Exploring the gender lens on Localization: Working on GBV issues in northern Nigeria.

9/2020 | John Ede

Farida* 30, recounts how she was sexually abused by close relatives and friends before the age of 2. A situation of sexual harassment and abuse she has endured throughout her childhood into her early adult years. Chiboy* 14 was just reunited with his family after he was kidnapped by a trusted adult male who used him as sex toy. Sinmbi*, a 7-year-old pupil was raped by her 33-year-old teacher. Upon learning about the search to arrest and charged to court, the teacher escaped and stayed away for over one year. These are the sad realities of incidences of gender-based violence (GBV), also referred to as sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV), which describes any harmful act of sexual, physical, psychological, mental, and emotional abuse that is perpetrated against a person’s will and that is based on socially ascribed gender.


Issues of GBV in Nigeria

Nigeria is a nation of over 200 million people with over 250 ethnic groups. Recently, the country experienced a sharp rise in emergencies related to conflicts between pastoral communities, especially in parts of the north. In addition, much of the country has experienced negative impacts of climate change, food shortages, poverty, and economic volatility, and an under-resourced social protection sector. These features have exacerbated issues of GBV in northern Nigeria, which has further been compounded by the presence and activities of Boko Haram. In fact, United Nations estimates that around 2.5 million people have been displaced from their homes due to violence in the region, and 7.9 million people (of which 80% women and children) depend entirely on humanitarian aid for survival. Further, this figure does not capture the number of conflict-related displacement due to the activities of bandits and pastoralists.


I am President & CEO of Ohaha Family Foundation, which is a registered non-profit organization based in Abuja, Nigeria. The organization is committed to defending human dignity and providing well-being services. Our mission is to empower marginalized vulnerable people towards greater economic, social, and cultural prosperity. Recently, we developed the GBV Heartline program that allows mobile phone use to report and connect to social protection, healthcare, and legal services for GBV-related incidences in Nigeria.


GBV during the time of COVID-19

COVID-19 is exacerbating the hardships for GBV survivors in Nigeria. On Monday, 13th July, 2020, Ms. Nada Al-Nashif, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights reported to the UN Human Rights Council that: “the collective impact of climate change, COVID-19 and conflict mean that well over 200 million people will likely need humanitarian assistance by 2022.” A situation Ms. Al-Nashif described as “especially worrying for women and girls” because they face additional hardships from the pandemic – including sexual abuse. She further stated that, “Experience demonstrates that insecurity and displacement fuel increases in sexual and gender-based violence, as well as other crimes and human rights violations such as child, early and forced marriages, or denial of access to sexual and reproductive health services.”

In our work, we are already hearing about issues. For example, Nurse Rakiya who has been working in a primary healthcare facility in north central region for the past four years shared, that the number of people needing assistance has soared due to the worsening pastoral crisis in neighboring villages. She noted that the need for protection, healthcare, and wellbeing is overwhelming. As one survivor of the recent violence said, “It is risky traveling to our village to help us, our people are still getting killed.”

Before, COVID-19, women and girls living in rural communities were already disproportionately marginalized and excluded from social services, had limited social interactions, and were left out of decision-making processes, because many local traditions and religions does not allow women and girls from participating in decision-making bodies. Further, many women lack knowledge about GBV reporting and service offerings. Many also struggle to access protection services, since going out of the house may require permission from the men. However, most females in rural communities own or have access to a mobile phone, and so our GBV Heartline is a lifeline for many women and girls as it offers a space for conversation and expands access to support services in response to GBV silence in Nigeria. COVID-19 has only made issues of GVB more actuate, and our hotline even more important.


The role of local leadership for GBV survivors during COVID-19

Before COVID-19, we saw many challenges related to humanitarian assistance in Nigeria. In particular, many GBV programs are largely funded and supported by foreign actors. But, in Nigeria some government policies, laws, bureaucracies, administrative requirements and processes often hamper and deter foreign assistance. Further, in Nigeria, there is a huge lack of trained and skilled local aid workers. Most local aid workers are often not well equipped to deliver interventions based on international standards, because they often stumble into aid delivery, and then learn on the job. Risk sharing is another major challenge, because some of our program locations experience intermittent attacks. In these situations, aid workers face kidnapping, threats to their lives, and death.

All these issues have only been made worst due to COVID-19. Current travel restrictions for both national and international aid workers have suspended businesses and economies and only created more pressure on these communities and left local organizations, like ours, to respond to these issues with little support or resources. With many foreign experts and professionals evacuating to their home countries, we have experienced an abrupt disruption in services, cuts to funding, and huge local capacity deficit in managing GBV programming.

This changing environment has also forced us to take on new roles and adapt quickly to the needs on the ground. However, we are experiencing some technical and operational challenges with delivering assistance. In particular, we are seeing funding from programs like ours shift to COVID-19 related issues, and this along with the dwindling of national revenues and a strain on resources. This situation has created significant challenges for delivering GBV programs, and yet is even more urgent.


