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After her stellar contributions to our "We Must Do Better" Listening Session with UNICEF earlier this month, VOICE caught up with Mariam Aliyu, the founder and executive director of  LETSAI, an organization supporting women in communities in Northern Nigeria. We wanted to learn more about her brilliant work as a youth leader, and ask a few follow up questions from our conversation. 
Q: Tell us more about LETSAI, and the work you do with violence against women in Northern Nigeria.

Learning Through Skills Acquisition Initiative (LETSAI) is a non-governmental organization registered with cooperate affairs commission of Nigeria. LETSAI particularly targets women, youth and children. We educate women and men on gender-based violence through trainings and community awareness programs. We provide case management of rape cases, working with the police, doctors and lawyers to ensure that survivors are taken care of and justice is served.  We also engage men, especially religious and community leaders, in gender inclusive learning programming.

We help provide sustainable livelihoods through women empowerment skills acquisition programs, where trainers are hired to ensure that within a period of three months beneficiaries can learn and utilize a skill of their choice. We also provide mental health and psychosocial support through counseling sessions, survivor to survivor methods, referrals to hospitals for admissions, rehabilitation and provision of food and other necessities. We conduct community-based mental health outreach and education.

LETSAI also enhances women’s participation in peace-building processes at community level, engaging interfaith approaches to peace-building where conflicts are settled at community level to prevent escalation. Organizing a unifying sport activity for community cohesion amongst the youths in the community.


Q: In your opinion Mariam, why is it important to listen to youth-led organizations like LETSAI on issues of violence against women and girls?

Both empirically and anecdotally, youths are usually the most affected by gender-based violence, looking at the demography and context, be it adolescent girls or young adult women in displaced settings like camps and host communities. The level of understanding by youths for their fellow youths is different and cannot be compared to youths and older adults. We understand the trauma and stigma, the confidence that comes with trusting a fellow youth to share your pains provides healing from trauma. So, yes it is very important to listen to youth led organizations as we understand the situation better and provide a much better approach to trauma healing with easier access to the youths.

Q: What are some of the most prominent trends you are seeing with your work as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic?

The most prominent trends I have seen as a result of the pandemic are increased instances of gender-based violence. LETSAI alone received over 145 rape cases within six months of the pandemic, particularly the north east. As a matter of fact, that is the highest report we have ever gotten, where majority of perpetrators were family members. I also received massive reports of intimate partner violence. More so, increased teenage pregnancy where perpetrators are elderly members of the community.

Q: What is the best way for aid organizations to engage with groups like LETSAI who are active on the ground?

First things first, the donor needs to give us a chance irrespective of our age, and understand that as a youth-led civil society organization (CSO) we cannot compete with international organizations in terms of expertise. But we do have experience. We need to be mentored and supported; the high donor expectations of us are sometimes depressing. Eligibility criteria for donor funding should be made to consider at least 50% women-led CSOs. The pandemic has placed women in a position where they are juggling between family-care and working full time from home, this therefore reduces our ability to meet the donor’s demands or compete for other opportunities.
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DID YOU MISS IT? We had a great discussion with our panelists about the ways in which the humanitarian aid sector "must do better" for women and girl-led organizations during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond. Catch up with the listening session recording, now playing on the VOICE YouTube page!

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The #COVID19 pandemic has exposed the enormous responsibilities women and girls around the world are facing when it comes to care work. In most cases, their work is unpaid. Our research found that women whose levels of caregiving are increasing in their private lives are meeting similar demands for their skills and work in their public roles, with little or no support in either domain. #WeMustDoBetter takes a closer look at the enormous burden society continues to place on women around the world.
 

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