SARRA Project


HAI runs a two-year project in Nigeria captioned “Sexual and Reproductive Rights for All, SARRA), with funding from the Kingdom of Netherlands. SARRA is an inclusive, intersectional human rights and movement-building project to reach 8000 marginalized women and girls with reproductive health information and services. To implement this project HAI builds the capacity of grassroot organizations – Mistletoe Community Health and Rights Initiative (MCHARI) in Lagos and Global Women Health, Rights, Empowerment Initiative (GWHREI) in Benue, who are best positioned to mobilize their peers around sexual and reproductive health issues and, ultimately, call upon national and global policymakers and service providers to serve all with respect and equity. In line with the Netherlands’ human rights policy of “Justice and Respect for All”, this project empowers marginalized women, regardless of social status, sexual orientation and gender identity, to secure their sexual and reproductive health and rights. Part of marginalized women empowered within this project include those live with disabilities, who engage in transactional sex and those who use drugs and alcohol.

In the course of its implementation, SARRA pilots and documents promising practices to advance the rights of these marginalized communities, developing the foundation for locally driven advocacy, and launching models for increased collaboration between sexual and reproductive health services to be scaled up in the future.

Heartland Alliance International (HAI) is the global arm of Heartland Alliance for Human needs & Human Rights, a family of organizations that has been leading anti-poverty and social justice work in Chicago for more than 125 years. HAI implements programs in nearly a dozen countries on a range of global human issues, providing mental health and psychological services, high-quality stigma free sexual and reproductive healthcare and access to justice for victims of conflict, displacement or abuse. HAI’s mission is to ensure the safety of people whose rights are violated and empower them to actively engage in their communities and drive social change. Across all programs, HAI promotes progressive, innovative approaches to human rights protections and gender equity. In Nigeria HAI has been in the forefront of the country’s efforts to halt the epidemic of HIV/AIDS among key population (KP) since 2008, “green housing” a number of KP led organizations, notably drug users, sex workers and LGBT organizations who take an active part in service delivery.

Within the two-year period of its existence, SARRA Project has achieved the following results:

  • Sensitized 12,538 Female Sex Workers (FSW), 71 Women with Disabilities, and 46 Female Drug Users (FDUs) in 10 Local Government Areas (LGAs) on SRHR issues.
  • Screened and treated 688 cases of STIs through the community led medical outreach.
  • Provided mental health and psychosocial services to 17 sex workers and 31 women who use drugs.
  • Reached 633 female sex workers, 9 women with disabilities and 4 female drug users with family planning commodities and services.
  • Distributed 22,126 condoms, 4,467 sanitary products (Dettol, sanitary pads, tissue papers, detergents), to program participants across the 10 program LGAs.
  • Identified and provided GBV response services to 110 women and girls who experienced gender-based violence (GBV).
  • Mobilized GBV support groups to host community exchanges in a safe space, share experiences and promote each other’s skills to prevent, identify and respond to violence.
  • Conducted technical trainings on program management and organizational leadership for its Local Implementing Partner (LIP) – Global Women Health, Rights and Empowerment Initiative (GWHREI) and Mistletoes Community Health and Right Initiative (MCHARI)
  • Created and helped the LIP design reporting tools, education and informational materials for awareness raising and publicity on SRH targeted at stakeholders and benefitting communities.

The following are some specific successes through engagement with relevant stakeholders and agencies within the project:

  • HAI Benue State, through advocacy secured 2 office AT NO COST TO HAI from the state, precisely, the Benue State Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development and the Benue State Agency for the Control of AIDS (BenSACA). The office spaces have been furnished and currently in use by HAI. The state office plans to furnish the accommodation at the Women Affairs GBV Centre to function as a mini one-stop-shop for the SARRA Project.
  • HAI Benue State has successfully supported the state, through her Ministry of Health, to domesticate the National Reproductive Health Policy and produce the Benue State Policy on Reproductive Health (2021 – 2025). The document is currently undergoing a cleaning process after which it would be presented to the State House of Assembly for ratification and would become a roadmap for action to improve the sexual and reproductive health of marginalized women and girls specifically, and other populations in Benue State. It would also be an advocacy tool for HAI, civil society organizations in the state and other stakeholders to continue to demand improvement of the reproductive health situation of marginalized groups in the state.
  • HAI Benue state has successfully signed a memorandum of understanding with the Benue State Primary Healthcare Board for joint service provision to program participants. Part of the agreement provides for the conduct of SRH outreaches under the SARRA within PHC facilities at the LGAs with staff of the PHCs supporting the process and also for the provision of family planning/birth control commodities and other specified services free of charge for program participants during the outreaches. The MoU also provides for the PHCB participation in the monitoring of the SARRA Project and the provision of written feedbacks to HAI to inform program strengthening.
  • The project has established working relationship with AIDS Healthcare Foundation for provision of free condoms during the SRH outreaches in the 10 project LGAs. Condoms supply are also received from UNFPA in the state to support the project.
  • The project has been able to set up an advocacy movement made up of partners who are passionate about improving the health and wellbeing of vulnerable women and girls. With the passion and commitment of all members of the team, we foresee a situation where all stakeholders in the state bring women and girls’ SRH issues to the front burner and give it the proper attention and funding that it deserves.
  • HAI Benue State is currently recognized in the state as the leading partner in SRH issues of women and girls. Partners are willing to follow the lead and contribute in any way possible to achieve success. The signed communique from the International Women’s Day event is a proof of commitment by the stakeholders.
  • HAI Benue State has achieved some level of integration of the project into the programs of some government ministries, departments and agencies in the state. With the Directors of Primary Health Care Board of some program LGAs getting involved in service delivery and monitoring of SRH outreaches on the SARRA Projects, they are getting familiar with the FSW community and are also better understanding the SRH needs of marginalized women (FDUs, WWDs, FSWs etc) and also appreciating the need to focus on them. With this development and the upcoming policy document, we foresee a situation where all stakeholders in the state bring women and girls’ SRH issues to the front burner and give it the proper attention and funding that it deserves.

