An interview with Protect-Her co-founder Amaka Nneji

One of the founders of the nongovernmental organisation, Protect-Her, Mrs. Amaka Nneji, has disclosed that the rationale behind the establishment of the organisation was to ensure that rape, which, incidentally, has been on the increase in recent times, is prevented before it happens.

Mrs. Nneji said the passion and quest to see women and girls thrive and become successful without being stigmatised was what informed her decision to set up the organisation, alongside co-founder, social worker, Mrs. Clare Henshaw.

In this exclusive interview with the Daily Sun, she x-rays what the organisation is all about and what it has been able to achieve since inception, as far as the rights and welfare of women and girls are concerned.

What is Protect-Her all about?

It is all about the health and wellbeing of women and girls. It is a volunteer-based organisation that advocates the safety of women and girls across various communities in Nigeria. The core aspect of our work is to prevent abuse of women and girls, and that is why we use practical skills and advocacy to engage, equip and empower girls and women. We want women and girls to understand that they have the ability to protect themselves from harm and their rights should not be tampered with. We empower women with self-confidence, self-esteem, self-defence skills and safety advocacy to protect them from rape and other forms of abuse, as well as general advocacy campaigns and awareness on child protection, female genital mutilation, human trafficking, early marriage and various types of gender-based violence in communities. We have impacted over 500 women and girls since inception but our target is to touch over one million lives in 48 months and ensure we have the ability to scale to all parts of Nigeria.

How volunteer-based is Protect-Her?

It uses the volunteer-based model to advance its cause. The volunteers are young women from the age of 18 and above who register because they want to be part of something important. They sign up as a response to our call to action and, when they do, they are properly groomed with practical and theoretical skills, ranging from intensive to intermediate self-defence skills, child protection techniques, and other salient skills within a four-day period. Upon completion of the training, the volunteer instructors are given certificates, branded T-shirts and a training manual, including workbooks, as guide for re-training. They would then go back to their communities to train younger girls between the ages two and 17 in schools, churches, mosques and marketplaces, among other places.

The idea behind this is that not every minor will be opportune to attend training like what we offer,. So, we ensure that as many volunteer instructors as possible are trained and developed across communities where we may not be able to reach. Through that, we replicate our work and impacts, using passionate individuals.

A volunteer earns a medal after training at least 20 young girls. The details and data from each volunteer are captured via a dedicated link given to trained volunteers. The goal is to measure the impact, scale and reach of our work. We are particular about locations, and number of girls reached, among other things. We also us this link to gain real-time information about rape cases, unique issues across different communities and possibly other forms of abuse, which can be used to improve security measures and policy, as well as report abuse and other key issues.

What exactly are the benefits of self-defence training to women and girls, when and how should they apply the skills?

The self-defence training, also known as the Rape and Violence Aggression Defense Prevention (RVADP), is in two forms. The four or five-day intensive RVADP-based training is for community-based volunteers, while the two-day advanced training is for working women who simply want to enhance their skills to protect themselves better. This training is very important because women and girls stand the chance of gaining confidence and resilience from both classes; the primary aim of the two training types is to protect women and girls.

It is a fact that self-defence classes are offered as a strategy to reduce women’s vulnerability to sexual assault. Women and girls who participate in self-defence training are less likely to experience sexual assault and are more confident in their ability to effectively resist assault than similar women who do not. Self-defence classes often include training in assertiveness, consent, de-escalation and a range of physical strategies to rebuff without injuring, as well as harder physical resistance strategies.

According to a professor of sociology at the University of Oregun, Jocelyn Hallander, “Women self-defence training is the only sexual violence prevention strategy with solid evidence of effectiveness at reducing rates of victimisation.” Hence, self-defence is a tool to end sexual violence. There are many practical defensive and verbal techniques to handle different situations of attack. Women are taught how to scan their environment, what to do if they suspect danger and how to handle a sudden attack. It is best learnt.

What qualifies one for the training and how can one register to be trained?

