The Lawyers Alert SOS USSD code, which was recently introduced to provide aid to victims of Sexual and Gender-Based Violence, appears to be a revolutionary approach; much like the impactful and life-changing various programmes produced by the collaboration between the International Labour Organization (ILO) and labour centres in Nigeria (NLC and TUC) to the benefit of workers (migrant and non-migrants) in Nigeria and by extension, Africa at large.
A humanitarian organization, Lawyers Alert, over the weekend launched a USSD (Unstructured Supplementary Service Data) code; *7006*24#, to improve access to Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) information and services for women and vulnerable groups in Nigeria. The USSD code is focused on bolstering the fight against cases of Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV) in workplaces, homes, markets, and in society. It is also giving a helping hand to the victims of the menace.
Speaking at the launch in Abuja, Lawyers Alert’s Director of Programs, Roseline Oghenebrume, noted that interactions with a number of vulnerable groups had shown that survivors in rural areas found it challenging to seek outside assistance due to either a lack of internet connection, high transportation costs, data usage, or limited mobile airtime.
She continued by saying that the pilot initiative is starting with the five states of Bauchi, Osun, Enugu, Kano, and Benue. Oghenebrume advised anyone in danger of sexual or gender-based abuse to call *7006*24# on a non-internet phone or smartphone to get free, immediate assistance. She also made a suggestion that the service guarantees the security and privacy of any information sent by users.
“Anyone can use this USSD code; whether they are at home, on a farm, at work, etc. It breaks down the barrier preventing victims of sexual and gender-based violence from receiving aid. It provides victims with information and services at no expense at all. No credit, airtime, or phone data is required for victims to access this.”
“The USSD will bridge the gap between service providers and women by providing information on their rights and nearby services such as psychosocial support centres, shelters, health facilities, legal support, etc. It will address information gaps without internet connectivity; acting as a potential barrier. It will aid speedy service delivery because findings have revealed that often, perpetrators of SGBV live under the same roof as the victims.”
She added: “the USSD codes will be invaluable regarding SGBV interventions both at policy and non-governmental levels; being posted in an informed and coordinated manner. We are equally confident that the USSD codes will hopefully create a ripple effect on other Nigerian states and West Africa.”
Solumtochukwu Ozobulu, Legal/Program Officer at Lawyers Alert, noted that the selection of the five states was based on regions where issues like conflict and displacement were driving women and girls to experience greater disadvantage.
She noted that plans were already in motion to expand the intervention to other states and enlist more Local Government Areas. She further stated that the pilot phase was intended to evaluate how the code may benefit women and girls who were at risk of abuse.
“We are aiming at using this code to serve women and girls, specifically victims of SGBV. Lawyers Alert is all about proffering solutions to issues of human rights, etc. So, we are already working with other partners to see how the services provided by this code can be extended to other states; especially in the rural areas and how women and girls can access the services we provide in collaboration with our partners through this code.
“During the conception of this project, we have partners in different states who were sent to map service providers. So we already have service providers who will provide health services, psychosocial services, shelter and legal services. These four services are integrated in the code. So when you use the USSD code and you click the option of service, you will see the four services being provided by the project, that is, health, shelter, psychosocial and legal services.
“If you for example, click shelter, it will bring out all the places we have shelter provision in that state. In a situation where someone is confused or unable to utilise the information session provided in the code, there is a toll free line that the person can call and Lawyers Alert will answer and direct the person,” she said.
On his part, Mr Rommy Mom, the Executive Director, Lawyers Alert, said, “It is important to know that Lawyers Alert has many projects and we are collaborating with different government agencies; ranging from the gender unit of the Nigerian police. We are collaborating with the National Human Rights Commission and NAPTIP and others. So this project simply subsumed into all the other projects we are collaborating with the different government agencies. No project stands alone.”
Amina Garuba, Team Lead at the Ikra Foundation for Women and Youth Development in Bauchi State, claimed that the USSD code will better assist the weak at the local level by enabling them to access services that they had previously been unable to. We are eager to provide the best care possible to SGBV survivors in Bauchi State.