BUILDING AN EFFECTIVE SEXUAL AND REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH AND RIGHTS (SRHR) MOVEMENT IN NIGERIA.
Lawyers Alert is contributing to positively changing the dynamics of SRHR in Nigeria by the creation of effective SRHR movements, operational networks and collaborations at the grassroots, judicial activism, legal literacy (rights awareness creation) and provision of scientific data on violations. These steps are contributing in no small measure to the changing narrative and positive push for the enjoyment of Reproductive Health Rights in Nigeria.
Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights, SRHR, is interrelated to several human rights, such as the right to health, life, education, privacy, freedom from torture, freedom to associate, freedom of expression, prohibition of discrimination, enjoyment of reproductive health care services, etc.
SRHR in Nigeria has not made the anticipated appreciable progress in Nigeria neither is it given much space for expression owing to religious and cultural beliefs. Violence against Women and Girls, Abortion, Same-Sex Relationships, Female Sex Work, Rights of Persons Living with HIV, Female Genital Mutilation etc. are all issues that citizens regularly confront yet fail to attract commensurate attention in the positive from authorities. Particularly affected are Persons Living With, Affected by or Most at Risk of HIV.
Lack of reliable and verifiable data in critical areas makes intervention difficult. HIV is perhaps the only exception about data, yet paucity is still evident within the context of rights and its abuse thereof. The consequence of this is Nigeria’s struggle with not just HIV but reproductive rights. This is now evident in flagrant rights abuses; an upswing of domestic violence that results in death, and a society where prisons, hospitals, police cells, etc. are rife with all kinds of challenges owing to lack of awareness or sometimes outright interventions that do not adequately speak to the issues.
The International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) held in 1994 resolved that women have the right to have control over and decide freely and responsibly on matters related to their sexuality, including sexual and reproductive health, free of coercion, discrimination, and violence.
In contributing to the SRHR Movement in Nigeria, Lawyers Alert carries out the following;
Provision of reliable and verifiable data on SRHR violations in Nigeria.
For over 4 years, we have been monitoring and documenting reported SRHR violations through a developed web-based rights violation documentation tool (LadockT). Partners across the country send in violation reports, which upon interrogation and confirmation is uploaded.
This tool has the advantage of not only capturing the violations but also analysing the same according to location, age, type of violations, sex, etc. The analysis of these violations provides a scientific and accurate picture of the SRHR situation in Nigeria. Nine reports have so far been released: four on the general state of SRHR in Nigeria, two on MSM and three on VAWG. They can be found here. These violation reports are being shared with organizations working on SRHR in Nigeria, both local and international including state actors like the National Human Rights Commission and the National Parliament to assist in programming, and advocacy for policy and legal reform in enhancing SRHR in Nigeria.
Fig 1: SRHR Violations analysis based on groups in the report released in April 2021.
The tool is now a pooling point where the interest of various SRHR organisations comes together, and it is now organically building effective SRHR movement in Nigeria especially at the grassroots. Networks and Coalitions have bought into this and are daily sending in reports with the resultant effect of a health movement in gathering data and evidence for advocacy. A formal SRHR movement in Nigeria has birthed from this process.
Lawyers Alert is through this web-based documentation is making a tremendous contribution in strengthening SRHR in Nigeria, through the provision of free legal services to persons, especially women and the LGBTI community who report violations.
The impact of scientific data provision on SRHR violations in Nigeria amongst others includes: the passage of Violence Against Persons Prohibition Law in Benue, Niger and Bauchi states; passage of Administration of Criminal Justice Law in Benue; passage of the HIV/AIDS Anti-Discrimination Law in Benue and Nasarawa states, etc.
Creating and strengthening an effective SRHR movement
Lawyers Alert is using the findings from this Tool in advancing SRHR in Nigeria, by the facilitation of an effective SRHR movement in Nigeria, especially at the grassroots. Findings from the violation reports evidenced the fact that a heavy percentage of SRHR violations happen at the grassroots.
The process for the creation of this Movement started with our mapping of SRHR small & medium-sized organizations across Nigeria, especially at the grassroots in the year 2018. Thirty-five (35) small and medium-sized SRHR organizations working at this level that was driven by passion but lack sufficient capacity, were identified and pulled into a basket of similar organizations to drive reforms, policies and challenge stigma and discrimination in Nigeria, by building their capacities.
Fig 2: Mapping and capacity assessment for small and medium-sized organizations.
A convening of these organizations was thereafter facilitated where organizations shared their visions, issues they work on, including their constituencies. It became apparent that a shared vision existed of a SRHR friendly & compliant regime in Nigeria, made difficult by the lack of complementarity and joint efforts of organizations, hampered by capacity and resources. Based on a skills gap analysis, Lawyers Alert subsequently carried out some capacity building for these organizations using a carefully developed capacity building plan. Capacity ranged from the strengthening of systems (administrative & financial) and legal status acquisition for some of the organizations. These organizations are now delivering on their objectives and creating networks with similar organizations.
