Photograph — WARIF

Nigerian schools – and in fact many homes – are yet to reach a level where matters that concern sex and sexuality are freely and adequately discussed to the benefit of younger people. There are limited measures available to ensure young children and teenagers are sufficiently informed on sexual matters, in order to prevent a wide array of harmful practices that exist around the issue and continue to spread. This unwanted outcome is what the Women At Risk International Foundation (WARIF) is set to change for the better through its latest initiative – the WARIF Educational School Programme (WESP)

Sex education still largely remains a taboo in the Nigerian society because of certain cultural and traditional values which we imbibe from the early stages. Unfortunately, what this does is detract from the clear and present problems that involve young people learning about sexual matters the wrong way, while planting and festering seeds of gender-based sexual abuse and violence as they grow older. An issue that WARIF is especially passionate about eliminating in Nigeria, starting with communities in Lagos state.

WARIF carried out the first phase of its WESP preventive initiative in 10 government secondary schools in the Yaba, Apapa, and Surulere (District IV) in May. Students between the ages of 13 and 16 (a thousand of them) were given questionnaires to anonymously fill, so as to help the organisation accurately carry out its baseline survey to establish the prevalence of sexual violence within this age grade. The subsequent discoveries are telling of why it is crucial to tackle the issue from the roots, and quickly.

Dr. Kemi Dasilva Ibru, the Founder of WARIF shares that the findings in the schools visited showed troubling behavioural patterns and mindsets amongst the students, in addition to the various dangerous and unsupervised ways they consume information about sexual matters.

“We felt that the information was too important to wait. We felt it was information that we needed to share, because we believe that it was information that organisations can use to start to plan and implement intervention strategies, so that we can start to help the children. Because, at the end of the day, the children of today are the potential perpetrators – or survivors – of gender-based violence, if nothing is done.”

Dr. Kemi Dasilva Ibru discussing WESP at the WARIF facility in Yaba.

Some of the findings state that:

  • 1 in 4 adolescents knows at least 1 survivor of rape
  • 1 in 3 adolescents identified the abuser as the father
  • 1 in every 8 girls are willing to report a case of rape or sexual assault, if environment is enabling
  • 69 percent of both boys and girls did not agree that a girl must show her love by expressing or agreeing to sexual advances by their male or female counterparts.
  • 86 percent believe that sex education can reduce the incidence of sexual abuse and violence
  • 52 percent of boys noted that the types of films they watched (pornographic/sexualised images) were contributing factors to why boys may engage in rape.

A more comprehensive report will be released by the organisation soon.

Since its inception in 2016, WARIF has witnessed and treated around 183 cases of sexual assault in young girls and women with the help of qualified respondents, and getting to the root causes of these incidences by way of sex education initiatives has always been a mission of the organisation.

With a nod from the Ministry of Education, WARIF is embarking on this mission along with the Nigerian Police Force, the Lagos state Domestic and Sexual Violence Response Team (LSDRVT), members of some of the ministries and non-governmental organizations, and the Office of the Public Offender. Currently, WARIF has taken the initiative and introduced Phase II of the programme, which is the organisation’s own preventive strategies, into some of the schools surveyed.

The advent of WESP is utterly significant because of the wanting manner in which we treat issues around sex and sexuality in Nigeria, and how it in turn affects the safety and confidence of our future. Ms. Dayo Oluwole, a member of the WARIF team in charge of designing the WESP initiative addressed the myopia afflicting the country in terms of underestimating the level of exposure that young people already have to the issues we try to ‘shield’ them from, and how they [negatively] respond to it.

“We can’t put our heads in the sand any longer. We need to ensure that we speak very openly, very publicly about these issues, so we can help with the misconceptions that these children have about their sexuality, about rape…”

We struggled very much with whether to ask about their sexual orientation. We brought this dilemma to Doctor [Dasilva], and she asked ‘If you were doing this outside of Nigeria, outside of Africa, what would you do?’ And I said, I’d follow best practice. And best practice is to ask probing questions, so we can have the discussions in the classroom.”

The sessions are however not limited to the children, as the teachers and parents are involved in the bid to garner the most results from the programme, as well as create a much needed ripple effect in the Nigerian society. Especially since over 80 percent of the children surveyed say they would prefer to be able to go to their parents first with issues of sexual violence.

At the official announcement of WESP held at WARIF’s facility in Yaba, Lagos, the key roles and contributions of parents and teachers were underlined and discussed.

The Deputy Commissioner of Police, Mr. Bolaji Salam, Director of the Office of the Public Defender, Mrs. Bukola Salami, and DSVRT Coordinator, Mrs. Lola Vivour-Adeniyi all took on questions and concerns around how they plan to tackle the issues of stigma and silence around sexual violence in our society as this hinders progress in terms of eliminating the plague.

All the esteemed representatives assured the public that the response and family support units delegated to the cause were up to task, promising adequate empathy for victims and prosecutions for perpetrators. According to Mrs. Salami, her department is on its way to turning withdrawal of sexual assault cases by those involved a criminal offence.

From left: Superintendent Opadola, Coordinator DSVRT; Mrs Lola Vivour-Adeniyi, Director; Office of the Public Defender, Mrs Bukky Salami; Deputy Commissioner of Police SCIID, Panti, Mr. Bolaji Salam; WARIF Founder, Dr Kemi DaSilva Ibru; and Assistant Commissioner of Police, Domestic Division, Airport Command Lanre Ogunlowo at the official announcement of the WARIF Educational School Program held at the WARIF Centre, Yaba, Lagos.

In the nearest future, and with adequate support, WARIF plans to extend the coverage of WESP to much younger children as well as university-aged students across the country, so our society can be indeed free – mentally, as well as physically – from the debilitating menace that is sexual violence.

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