A Community Approach to Eliminate Violence Against Women is community based program that builds the capacity of and empowers communities to reduce incidence and prevalence of VAW through capacity building, support and economic development. Community Advocacy Volunteers CAVs are recruited from traditional community and family based male and female kinship groups and empowered to advocate for women’s rights, mediate and prevent violence and VAW. CAVs are also used to distribute knowledge, products, services and appropriate technologies that add value to local economies.
A 1998 study by Chris Okemgbo published in the African Journal of Reproductive Health (2001) found that more than 90% of all married women in Imo state had experienced domestic violence and over 70% of all female respondents (married and single) had experienced sexual violence. Imo State and south east Nigeria continue to show a high incidence and prevalence of VAW. A 2007 study of South East Nigeria by Obi and Ozumba (2007 ) found 70% of respondents reported abuse in their family and 8% were men. A more recent study in Imo State by Anolue and Uzoma (2017) reported 56% incidence.
WCC was founded in 2002 to provide support services to victims and established the first women’s shelter in Owerri Imo State. During the implementation of the project the beneficiary women said they need economic opportunities and not a shelter to reduce VAW since using a shelter or outside help to mediate DV could be seen as escalating the matter and meet resistance from the extended family.
The extended family system and various male or female kinship groups had responsibility historically to mediate and sanction in domestic violence, sex education and sexual violence. The idea to empower them with modern mediation techniques came after observing that a lot of domestic (and community conflict) was the result of misinformation, poor mediation skills and interpersonal communication that could be easily resolved before escalating. By empowering community elders and these traditional groups to perform their historical functions WCC was able to create reliable male allies and competent female mediators.
Factors that influenced the design of the program include –
- High incidence and prevalence of violence against women especially domestic and sexual violence among the target populations.
- High incidence of misinformation, gender stereotyping and cultural practices that disadvantage women and justify VAW.
- Focus of most VAW prevention and mitigation programs on large urban centres.
- High incidence of violence in communities due to poor conflict resolution mechanism and skills, economic recession and pressures arising from gendered expectations on men, women and children in the family.
- The stability, status and influence of traditional kinship groups in Igbo-Nigeria on individuals and families.
The problem is endemic VAW. However, VAW is a direct outcome not only of women’s weaker status but also of a generally violent environment. Men and women, aged and young, frequently resort to violence to settle conflict. WCC studies showed one reason for this was because of poor mediation and interpersonal skills among various groups.
Domination by violence has become a way of life in much of Nigeria today. Domestic violence is in the rise and includes woman on woman violence (a unique feature of Igbo-Nigeria that sees daughters attacking wives and vice versa), woman on man violence (also on the rise as more stories emerge in the media daily) and of course man on woman violence.
Therefore to effectively eliminate or reduce VAW the wider culture of systemic violence within society needs to be addressed. DV and VAW are on the rise due to changing family structures, economic pressures, change in men’s women’s role and status in the community and the home. All of these have further led to changes in parenting styles, responsibilities and expectations. Communities are increasingly violent and insecure, poor policing and an over whelmed judiciary contribute to impunity and an over reliance on self help.
Women interviewed by WCC between 20o2 and 2010 recognised that the problem of violence impacts them disproportionately but felt that they are made more vulnerable and their options are limited by their economic dependancy on men. They requested assistance to be more economically self reliant and independent.
Girls interviewed by WCC were mostly victims of sexual violence and exploitation and this led to teenage pregnancy and in recent years the emergence of ‘baby factories’ where young women are frequently abused. They were also frequently but not exclusively exposed to violence as a result of economic conditions that made it necessary for them to seek part time or full time employment as domestic servants and shop assistants.
Historically women and women’s groups were responsible for the sexual socialisation and protection of young girls and this program strengthens and improves their capacity to provide appropriate guidance, information and education to protect and prevent sexual violence against hong girls as well as older women.
Boys that were interviewed during the planning of the program showed a high level of misinformation about sex and their sexuality. For example one teenage boy thought that if he did not ejaculate after an erection he would die. Such beliefs are necessarily dangerous and seem to create a high risk of rape. Male CAVs will be able to inform and guide them appropriately.
Meanwhile men themselves told us that they had a right to defend themselves from female violence and this has been a feature of the traditional society. Culturally men do NOT see women as a weaker sex that automatically demands protection and gender equity means their concerns be adequately considered and incorporated into the program. Reports of violence against men within the domestic sphere have increased recently and heightened the sense of alarm and threat experienced by men. The CAVs will collect data to measure how much violence is initiated by women and address violence by women within the domestic sphere that may be directed at men, children and other members of the household.