Fig 3: Cross-section of participants at the first convening of small & medium-sized SRHR organizations.
The movement consists of cells of organisations working on similar issues and have lead organisations/leaders resulting in shared roles, inclusiveness i.e., a sense of belonging by every organization and value understanding.
Fig 4: Participants at the second convening of small & medium-sized SRHR organizations.
A Joint Capacity and Advocacy Plan has been developed, agreed upon and tentatively implementation has commenced. The Capacity Plan was tailored to speak to the gaps noticed in the mapping and over time LA has conducted trainings, field visits, legal registration of organizations, and aided linkages with bigger organizations, all in a bid to ensure capacity building. We have also been sharing resources and assisting with developing Strategic Plans and funding applications. Our online platform (WhatsApp), where members continuously share information on activities, lessons and leveraging on each other is a veritable organizational tool.
The SRHR Movement in Nigeria as of September 2021 boasts of over 90 small & medium-sized organizations from across the six geo-political zones of Nigeria. These organizations are now creating soft but critical impacts in their locations. These ponds of successes are gradually translating into a sea of change, galvanized by successful community interventions. These organizations and networks are now on the cusp of becoming virile and robust community groups to push the frontiers of SRHR in Nigeria. A typical example is the community-led response in ending Violence Against Women and Girls in Osun State through an MOU that negates the culture of Female Genital Mutilation.
Fig 5: Representatives of organizations in the SRHR Movement.
The main aim of providing legal literacy, particularly to women and vulnerable groups at the grassroot, is to educate them and build their capacity so that they are equipped to educate others and more significantly, challenge violations to their rights and those of others as they occur and from a standpoint of knowledge and power.
Fig 6: Picture of women at the grassroot during one of LA’ physical literacy campaigns.
Lawyers Alert is implementing intensive legal literacy on SRHR at the grassroots. Community-women groups, market women, churches and mosques are all fertile grounds for building grassroots change. At the last count, over 70 markets across 15 states are beneficiaries, 10 churches including several community groups within SRHR networks who are also replicating the same modus in their environs. Women and Key Populations are special targets.
Fig 7: Market literacy campaigns in FCT and Benue State, Nigeria.
In 2018, we began our online literacy campaigns via Lawyers Alert’ Facebook page. This online literacy holds every Thursday and has so far reached over 1,000,000 persons. Several organizations within and outside the country are now replicating the same. Additionally, we have created a directory of organizations offering different SRHR services for each state for the purposes of referrals.
Fig 8: Pictures from LA’ online literacy series.
From these online literacy campaigns, Radio stations and other media houses in Lagos and Enugu have invited Lawyers Alert to partner with them on issues of SRHR from their traditional media outlets, while other media outlets like Albarka radio in Bauchi state provides Lawyers Alert with free airtime to discuss SRHR and the decriminalization of petty acts in Nigeria.
Legal representation, strategic impact litigation and Capacity building for Lawyers.
Following intense literacy campaigns by Lawyers Alert on SRHR at the grassroots legal support is much more in demand by our target groups, especially women and the LGBTI community. Lawyers Alert links its reportage of violations with access to legal remedies for marginalized groups in Nigeria.
In 2018, the capacity of forty-five (45) lawyers was built on strategic impact litigation using international standards. These lawyers are sharing lessons with other colleagues on strategic impact litigation & pushing the frontiers of SRHR in Nigeria. These lawyers are also enhancing access to justice by working with small and medium-sized organizations that link victims of SRHR violations to the lawyers for free legal services.
Fig 9: Pictures from the Strategic Impact Litigation training for Nigerian Lawyers.
Flowing from violations reported on the web-based tool, Lawyers Alert is now providing free legal support based on referrals from Small and Medium-Sized organizations with over 350 cases reported, 115 favourably resolved. The adjudication of these cases in court is helping demonstrate impact and improve advocacy. Lawyers Alert is the foremost organisation now offering free legal services to the LGBTI community, PLHIV, female sex workers, vulnerable women etc, whose rights are violated. Referrals are also received from National, State and International bodies like NACA, UNAIDS Nigeria Office, CIHP, AHF, FHI 360, etc.
In 2020, a total of 140 lawyers were trained on SRHR across the 6 geo-political zones of the country and with the partnership of the Coalition of Lawyers for Human Rights (COLaHR), SRHR survivors across Nigeria are able to benefit from our free legal representation. As of September 2021, a total of 235 lawyers have benefitted from our SRHR training and are providing free legal representation. A total of 2,500 persons have benefitted from our free legal services in the last 2 years.
Fig 10: Pictures from the training of Lawyers on SRHR.
The impact of our free legal services amongst others include: Anonymity Order to reduce stigma and discrimination when victims approach the court. For every case of likely victimization with regards to especially HIV positive clients, the courts now issue an Anonymity order to protect the identity of clients; WE have secure judgements for persons living positively and unlawfully dismissed from their place of employment owing to their status; We also have secured Restraining orders where the woman is in danger of being mortally attacked; Decongestion of prisons for persons accused of petty offences; Release of MSMs from prisons; Reinstating students into hostels who were initially denied hostel accommodation to university students because of their HIV status, etc.
