When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, experts working in the field of gender-based violence (GBV) mitigation and response noted a significant rise in domestic violence and an increased vulnerability to other forms of GBV including human trafficking, sexual exploitation, financial disempowerment, and early marriage. These vulnerabilities stem from the stresses related to the pandemic, as well as global lockdowns which have resulted in restricted movement and limited access to resources. These issues were exacerbated in developing countries, where persistent electricity shortages strain health care resources and hinder GBV prevention efforts.
In Nigeria’s Lagos State, increased reports of sexual and domestic violence inundated GBV response centers, such as the Cece Yara Foundation and Women at Risk International Foundation (WARIF) Rape Crisis Centre. Maintaining services at these facilities became essential to ensuring the safety and wellbeing of GBV victims and survivors during the lockdown.
Located in the center of Lagos, the Cece Yara Foundation hosts Nigeria’s first 24-hour toll-free child helpline, providing round-the-clock access to trained staff who help children and young people report and prevent child sexual abuse, find resources, or simply listen. Just a few kilometers south, the WARIF Centre is the only facility in Lagos that provides services to assault survivors in a state of over 22 million people.
To ensure these life-saving services remained uninterrupted, both facilities required a reliable power supply.
“Power Africa is committed to advancing gender equality and female empowerment. Finding innovative ways for the energy sector to combat gender-based violence is an important piece of that commitment,” explained Narlene Egu, Energy Advisor, Economic Growth and Environment Office, USAID/Nigeria. “At the onset of the COVID-19 lockdown, we saw an immediate need to provide healthcare and gender-based violence centers with reliable power and knew that we were in a unique position to respond quickly and bring together stakeholder resources to meet this need. By electrifying gender-based violence centers we can expand access to life saving resources.”
To keep these centers operating in Nigeria’s unpredictable electricity environment, Power Africa worked with two private sector companies — ENGIE Energy Access, a Power Africa partner, and Greenlight Planet — to supply 110 solar home system (SHS) units for use in primary health care centers and GBV prevention centers, and for essential workers to use at home.
Upon receiving the donation Mercy, a Cece Yara Child Helpline Counselor, explained, “The solar home system will provide uninterrupted power to ensure that the Cece Yara 24-hour toll-free Child Helpline remains accessible for anyone, children or adults.”
The WARIF Centre Manager, Dr. Aniekan Makanjuola, shared, “The WARIF Rape Crisis Centre is open six days a week, yet a continuous 24-hour supply of electrical power to the center is not guaranteed. The provision of electricity to the center through the solar home systems will ensure guaranteed electricity and the efficient provision of services that require the use of electricity.”
The 10–25-watt systems will allow recipients to extend their working hours, provide uninterrupted essential services and treatments, and make telecommunications services more accessible. For GBV centers, the lighting will not only allow the centers keep their doors open longer each day, but also offer patients a more comfortable environment while at the center.
“Given that the shadow pandemic of gender-based violence has increased in these trying times, it seems imperative and mission-aligned to support facilities and programs that help people that have experienced gender-based violence,” explained Chioma Agogo, Greenlight Planet General Manager, West Africa Partnerships.
Bankole Cardoso, Country Director at ENGIE Energy Access Nigeria, shared: “With our ReadyPay SolarPower, ENGIE Energy Access is committed to improving livelihoods through quality solar home systems and donating solar home systems is one way to show our support to gender-based violence centers. It is vital these centers continue operating during times like these. ”
By equipping essential workers with electricity through SHS units, workers can power mobile devices to ensure access to timely information; allocate more budget to medical supplies, food, and sanitation by alleviating the financial burden of paying for energy; and improve living conditions for stay-home orders in defense against COVID-19. For primary health care centers and GBV centers, these SHS units will ensure that their ability to deliver critical services is not hampered by unreliable power supply.