There are a number of non profit organisations in Nigeria that focus on VAW, domestic violence and sexual violence – Project Alert on VAW (Lagos), Media Concern for Women and Children (Lagos), ACTS Generation GVB (Lagos), Women’s Rights Advancement and Protection Alternative (WRAPA, Abuja and Northern Nigeria), Mirable Centre (Lagos) Civil Resource Development and Documentation Centre (CIRDDOC) Enugu. Most of them have awareness programs, provide support different types of services and some of them run shelters for victims.
WCC is the only organisation working and focusing on VAW in Imo State and using a model that specifically targets rural and traditional communities versus large urban centres that are the focus of the other organisations mentioned. In addition, WCC is the only organisation that works with existing traditional women’s and men’s groups and specifically builds their capacity to address the problems of violence and VAW themselves (which is the common practice anyway) before seeking intervention from public or private institutions. WCC steps in to provide support where the communities are enable to resolve a matter or where a matter has escalated beyond their capacity to resolve – e.g. where police or legal action is required as in the case of rape, homicide or grievous bodily harm.
How Will WCC Address the Problem?
Violence and VAW are systemic problems and WCC targets changing the beliefs and values of the traditional kinship groups that have been an important part of Igbo-Nigerian social organisation for hundreds of years. Kinship groups exist for kinsmen, kinswomen and married women. These groups have been historically associated with family and community governance and despite the growth of government remain influential and powerful. Introduction of CAVs into these kinship structures will change the how they address and intervene in to resolve violence and VAW.
All stakeholders in Imo State – women and girls, men and boys, police, Ministry for Women Affairs & Social Development, local civil society – were consulted at various meetings, FGDs and one on one interviews and directly contributed to the design and development of this strategy.
- Behavioural change through advocacy by CAVs at community forums and meetings, and interventions by the CAVs in known and identified cases of VAW and conflict.
- Front Line Grass Roots Capacity to resolve small conflicts before they become big conflicts. Mediation skills that enable the CAVs resolve disputes and conflict quickly and without the involvement of outside organisations and agencies that may not have the confidence of the people. During the first phase of the project CAVs used the training in mediation to resolve other community disputes as well.
- Economic Development – the some WCC spoke with insisted that violence and VAW will fall as they become financially self reliant and economic prosperity increases within the community. A lot of violence is related to economic pressures and the inability of the men or women of the family to meet the expectations and obligations imposed on them for food, shelter, educational and medical resources. It should be noted that in Igbo-Nigeria historically men provided shelter and land while women were responsible for feeding the family and other household incidentals. Men did not provide food but the land on which women grew the food. Despite changing patterns of consumption and employment this division of responsibility remains in many areas and the women we consulted insist the ability to meet these food and basic needs would greatly reduce domestic conflict.
WCC will replicate and spread this idea through the NGWomen4Peace Alliance a loose confederation of women and women led organisation from every region of the country that are committed to bringing peace to Nigeria. Its zonal and state working committees have already designed a program to build and grow the a network of men and women committed to peace and the rule of law around the country. Through the NGWomen4Peace network other interested communities will be identified and supported to adapt and implement the idea to their local context.
- Recruit and train CAVs in high risk communities using specific criteria to identify male and female leaders with a track record of influence, integrity, entrepreneurial capacity and achievements.
- Conduct community needs assessment, baseline data and gender analysis using CAVs for data gathering.
- Monitor and support CAVs at regular intervals with training, resources and value added services.
- Create, grow and maintain marketing and distribution networks through CAVs to add value to community economic development.
- Continuous Monitoring & Evaluation.
- 80 trained CAV’s in 20 communities of Imo State
- Three easily adaptable and translatable 2 day training modules on gender, mediation and enumeration available for relocation and distribution as needed.
- NGWomen4Peace network established across the country ready to adapt training modules to different cultural and language contexts and raise funds for implementation.
- Peaceful Communities with the capacity to identify, mitigate and mediate early warning signs of conflict and violence especially VAW within the family, the household and the community.
- Community women and women’s groups empowered to mediate and resolve conflict and build peace within the family, the household and the community.
- Economically self reliant women and girls that are less vulnerable to violence and VAW.
- Obi, S. N. and B.C. Ozumba (2007) Factors associated with domestic violence in South-East Nigeria. Journal of obstetrics and gynaecology. 27. (1) 75 – 78.
- Anolue F. C., Uzoma O.I. (2017)Intimate partner violence: prevalence, contributing factors and spectrum among married couples in Southeast Nigeria. Int J Reprod Contracept Obstet Gynecol 2017;6: 3748 -53