Fig 11: Pictures of some beneficiaries of LA’ free legal services.
The provision of free legal services to SRHR survivors and organizations within the movement has increased the visibility of the conversations around SRHR. This led to Lawyers Alert by invitation, participating in, & training a section of Judges of the federal and state high courts on SRHR.
Capacity building for Judges
In 2018 and in partnership with WARDC, we trained Judges of the federal and state high courts on SRHR. Two judges who attended this training have delivered precedent judgement on SRHR with regard to sexual harassment by lecturers in the universities and men who divorce women in Nigeria. Judges who participated in these trainings delivered critical judgments, to wit; sentencing a lecturer for two years for demanding sex for marks without an option of fine and another court delivered a judgment to the effect that “a husband who marries a wife and builds a house during the pendency of the marriage stands the risk of losing the house if he later divorces the woman who had children for him unless such woman of her own volition, leaves the matrimonial home”.
Lawyers Alert and the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), in partnership with the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), conducted training for Judges and Judicial Panel Members sitting in 30 states in Nigeria in December 2020 to strengthen their capacity to conduct the inquiries effectively. The Judicial Panels of Inquiry were established at National and State levels following the social protest (#ENDSARS protests) on Human Rights violations committed by the now-disbanded Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) in October 2020.
By November 15, 2020, it was reported that thirteen states had received a total of five hundred and eighty-five (585) petitions. The impact of this training for members of the panel as of August 2021 with records/statistics showed that 350 petitions had been concluded at the judicial panels of inquiry and largely satisfactorily for the petitioners. It is also important to note that almost all the states have transmitted their recommendations to the government and petitioners awaiting payment on damages.
Capacity building for Media, Journalists and Key influencers
Our interventions on SRHR over the years evidenced the need to partner with & enhance the capacity of the media, journalists and key influencers given their strategic placings and the dynamics associated with SRHR, its violations, reportage, and survivor protection.
Lawyers Alert has so far trained over 25 journalists and have partners with over 15 celebrities in advancing SRHR in Nigeria.
Fig 12: Pictures from some trainings on SRHR & reportage for journalists in Nigeria.
The impact of this is that the media is beginning to report reproductive rights from a Human Rights perspective and are part of the SRHR Movement in Nigeria. Key influencers, celebrities and opinion leaders now joining the conversation on advancing SRHR in Nigeria
Advocacy remains the bedrock for all Lawyers Alert’ intervention. Undoubtedly there has been a shift in the state of SRHR in Nigeria owing to robust interventions by Lawyers Alert and members of the SRHR Movement especially from the collation and dissemination of verifiable SRHR data.
Lawyers Alert is engaging with especially state and non-state actors towards a reversal in norms and beliefs surrounding SRHR in Nigeria which is a reflection of policymakers wanting to appear to be morally upright and compliant to culture.
Intensive and sustained advocacy in this regard is vital for behaviour change. We are in partnership with the National Agency for the Control of AIDS, NACA, and also in a close working relationship with the Committee on HIV, TB and Other Communicable Diseases in the Federal Parliament.
Lawyers Alert at the Public Hearing on the 2018 budget made presentations and advocated for improved allocations to HIV and related interventions. Our reports are shared with the Parliament. We have engaged Parliamentarians in the sub-region toward a sub-regional shift in laws and policies. Lawyers Alert facilitated members of the SRHR Movement in May 2021, to use the opportunity of the ongoing constitutional review project of the National Assembly to push for the national applicability of the various widely-acclaimed progressive SRHR laws already passed or that may be passed in the future. https://theeagleonline.com.ng/constitutional-review-lawyers-alert-partners-seek-uniform-applicability-of-sexual-health-laws/
Fig 13: Pictures from the public hearing and advocacy visits.
The impact of Lawyers Alert’ Advocacy amongst others ranges from the passage of SRHR favourable laws, for e.g., the VAPP Law and ACJA in Benue, Niger and Bauchi states; becoming monitors for the implementation of the federal government directive to decongest prisons to curb the spread of COVID-19, etc. https://www.thenigerianvoice.com/news/286510/covid19lawyers-alertto-monitor-prison-decongestion.html
Little strides have been accomplished in terms of the SRHR in Nigeria, even though gaps still exist. In sustaining the gains made so far, there exists the need for strengthening small & medium-sized organizations and coordinated advocacy by SRHR-focused organizations towards influencing governments in commensurate ways for the complete enjoyment of SRHR in Nigeria.
Lawyers Alert immensely appreciates AmplifyChange, Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA), Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC), Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) Nigeria office, AIDS and Rights Alliance for Southern Africa (ARASA), HIV Justice, UN Women Nigeria office, The Nigeria Police Force, Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), National Agency for the Control of AIDS (NACA), and others. AmplifyChange, SALC, Rapid Response and others. We remain committed to the vision of the total enjoyment of SRHR by “ALL” in Nigeria.
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