Some stories of Change

  • Dooshima’s Story: Dooshima (not real name) is a female sex worker and also a drug user that resides in Ukum. She is pregnant and has recently developed a mental disorder. She also recently tested for HIV and the result came out positive. Her sexual partner who she cohabits with sent her out of the house as a result of her HIV status and that made her homeless. Out of frustration, she returned the HIV treatment drug given her to the Primary Health Care Facility. When the case came to the notice of her CHEW on the SARRA Project, an alternative shelter was provided for Dooshima and the CHEW escorted her to the PHC to request for her drug back. The nurse at the facility refused to put Dooshima back on treatment. During the Stakeholders Meeting between the SARRA team and Directors of PHCs in Benue State, the case was reported and the Director of PHC Services in Ukum took the case up. Currently, Dooshima has been successfully returned to treatment and is doing well in her foster shelter. Mental Health Services are being sought for her to enable her have a good state of mind to nurture her pregnancy till delivery.
  • Seember is a 25-year-old FSW at Farmers brothel Makurdi. Seember was Falsely accused of having sex with a minor who she had never seen before nor had any dealings with but was falsely accused because the area boys were looking for a way to get money off the brothel owner. Based on this, Seember was assaulted and molested by area boys at her brothel. This case was reported to the gender-based violence program officer of G-WHREI who immediately swung into action and mobilized help from Lawyers Alert – a partnering collective of lawyers in the state. Seember was very happy with the way the incidence was handled and she was vindicated. In her words, she said: “I cannot believe that someone like me, an ‘Ashawo’ (derogatory term for female sex worker) have people that love me and even went to the extent of giving me a lawyer to stand by me, without having to pay anything for his services. I would have been killed by area boys but for your intervention…. Now I believe that I am not alone… I have a shoulder to lean on… people that truly care…Thank you SARRA Project, thank you Heartland Alliance International, thank you Global women, thank you Barrister”.
  • Janet is a Female sex worker in Buruku LGA and a SARRA Project participant. During the SRH clinic, Janet accessed family planning services. She is happy that she can protect herself from unplanned pregnancy most especially with her special boyfriend.
  • A female sex worker in Logo LGA said in her words “SARRA project has helped me change the way I take care of myself during menstruation. I used to wash my vagina with soap but after my sessions with the CHEW I learnt it is harmful to use soap”. Janet has stopped using soap and other harmful chemicals to wash her vagina and has improved on her sexual health and menstrual hygiene.
  • Sharter Juliet is a Female sex worker based in Zaki-biam in Ukum LGA who was provided STI treatment service during a recent outreach. According to her words “I am very happy because I have been battling with sexually transmitted infection for a while now but ashamed to go for help, SARRA medical team came and helped me out; they screened me and gave me drugs for free and also taught me how to take good care of myself to avoid re-infection.

Since the inception of SARRA, marginalized women and girls participating in the project across the 23 Local Government Areas in Benue and Lagos state have shown increased knowledge on their sexual and reproductive needs and rights; about 500 of them voluntary started using family planning options that now prevent them from unwanted pregnancies and its related complications coupled with societal shame and stigma. Program participants are now able to identify Gender Based Violence and other forms of human rights abuses, that they had previously normalized, as violations of their human rights. Through the GBV support group meetings, SARRA has helped create safe spaces for them to engage and meet peers as well as other trusted adults in conversations around their physical, mental, social, sexual and reproductive health concerns. Finally, majority of participants are speaking out on abuse. Increased access to public health facilities, health seeking behavior and sharing their own stories are part of their healing and empowerment process.