Bol, Lac province, 5 December 2022 – For the past four years, Achta has dedicated her life to lifting rural Chadian women’s voices in their struggle to end gender-based violence (GBV) and inequality.
As the chair of the local Association of Women Paralegals of the city of Bol, in Chad’s Lac province, her mission is clear and simple: to change mentalities and negative attitudes towards women.
The group brings together 20 women trained in counselling and psychosocial first aid to survivors of gender-based violence in the community.
“We created the association in 2018 because we wanted to change the future of our children. We didn’t want them to go through the same experiences that we and our parents went through.”
Today, the Association has become one of the most prominent organizations helping survivors of gender-based violence rebuild their lives, providing them with counselling and referral to health and legal services.
In Chad, more than a third of women aged 15 to 49 who are not single have survived physical, psychological, or sexual violence committed by a close relative, according to a 2015 report by the National Statistics Institute.
This incidence tends to be higher in rural areas like Bol, where social constraints and the lack of dedicated counselling structures limit access to medical, legal and psychosocial services for survivors of gender-based violence.
According to a supervisor of GBV care services, an alarmingly high caseload of gender-based violence such as early marriages, forced marriages, rape, denial of resources and education and many others, has been recorded in the city since the beginning of the year.
“At the beginning, it was not easy,” Achta remembers candidly. “We started meetings in my own house because we did not have a space where we could meet, and my husband used to tease me, saying that we would create problems in the community.”
To address this gap, between 2020 and 2021, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) rehabilitated four community counselling centres across the Lac province to provide communities with safe spaces for open discussions and trained 75 female paralegals in psychological first aid techniques and counselling.
At the Bol listening centre, Achta regularly meets with young girls and women survivors to offer her listening ear and social support.
“When survivors come to us, they carry a burden they want to get rid of. So, our job is not just to listen to them, but also to save them,” says Achta.
The association’s paralegals have also been provided with mobile phones to follow up on cases as needed. This has strengthened care services, with a follow-up and referral mechanism that saves time and allows them to be more responsive.
The association conducts regular community outreach and dialogues to raise awareness and foster a change in behaviour towards women.
“It is ignorance that drives some people to abuse their daughters and wives. How can a man leave his wife in labour for three or four days at home when the health centre is only a few steps away?” she says.
Despite the many challenges, Achta remains confident and optimistic. Already, she has observed a decrease in the rate of unintended pregnancies among local youths which she attributes, in part, to the work the association has been doing.
“Some people say that these are our customs and habits, and that we cannot change them, but that is not true. We are not born with our habits; habits are behaviour and behaviour can change”, she adds.
Since 2020, IOM has endeavoured to mainstream the fight against gender-based violence in its emergency and community stabilization programmes in Chad’s Lac province. Through partnerships with local actors such as the Association of Female Paralegals and the Chadian Red Cross, survivors now have greater access to information, counselling and referral to health and legal services.