WARIF tackles gender-based violence in Nigeria with mobile SMS platform

One year after launching a pioneering SMS service used by traditional birth attendants to fight gender-based violence in Nigeria, WARIF founder Dr Kemi DaSilva says she’s doubling down in her efforts to help vulnerable populations in rural Nigeria. “By having a platform to identify, report and address the pressing issues or rape, human trafficking and other forms of violence against women and girls, we’re raising awareness that there are organisations such as ours that can provide valuable services to support victims.”

Women at Risk International Foundation (WARIF) is a non-profit organisation that combats gender-based violence against women and girls in Nigeria. In 2019, WARIF partnered with SAP and incorporated the SAP People Connect 365 mobile service into its Gatekeepers project. The organisation has since trained over 500 traditional birth attendants from 15 local government areas across Lagos State to use the software. Many users report cases in real time, allowing quicker responses from healthcare teams.

“We’re getting active cases faster, allowing us to intervene more quickly and in real-time, which we couldn’t do before,” says DaSilva. “We are also receiving positive feedback from traditional birth attendants as well as the women and girls they have helped.”

Gender-based violence is a major concern in Nigeria. According to a study by the UN and the Nigerian government, 28% of Nigerian women aged 25 to 29 have experienced some form of physical violence since age 15.

To ensure its mobile platform met the needs of healthcare providers working in remote communities, WARIF participated in a series of design thinking workshops with SAP. Rohit Tripathi, Head of Products and Go-To-Market at SAP Digital Interconnect, which worked closely with WARIF, says: “We made certain that birth attendants, regardless of where they are, could easily access this service without having to compromise on any of the functionalities. This also helped us enhance the service.”

Replacing silence with a community of support

Aside from the stigma associated with gender-based violence, healthcare providers in Nigeria also battle cultural norms. “The perpetrator is usually well-known and might even be a family member,” says DaSilva. “Many families and communities in Nigeria don’t discuss these issues out of concern for protecting the dignity of the family name, instead of making sure the young survivor receives adequate care.”

SAP People Connect 365 mobile service is a text messaging platform that fosters ongoing conversations among healthcare providers and others across WARIF’s education and community service programmes. Traditional birth attendants, for example, engage more with each other at monthly meetings and through social media chat groups, incorporating information about identified cases in the field.

DaSilva credits the platform with helping to upend traditions of silenced around sexual abuse. “Traditional birth attendants are sharing problems they ordinarily wouldn’t have had an opportunity to share, much less address in a timely manner, due to the remoteness of the communities in which they work. By training them, we also encourage supportive relationships which helps all of us collectively shine a spotlight on solving these problems.”

Traditional birth attendants ‘key to success’

DaSilva backs WARIF’s original strategy to train local traditional birth attendants to use the mobile software, since these healthcare providers are already trusted by everyone, including the local leaders who adjudicate instance of abuse in many Nigerian rural communities.

“When cases have been identified, we’re always well-received when presenting to the community gatekeepers in the various geographical areas we visit,” says DaSilva. “They are happy for us to intervene because they lack knowledge or training on how to help. In many cases it’s a question of lacking the means to communicate for assistance, which our platform can now enable.”

Despite challenges including power outages and community resource constraints, DaSilva says WARIF is exploring further plans to extend its reach with more community agencies. “We’re working with people who actually care and are willing to work with us to enable us to scale and impact a wider group of women we wouldn’t ordinarily be able to access.”

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