A Brighter Future for Survivors of Gender-based Violence in Benin
A Brighter Future for Survivors of Gender-based Violence in Benin
When USAID’s Integrated Health Services Activity (IHSA) in Benin, implemented by MSH, comes to an end next year, it will leave behind a thriving and sustainable program aimed at holistically helping individuals survive and fully recover from gender-based violence (GBV).
The concept is simple: gather in one place all the services needed by individuals who have experienced GBV, usually women, and provide those services using a person-centered, integrated care-management approach.
The Government of Benin initially set up three dedicated one-stop GBV centers—in the departments of Littoral, Borgou, and Zou—to offer free medical, psychological, and legal services to GBV survivors. However, recognizing that many in need of GBV services live too far away to take advantage of any of the three dedicated centers, IHSA collaborated with Benin’s Directorate for Mother and Child Health to develop a model for providing survivors with that same one-stop convenience and quality of care, only closer to home.
This community-based integrated services model is sustainable because it leverages existing infrastructure and staff and creates a synergy among caretakers who previously worked in silos. In establishing the new system, IHSA trained clinicians and social workers already working in the community to provide confidential medical treatment and psycho-social support services to GBV survivors, while local police officers were equipped with the necessary skills to offer them legal assistance.
How Does the Integrated Services Model Work?
When a person who has experienced GBV comes into a health facility, social promotion center, or police station for help, medical personnel, social workers, and law enforcement officers mobilize so the needed care can be administered, to the extent possible, in the same location at the same time. If the case involves physical or sexual assault, the care generally takes place at the health facility so the GBV survivor can be examined and treated as quickly as possible. The team develops a plan for addressing the survivor’s immediate needs, which usually includes launching a judicial investigation and assessing and confronting any risk factors the survivor could face in going back to her current situation.
This integrated strategy benefits GBV survivors by both considerably reducing the stress and inconvenience of the process and minimizing the chances that they will feel “double victimized” by having to tell their stories multiple times to different service providers.
Since the pilot was launched in Ouémé in 2019, similar systems have been established in the departments of Plateau, Alibori, and Atacora. As of the beginning of 2022, IHSA had trained a total of 687 health care workers, 302 police officers, and 140 social workers in the four departments on standard operating procedures for tending to GBV survivors. Additionally, IHSA holds semi-annual review sessions in each municipality so the various caregivers can discuss any issues they came across during the prior six months. These reviews are conducted in conjunction with the departmental directorates of health and social affairs as well as the police and are aimed at assessing and identifying potential improvements to the program’s strategy.
And the program works. In 2021, 3,900 survivors received medical and psycho-social care and 399 obtained legal support through the community-based model.
Help Moving Forward
The assistance to GBV survivors does not end once those immediate needs are met, though. Besides offering longer-term counseling to aid survivors in overcoming psychological and other issues and, when appropriate, mediation services to help their partners avoid becoming repeat offenders, the final piece of the puzzle for ensuring that GBV survivors can resume their places as full participants in society is to help them attain economic independence.
Each year, the Government of Benin sets aside some financial aid for vulnerable groups, and representatives of the country’s social services centers, or CPS, assist GBV survivors in applying for those benefits. However, that funding is not dedicated to GBV—it is also used to help individuals overcome financial roadblocks stemming from child abuse, poverty, multiple births, illness, orphanhood, and other issues—and therefore is spread too thinly to provide much relief to GBV survivors. In fact, only 6.25% of beneficiaries of such funding in Ouémé in 2018 were GBV survivors.
So, the social workers also help some GBV survivors come up with plans for launching small businesses—such as food processing, hairdressing, sewing, and photography services—of their own.
For those who take part in the entrepreneurship component of the program, IHSA gives participants supplies they need to start up their ventures. For instance, one GBV survivor received everything necessary (a bag of corn, a brick of condensed milk, and six kilograms of peanuts) to begin making and selling corn porridge. She also got entrepreneurship advice and personal finance tips that ultimately helped make her business profitable and allowed her a degree of economic independence.
In the department of Plateau alone, the most recent group of 60 applicants for professional reintegration support saw 53 individuals accepted into the program, and 50 of those were able to start their small businesses. In Atacora, 29 out of 40 GBV survivors (73%) participating in the program have become financially self-reliant, while 44 of the 64 survivors (69%) from the second cohort of program participants in Ouémé have reached that goal.
IHSA has gone beyond offering material support for the development of income-generating activities to teaching basic accounting practices and providing guidance on how to identify any potential roadblocks to making a business profitable. This assistance is offered in collaboration with CPS social workers, who will continue to provide such guidance even after the project ends so GBV survivors who are not yet financially self-sufficient can become so. IHSA currently finances the training as well as the provision of raw materials, but the Directorate for Social Affairs and Micro Financing will take the lead on that once the activity ends.
The main challenge ahead for the program is to find ways to increase the percentage of GBV survivors who benefit from the national relief system. IHSA hopes that the progress made by the project so far will help spur the government to prioritize GBV survivors when deciding how to allocate national relief funds in the future.
But the success of the community-based model is not in question. Currently, all 29 municipalities in Ouémé, Plateau, Alibori, and Atacora have implemented the integrated GBV services model, and plans are in place to expand the program to other departments. So, while IHSA may stop providing its services in Benin in June 2023, it will bequeath to the Directorate for Social Affairs and Micro Financing a treasure trove of knowledge that will help some of the country’s most vulnerable citizens for years to come.