By Shade Mary-Ann Olaoye
During a heated town hall training in a motor park in Enugu, Nigeria. A middle-aged man says from
the back to the facilitator, “you can do the training as long as you want, I am still going to rape my wife.”
The Project Sabi Initiative is a 2-year partnership project between Connected Development and Boys Quarters Africa that is being implemented in Abuja, Lagos, and Enugu. According to Hyeladzira James, one of the project managers, “with Project Sabi, we are trying to stimulate a nationwide movement that is aimed at ending all forms of violence targeted towards women and girls.”
What makes Project Sabi different from all other anti-gbv programs is that it takes a bottom-top approach where the cause is being championed by men and boys who are trained and empowered to become allies in the fight against Gender-based violence (GBV).
How is this challenging task carried out?
With men being represented as the number one perpetrators of GBV, especially in a highly patriarchal Nigerian society where culture and religion are further weaponized to subjugate women, getting men to become champions for causes like this can be difficult. To tackle the issue cohesively the Project Sabi team went into the informal parts of the 3 selected states and mapped out areas that had the most cases of gender-based violence.
“We looked at engaging the informal sector because data and research have shown that there are a lot of rape cases and GBV in places like the motor parks”, Hyeladzira explains.
What Project Sabi did was engage 1000 boys and 1000 men across motor parks and schools. As they sought to speak to men who were old enough and aware of their misogynistic tendencies, they also reached out to growing boys who will form the population of the next generation of men.
Across Abuja, Lagos and Enugu, Project Sabi launched town halls, training, and sensitization programs for members of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA) religious leaders and market persons. Boys in schools were given GBV manuals and “Boys against Gender-Based Violence” clubs were set up.
About GBV in Nigeria
According to the United Nation population fund study, 28% of Nigerian women between the ages of 25-29 have been victims of physical violence since the age of 15.
Gender-based violence has been a predominant social problem in Nigeria with victims being mostly women and the girl child. The country’s most common acts of violence against women include sexual harassment, rape, child marriage, physical violence, harmful traditional practices, emotional and psychological violence, and socio-economic violence.
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 1 in 3 women would be subjected to either physical, sexual intimate partner violence, or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime. This alarming figure is also supported by the Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey which states that 30% of females between 15-49 years have experienced sexual violence.
With these rising statistics, it is not out of place for solution-seeking initiatives to sprout, trying to curb incidences.
So far so good?
Before each town hall, the Project Sabi team made sure to pay advocacy visits to familiarize themselves with the people. They mapped out areas within the three designated states that had the most reported cases of GBV and brought the men in a consolidated approach in the form of a town hall with massive turnouts.
“In Abuja for instance, the plan was to have a town hall with 150 men but the turn-up exceeded expectations with over 250 men. They didn’t even have seats, some of them just stood and listened.” Hyeladzira shares.
From engaging the informal sector, speaking to women on how they can report cases, to providing tips on how the government can make areas safer for people, the Project Sabi team was able to set up gender desks with gender-focal persons responsible for documenting and reporting cases across the motor parks in the three States. They have also broadened their reach and did the same for states like Nasarawa and Niger.
“Our gender focal person in Lagos has reached out asking if we can please replicate this in another local government,” says Hyeladzira.
The initiative was also able to launch one of Africa’s boys against GBV clubs with a spread across 81 schools in Abuja, Enugu, Borno, Ondo, Akure, and Zimbabwe. Florence Nene, GBV counselor and participant in the Project Sabi training believe in the approach used by Project Sabi.
“[Domestic] violence of any form is an issue in society, there is a need for continuous sensitization and dialogue in that area. GBV can be both ways, but statistics have shown that more perpetrators are men. If we can get men to raise their voices against GBV, it will go a long way for them to identify this act and kick against it.” she opines.
Endeavors like this by CSOs are helping curb cases of gender-based violence that often go unreported, leaving the victim scared. According to the United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFP), 10,000 Nigerian women suffer from all forms of GBV violence, cases that are underreported. Women and girls often live in fear of their abuser, are discriminated against, and are silenced by society whenever they try to speak up.
As Project Sabi continues to help close the gap and offer channels for justice when it comes to GBV, they also seek to sensitize the public by making use of the online space via their social contract platform which helps people to check their misogynistic tendencies and Sabi level
“It’s not to judge you or to score you, it is just for you to be aware and work on them. We have some materials on the platform that can help change your mindset.” Hyeladzira explains.
Despite its success, Project Sabi deals with the challenge of funding and conditioned perception. The reason being that funding is needed for the mobilization of experts, facilitators, trainers, and the expansion of the initiative to other states. It also takes repeated effort and time to change people’s mindset, especially if it’s unfamiliar territory.
“We are dealing with people who have a mentality that has been built and impacted over time. All of a sudden, we are coming to people with a different message. It will take a while for them to be able to digest and comprehend such messages.” Hyeladzira shares.
With baby steps towards social justice, the initiative continues to grow, taking the message of consent to the grassroots. As Hyeladzira says, “it doesn’t end there, everyone has the task of taking these messages down to their neighborhood, child, or friend. Let’s keep spreading the Sabi message.”
This story was produced in partnership with Nigeria Health Watch through the Solutions Journalism Network, a nonprofit organisation dedicated to rigorous and compelling reporting about responses to social problems.