By: Emilia Okon, IHP Ebonyi Gender, Social Inclusion, and Community Engagement Advisor
In April 2020, the USAID Integrated Health Program (IHP), USAID/Nigeria’s flagship service delivery project, started its work in Ebonyi, a state in southeastern Nigeria, to contribute to the reduction of morbidity and mortality of women and children. A few months later, IHP brought together key government and nongovernment stakeholders to discuss issues around gender, social inclusion, and gender-based violence (GBV) in the state.
IHP Ebonyi aimed to use this session as a first opportunity to engage and build partnerships with these key stakeholders as we begin our work toward improving maternal and child health outcomes in Ebonyi. Nearly 30 participants came together for a day of presentations and discussion to gain new information and identify opportunities for future collaboration between IHP, the Ebonyi State Government, and nongovernmental actors to address gender, social inclusion, and GBV. These participants represented important decision-makers and actors, including the Ebonyi State Ministry of Health (ESMOH), Child Protection Network (CPN), Ebonyi State Primary Health Care Development Agency (ESPHCDA), Catholic Diocese of Abakaliki Succour and Development Services Initiative (SUCCDEV), Family Succour & Upliftment, Alpha Health Alert & Woman Development (AHADO), Civil Resource Development and Documentation Center Nigeria (CIRDDOC), Ebonyi State Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development (ESMOWA-SD), Ebonyi State Health Insurance Agency (EBSHIA), The National Obstetric Fistula Centre Abakaliki (NOFIC), and Ebonyi Women Initiative for Acceleration (EBOWOIFA).
A few weeks after the presentation, I sat down with one of the participants, Evangelist Flora Egwu, to understand more about what she learned during the session and how she envisions future collaboration on gender, social inclusion, and GBV. The content has been edited and paraphrased for length and clarity.
Emilia Okon: Please introduce yourself.
Flora Egwu: I am the Coordinator for the Ebonyi State Chapter of the Child Protection Network (CPN). CPN is a national network and mechanism established to respond to abuse against children and adolescents under the age of 18 with an emphasis on young girls. The network also responds to cases of GBV within the State for children and adults. CPN helps reduce the medical report fees that GBV survivors must pay to obtain medical reports for evidence in cases of sexual abuse that are required for prosecution.
EO: What do you think about the IHP presentation during the orientation for stakeholders?
FE: I felt delighted to be part of the orientation as it was the first of its kind in a long time. The orientation came at a good time and allowed us to look toward the practical aspects of our work. There was a lot of useful conversation about gender as well as GBV. I hope we can take the information and knowledge given to us during the session and use it in the field with the available resources in the State.
EO: Did you learn anything new during the sessions or the orientation?
FE: The discussion on GBV referrals and referral pathways was very useful to me as an individual and to CPN as an organization. During the orientation, I came to understand the need to make more referrals to other support services for GBV survivors. Before I attended the orientation, I used to hear about referrals, but I did not have a good understanding of what it means to make a referral, what a referral pathway is, and which groups should be part of a referral pathway. When a case was referred to me, I usually just sent survivors to the hospital. Now I understand I need to counsel them, accompany them to the Police Station, and assist them to get medical reports that will be acceptable in court if they choose to file a case. I also learned it is important to refer survivors to psychosocial counselling to deal with the trauma of sexual abuse or GBV.
After the orientation, I started making more referrals than I used to make before the session. I also understand the need to take seriously the referrals made to me. As a key stakeholder, I play an important role as a link in the referral pathway; I need to respond promptly to any issues to which my attention is called. For example, I recently received a referral for a GBV case from the Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development in another state. Because of the orientation, I understood that making and receiving referrals is not confined by State boundaries, but it can also be done from State to State with the right coordination. In this case, I was able to work across State lines to bring the survivor back to Ebonyi and provide support. I can confidently say that, compared to times in the past, I have now become more proactive in responding to GBV cases reported to me. I am more prompt in taking action, and I am willing to work with IHP and other stakeholders to ensure survivors are linked to the various support services available.
EO: What new ideas did you learn that we can use in moving GESI and GBV related work forward?
FE: The session also helped me remember that the National Obstetric Fistula Centre in Abakaliki, Ebonyi had once allocated a space to be used as a GBV Response Centre in the State. CPN will be happy to collaborate with IHP Ebonyi and the State government to make good use of the space and enhance GBV response in the State.
EO: What else do you think IHP can do going forward?
FE: I would like IHP to help strengthen the coordination of GBV referrals in Ebonyi. Some stakeholders and organizations do not know who to refer survivors to, some do not know where to go when a sexual abuse incidence occurs, and some do not know how to respond to GBV incidences when they are reported to them. We will appreciate training and technical support so the different stakeholders can better respond to GBV incidences and facilitate a coordinated response within the State. We hope this will assist in reducing the number of GBV incidences, providing a coordinated response to survivors, and getting more sexual abuse convictions in the State.
 Currently, there is a lack of available information on the number of GBV incidences that are formally taken up in court, nor is there information about how many of those cases are pursued until judgement and what the outcomes of the judgements are. IHP in Ebonyi will collaborate with State-level stakeholders to improve reporting and sharing of this type of data to inform decision-making for GBV response.