another survivor, Mrs Esther Abiola narrated how she founded her organization, Esther Life Kingdom Foundation.

For over 13 years, Abiola endured pain throughout her marriage all because she told her husband a secret of being raped by armed robbers before they met.

“When we got married, he was always an angry person. He would pour hot water , cold water on me, send me out in the night, and come back home late,” she  said sobbing.

But coming from a polygamous family with 25 children, Abiola had no choice but to stay and endure the pain.

“He commands me anyhow, he cut me off from my friends, family and  asked me to resign from work. I couldn’t buy myself cloth. I have to beg him, even whenever I need pant or bra, I need to beg him to buy it.”

With family support, Abiola eventually escaped from the marriage with three kids that she had to singlehandedly cater for.

Having experienced stigma and gender violence, she said she realised the “real struggle that affects every aspect of a woman’s life”, adding that “I sincerely don’t want any lady or woman in that rump.”

She explained that her aim is to equip the vulnerables with tools to protect themselves from rape and domestic violence, as well as give hope to victims.

Since the establishment of Abiola Life Kingdom Foundation, it had held trainings for over 4,000 Nigerians across the country, covering over six states including Imo, Bayelsa, Oyo, Ekiti, Ondo, Ogun and Lagos States.

“I was raped at 5”

Founder of ‘Stop The Abuse Against Women and Children Foundation, Barister Toyin Ojo who was raped at five  and sexually molested by an adult never spoke to anyone about it until she was 36.

Just like Mrs Abiola, her experience left her with no choice than to join the fight aginst GBV.

She recounted her encounter with a 16-year-old boy, Promise, who was stabbed almost at the lung by his mother.

According to Ojo, if not for the intervention of the Foundation, Promise would have died and the woman would have gone scot free.

“It was then I realized that these children also need to be protected from their parents,” she said.

She also recalled an incident which involved a girl who was eleven years and was impregnated by her pastor in Benin, Edo State. With the assistance of the Foundation, she was able to give birth surgically.

Ojo also recalled cases involving men as victims. According to her, “we have men whose wives beat them, or stalk them in a form of abuse. We also have a case where men are being denied of seeing their children, which is also a form of GBV.”

They saved our lives — Beneficiaries

Mrs. Oluwaseun Orekoya, a woman who endured seven years of abusive marriage and hardship, narrated howStop The Abuse Against Women and Children Foundation’ ended her suffering.

Despite the hardship she faced, Orekoya was sent out for three years without seeing her children. However, the Foundation helped her get her children back.

“They were there for me through it all—physically, mentally, and even financially sometimes,” she said, her voice trembling with gratitude. She added that “meeting the Foundation was worth it. The feeling of knowing that people have got your back can never be replaced with anything.”

Mrs. Okolie Hannah, a mother of four in Lagos State, who found herself thrust into turmoil after the sudden death of her husband, shared her story.

“It’s by the mercy of God that I was able to get in contact with this Foundation,” she reflected, her voice filled with reverence.

Immediately after her husband’s death, her in-laws reportedly became her enemy, frustrating her to the extent of sending her packing out of her matrimonial home.

Because her husband was wealthy before he died, she decided not to beg on the street, rather, she stood to fight for her right. This therefore led her to ‘Stop The Abuse Against Women and Children Foundation’.

Amidst the chaos and uncertainty, it was the Foundation’s unwavering support that provided Hannah with a lifeline, offering solace and security in her darkest hour.

Lagos experience significant decrease in GBV cases — Data

In Lagos where the Non-Governmental Organisations are based are based, it was gathered that only a few cases were recorded for the year 2023, compared with previous years.

In 2021, a report by the state’s Domestic and Sexual Violence Response Team, DSVRT revealed that from May 2019 till August 26th 2021, it handled 10,007 GBV cases.

As of 2022, the Lagos State women’s Affairs Ministry report indicated that there were 4,351 reported cases of GBV between the 1st of January and 31st of November 2022.

There was a slight increase in 2023 as the DSVA of Lagos State, received a total of 5,624 GBV cases from August 1, 2022, to July 2023.

However, an advocacy group on gender equality, Invictus Africa, in partnership with BudgIT Foundation released a ‘womanity index’ report, ranking states with more GBV cases.

According to the report, Lagos was ranked number one in the prevention and response to  GBV in the country which showed that the decrease in consistent cases in the state as a result of individuals coming up to fight against GBV.

We lack support, funding — NGOs

NGOs dedicated to combating GBV and supporting vulnerable populations in Nigeria however lack of support and funding.

Abiola emphasised the crucial need for volunteers to support their outreach efforts.

According to her, while virtual training sessions are offered free of charge, securing volunteers remains a major obstacle, especially as many people expect compensation for their work.

Funding shortages have also emerged as a critical issue affecting the operations of these NGOs, as highlighted by Israel.

He stressed the impact of rising food prices on their ability to provide essential services such as shelter and feeding for homeless individuals.

Confirming the various challenges, the charity organisations are confronting, Ojo, emphasized the lack of support from law enforcement agencies, stressing the importance of collaboration with them in addressing these issues.

According to her, ‘Stop The Abuse Against Women and Children Foundation’ have to provide financial support to the Nigerian police, including funding for transportation and legal proceedings to solve GBV cases.

They therefore urged the government to prioritize the needs of survivors in the justice system.

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