The reality in northern Nigeria is that COVID-19 has deepened existing gender inequalities and has also increased the risks of GBV incidences in settings where the violators and the ‘vulnerable’ are forced to a confinement or fleeing conflict together.


However, despite the movement restrictions and the difficulties in getting security clearance to deliver aid, we triggered the remote operationalization mode relying on the use of mobile phone communication to reach our community focal person resident either in the target communities or resident at walking distance to the program location. In fact, GBV Heartline is leveraging the use of mobile phone penetration in Nigeria to put Sinmbi and many other users into contact with protection services.

We have found that local institutions and leadership, if properly harnessed, could help improve awareness and debunk the myths surrounding marginalization and stigmatization in the process of family unification and reintegration for GBV survivors. Recognizing the critical roles of supporting and promoting local actions by fostering activities of civil society, grassroots organizations, right groups, we are supporting beneficiaries like Farida, who is leveraging mobile phone coverage, internet, and social media to spring board GBV advocacy, raising awareness, and mobilizing local support. This initiative is working to expand and support GBV prevention and response by providing a space for reporting GBV and linking survivors to protection services, while informing and raising awareness on GBV concerns in Nigeria.


Our experiences and stories raise great concerns and spark particular questions, including:


  • Could an increase in private sector investment close the funding gap in social protection programs? Would such funding be possible? What private sector organizations can local NGOs look to for this type of support? How do we access such support?
  • With many foreigners leaving Nigeria, how can INGOs more strategically think about supporting local organizations to prevent such gaps in important work and services?
  • What is the role of CSOs, networks, and grassroots organizations in providing and expanding social protection in their various communities? What happens when INGOs and donors exit? How do we pick up and continue on with the work? Are we expected to fill this gap and how can we do so?
  • Should local organizations shift to working more specifically with local, grassroots, and/or traditional leaders as a way to promote greater action on GVB issues? Have we been focusing on INGOs and international donors for the wrong reasons?
  • What tools and resources for social protection services are locally available and can they be used to improve GBV response and prevention Nigeria? How can we access these?


One of our key lessons learnt is the need to build and strengthen local capacities. Yes, you read that right, BUILD LOCAL CAPACITIES. Harnessing local capacities would ensure service continuity when international aid actors turn their backs on ‘the vulnerable population’ – who ironically are the reason these international workers have their jobs. If international actors are not willing to stay to the end, the huge gap and backward spiral of the programs and assistance could consider providing remote technical assistance to the local aid workers. Funding is not all that matters. Yes, funding is critical, but strengthening local capacities would allow local aid workers to fundraise and mobilize the resources and materials that are needed to continue their work.


* Not their real names, names changed to protect the real characters.

Photographs listed from top to bottom: Photograph 1: Women waiting to be attended to during a social protection program for displaced communities. Photo Credit: Ohaha Family Foundation Media. Photograph 2:  Aid worker organizing aid recipients. Photo Credit: Ohaha Family Foundation Media.  Photograph 3: Doctor attending to a patient during a medical outreach for IDPs. Photo Credit: Ohaha Family Foundation Media.



About this article

This blog was written as part of the “From where I stand: Unpacking ‘local’ in aid” series. Each weekCDA will create a space to help bring  these critical and fresh, though often neglected, voices – from local practitioners to those working alongside them (including those who work on the policy and programming agenda) – to the forefront. 

Our hope is to expand our collective thinking and understanding about what “localization” actually looks like in practice, no matter how messy it may be. In doing so perhaps we can begin to answer the question: What if the evidence-base for local leadership, aid policy, and INGO practice was instead based on the diverse experiences and ideas of those leading humanitarian, aid, and peacebuilding efforts in their contexts?

For more blogs in this series check-out:

And many more to come soon! If you are interested in contributing to the series please contact Sarah Cechvala at [email protected]. We would love to hear from you and include your perspective.  

About the author

John Ede is President & CEO of Ohaha Family Foundation, and convener of the GBV Heartline team, a human right defender, gender and child protection advocate, member of the Grand Bargain Localization Worskstream, co-chairing Advocacy Working Group of Charter 4 Change. He has over 18 years professional experience in leadership, high-level engagements, program management, policy influencing and advocacy in emergencies and crisis situations in Africa, experiences gained from working for NNGOs, INGO, tech companies and also volunteering for UN-NGLS, and INGOs through UNV with a track record of harnessing the power of stakeholders to promote collaboration and inclusion of marginalize groups towards achieving Economic, social and cultural prosperity.

John is PHAP UHE certified, learning champion with dissterready.org, alumni of Université de Genève summer school HEiEC, holds Peace Operations Specialized Training Certificate in Civilian Services, Bachelors Degree in Geography from the University of Jos, Nigeria, completed several trainings from UN Women Training CentreUNODC, GSMA, UNDSSUNITARUNHCRUNICEFRedR UKHarvard-XHarvard Humanitarian InitiativeSave the ChildrenUniversity of Strathclyde Glasgow and CELCISNATO CIMIC course, and more. He is proficient in English, loves community mobilization, building local capacity and mentoring.