We train minors, particularly, girls between two and 17, under a unique plan, over a two to three-day period, depending on our assessment of their community and other pre-existing factors. Ideally, we first deploy a pre-assessment test to measure knowledge levels of trainees; this helps to determine the kind of engagement to run with. Our core strategy, however, lies in training volunteer instructors between the ages of 18 and 45, who in turn go back to re-train as many minors as possible in their communities. We also conduct intensive capacity-building for school teachers for a day or two across Nigeria, because we consider schools to be safe havens for vulnerable children. We also see teachers as focal agents of change in the fight to end abuse of minors.  They must, therefore, be well equipped to tackle issues of abuse and understand how to manage or prevent them within the school.

What is your organisation doing to curb the rising incidence of sexual violence against minors, especially in this COVID-19 era?

Although the outbreak of COVID-19 has halted our physical self-defence training, we have been running campaigns and conducting online training and dishing out information on our social media platforms. However, with the gradual easing of lockdown and resumption of economic activities, we intend to resume our physical training in August or September, while adhering to all safety protocols put in place to curtail the spread of the virus.  We are also focusing heavily on community sensitisation on how to stay safe in these vulnerable times. We embarked on a market sensitisation programme, sharing face masks and relief items to market women, even as we sensitise them on how to protect their female wards from abuse and rape. We have covered locations like Yaba, Ajah and Ikeja markets in Lagos, as well as New Benin market in Edo State, and other communities, in partnership with our sister organisation, Girls Inspired Africa. We encourage women, particularly mothers, to safeguard their children. We equally share educational materials to them. The level of ignorance and poor access to information is alarming. The main reason behind the rising cases of rape and abuse of minors is the total ignorance on the part of parents, victims and communities. There should be a sustainable way to create awareness and structures to adequately report and escalate cases of rape. Over 70 per cent of those we interacted with said they didn’t know how to handle cases of abuse and often did not feel like reporting to the security agents due to loss of faith in the system.

What impact do you think your organisation has made in the last eight months

We started our trainings in November 2019, and, so far, we have trained at least 60 female volunteers aged between 18 and 45 years, as well as over 200 girls aged between eight and 17. We have also distributed over 300 workbooks and we hope to do more. We also run a hotline platform, where abused persons can call in to report rape or seek support. Our role is to counsel and escalate to relevant agencies. We are building the requisite network with key stakeholders across Nigeria to ensure that we can reach frontline services in a most effective and efficient manner and within limited time frames, when people report abuse. Young girls and women feel comfortable with our approach because we are focused on providing safe spaces and atmosphere where girls and women can express themselves with zero judgement. If our goal is prevention, then we want people to feel very confident when working with us.  There are cases where minors share their experience of abuse. In such situations, it is our responsibility to guide them and advise them and their parents. We also refer women to opportunities that can empower them, especially if the cause of their abuse is due to financial dependency on their abusers.

We have had women and even men reach out to us to resolve domestic marital issues. In fact, during the first two months of the COVID-19 pandemic, we resolved some cases of domestic abuse, which occurred due to poverty and hunger. Based on a survey we carried out, we found out that hunger and lack of finances were top reasons for these abuses. We, therefore, had to work with Girls Inspired to send out food palliatives to some of the identified families. Other cases included women who were sent out of their marital home without access to their children.

We have also provided intervention support to people living with disabilities. This group is often excluded from important social intervention projects, and we also know that neglect is another form of abuse.

What is Protect-Her doing about human trafficking and girl child labour?

Trafficking in persons is a serious and grave violation of human rights, according to the UN. Human trafficking involves the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons through the use of threat, force, coercion, fraud, abduction, deception, vulnerability or giving payments or benefits to a person in control of the victim for the purpose of exploitation, such as sexual exploitation, forced labour, slavery or similar practices and removal of body organs. Women and girls are the common victims of human trafficking, they make up the largest proportion.

Statics show that 71 percent of trafficked persons are women and girls, 25 percent of which is children. In 2000, the United Nations General Assembly marked the protocols to prevent, suppress and punish trafficking in persons, especially women and children. The ugly act has persisted, despite all efforts to eliminate it. Apart from the punishment slated for offenders, women and girls should understand the dangers of human trafficking and resist any action that may result to that. This advocacy is part of what we do at Protect-Her.

Our primary target is to prevent rape –Nneji

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