‘There’s no criteria for rape’
BY CHRISTY ANYANWU
Anita Kemi Dasilva-Ibru is a specialist in obstetrics and gynecology. She also has a background in Public Health. Aside being a medical practitioner, Ibru is neck-deep in proffering solutions to the prevailing issues of gender-based violence, rape and trafficking of young girls and women in Lagos communities. These, she does by offering free medical support and counseling to victims. The doctor cum activist recently spoke to Effects about her vision and her Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO), Women at Risk international Foundation (WARIF).
You have so much passion for WARIF; did you experience any form of abuse growing up?
I do not have any personal experiences with abuse or gender-based violence. I was very fortunate to have been brought up in a very nurturing environment by wonderful parents . But as you know, with rape and sexual violence there is no criteria. It happens to black women; it happens to white women; it happens to the vulnerable as well as the successful . It affects Muslims and Christians and the young and older women. Rape affects all women. The fact that I did not have a personal experience was by sheer circumstance and the grace of God. When you come across young girls and women , left to feel isolated, ashamed and guilty by their family members and communities at large… because nobody speaks about the abuse and they are oftentimes blamed for it… say you have a wife who is abused by her husband physically and sexually and society says but you are married to his.. or a child who is not believed when a sexual act has been committed by a family member because there is more concern about how the family will be viewed by those communities than addressing the immediate needs of that child. This shroud of secrecy about the issue persists and they are encouraged not to speak on it … they need a voice, they need strong advocates . This is what WARIF is.
From experiences through your NGO, what has life taught you?
It humbles you. It makes you appreciate how fortunate you are. It makes you appreciate your circumstance and makes you realize that it’s a privilege to be able to help others. This is not a problem faced by those a affected only but it is society’s problem where we are all responsible. It is our collective responsibility to make sure that we don’t have rape and sexual violence in our communities.
Where there is no consent, the act is not consensual and It’s a crime.No means no. Consent cannot be given if one is a child and in Nigeria, the law states that a girl remains a child until she is 18. Consent cannot be given under the influence of alcohol or other substances; it cannot be given when you are asleep or under the threat of harm or physical violence.
Rape and sexual abuse should never be justified by what a woman wears- whether a mini skirt or spaghetti strapped top. That is the message we need to take out there.
Most NGO founders do that to make money but you are parting with your resources. Why?
The truth is that as a medical doctor, and a consultant obstetrician and gynecologist, my patient’s population are women and so from very early on , when I return to Nigeria and started working as a specialist ..I started to see many of these cases. This was over 10 years ago. Then, there were very little infrastructure available for these girls and when many of them come into the hospital setting, they are met with some degree of disregard and suspicion. You would not even believe the stories of some of them. Counseling was not available or offered and they would be sent back home, often times back to areas of risk. I felt compelled to do more in my capacity as a health professional. I offered my services free to any woman that was in need and over the years, by virtue of seeing women in different areas such as churches,schools
and residential homes I realised that there was more that needed to be done in this space.
Last year, I handled a series of bad cases, one of which was that of a two- year old baby. The statistics of this country, reveal that one in four girls would have had one violent sexual encounter, by the time she reached the age of 18 years and over 70 percent would have had more than one violent sexual encounter.
What is WARIF all about?
WARIF is an acronym for Women at Risk International Foundation and this is a foundation that I incorporated in 2016 to address the high incidence of rape, sexual violence and trafficking of young girls and women in Lagos and across Nigeria.My background is obstetrics and gynecology and I have over the last ten years seen the harrowing effects these acts have had on these affected girls and women. This is from the immediate health implication and emotional trauma that comes with it. To long term issues such as an increase in the number of new HIV cases and unwanted pregnancies. It also adversely affects the girl – learning with young affected girls losing all self esteem and no longer going to school because of the traumatic effect of the abuse.
Have you come up with an initiative lately?
The first initiative that I decided to address was to set up a sexual assault rehabilitation centre for young girls and women. The WARIF Centre – this is a facility that serves as a safe haven; providing all the services free, a qualified warm and friendly team of professionals are readily available to offer immediate medical care to those that need it as well as psycho-social counseling. We also offer social welfare services. The narrative is such that in 90 percent of the cases, the perpetrator is a family member. He is a husband, uncle, brother and so on. Therefore, sending her back home is the same as sending her back to be abused and perpetuating the cycle of abuse. So, we started to collaborate with the government and private organizations that could assist in the areas of social welfare. The Lagos State Government is doing a lot of wonderful work in this area. The Domestic and Sexual Violence Response Team ( DSVRT) set up to tackle this issue have been very effective. WARIF have been privileged to have been made members of this proactive team.
Any long term effect on the abused?
There are young girls who have seen their mothers abused by their fathers each day and still hold down the fort and attend to the needs of their spouse whilst warning the children not to inform anybody that such a thing was happening in the Home- To such girls, this would be their reality and would be considered normal. When those girls grow up to become adults, their expectations are that the abuse that they witnessed all through their upbringing would repeat itself in their own relationships… and the young boys might grownup to be the perpetrator as they watched their fathers abuse their mothers and saw how it was viewed as socially acceptable.
WARIF is currently embarking on a preventive initiative tagged WARIF Educational School Program, WESP – a school based program designed to address the mindset of the adolescent boy and girl-child from ages 13-16 on the issue of gender based violence with the intention of changing their pre-conceived and erroneous belief system that already exists through the introduction of the WESP program into the schools.
With the approval of the Ministry of Education , we have selected secondary schools in the school district 4; We identified both mixed and same sex schools.The first phase of this pilot program which was recently concluded was establishing the exiting mindset through the administration of questionnaires by qualified WARIF facilitators. And the data was collated and measured. The second phase commences at the end of May, when we revisit the schools and introduce the WESP programme, Through structured activities and tutorials specially designed and implemented by qualified and experienced WESP facilitators- the children, teachers and parents will be exposed to a change in the mindset based on pre-existing personal life experiences and cultural and societal norms. The results and data will then be collected to measure the impact the WESP Program has had on improving the mind set of the youths in the program and by extension our communities.