The Global Partnership to End Violence Against Children has enlisted the human rights activist and founder of Lift Africa Foundation, Aysha Hamman, as ‘End Violence Champion in Nigeria’.
DAILY NIGERIAN reports that Ms Hamman has helped countless young girls continue their education, used her legal skills to secure justice for those experiencing sexual assault, gender-based violence and child marriage in northern Nigeria.
Speaking with end-violence.org, Ms Hamman, who trained as a lawyer, revealed that reoccurring cases of sexual assault against children in the country sparked her interest in human rights advocacy and gender equality.
She said: “My first day in the courtroom, I met children, mostly girls, who had been raped, abused and violated.
“That would happen every day in court, especially young girls being raped by older men. The Human rights activist also added that the stigmatization of sexual assault victims was her inspiration to start her non-profit foundation.
“In Nigeria like the rest of the world, there’s a huge fear of stigmatization and most of the time people don’t want others to know that they were victims of rape.
“There are so many that are not able to speak up.
“There’s a fear that if a girl comes forward about rape, no one would want to marry them, and it would be very difficult for them to get by in their communities.
“Even if you encourage a victim to report and you’re in the process of trying to get justice for them in court, they can withdraw because they are intimidated by their abusers. That was very discouraging and frustrating.
“I started wondering if there was anything I could do to help more. What if I could do something to identify people and support them instead of helping only those that come to the Ministry of Justice for a lawyer?
“There is a need for advocacy, for education.
“In 2018, I founded Lift Africa in the hope that I could help more people understand the impact of rape and sexual violence and provide legal support if they needed it.
“Since then, we’ve expanded to other areas as well. Violence can often happen because of vulnerability, and in many northern areas, we are seeing girls’ exposure to violence rise for different reasons.
“Our first project is called From Streets to Classrooms, targeting girls who had dropped out of school and engaged in street hawking, a practice that makes them vulnerable to many dangers.
“Through that project, we helped send 2,300 children – mostly girls – back to school through scholarships with our partners.
“We also try to reduce vulnerability to violence in other ways, specifically among dispersed populations in Northeastern Nigeria.
“We empower women through food security projects, raise awareness of the issues of sexual violence, and create safe spaces where girls can talk about their experiences.
“We also have a sexual assault referral hotline where we work with traditional and religious leaders to identify cases and refer them to services, including legal support and rape kits via police officers.”
According to the lawyer, her advocacy campaign in rural communities started off rocky, but a partnership with community leaders and other groups helped the foundation to gather an audience.
“The first time we held an advocacy meeting about the importance of sending girls to school, we were quite literally chased out of a village in Adamawa State.
“Young men almost beat us up on our way out. The community didn’t like what we were saying; they thought it was against their culture. We knew we needed to try a different approach.
“We finally connected with a member of the royal family in Nigeria. He held a lot of prestige within the community.
“He spoke with those he knew in the villages we were approaching, connecting with religious leaders, traditional leaders, women and youth groups.
“Because of that, we began getting an audience with community leaders and told them what we wanted to do, why we wanted to do it, and why we needed their help. That changed a lot for us.”
Ms Hamman explained that sensitization campaigns designed to educate people about the trials faced by victims are essential in the country.
She added that the campaigns would encourage victims silenced by the fear of stigmatization to speak out.