Around the globe, the COVID-19 pandemic is impacting women and men differently. Gender inequalities are typically worsened by crises and the coronavirus context is no different as women are hit harder by the effects of COVID-19. Women make up 70% of the world’s health sector, bear the responsibility of unpaid care work, and are likely to face increased levels of domestic and sexual violence.
In Nigeria, the National Centre for Diseases Control (NCDC) reports that the bulk of confirmed cases of COVID-19 are domiciled in Lagos. The Lagos State Government has taken proactive steps to prevent and limit the further spread of COVID-19 within the state. Civil servants from Grade Level 12 and below have been mandated to stay at home, while markets have been closed and several businesses shut down in a bid to contain the health pandemic. The President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in his state media broadcast, also ordered a mandatory lockdown of all activities except essential services in Lagos, Ogun and the Federal Capital Territory from the 30th of March 2020.
The implications for survivors of violence against women and girls (VAWG) are immense. For many women and girls, they will remain trapped at home with their abusers as the state is placed under mandatory lockdown. Recognizing this danger posed to survivors of VAWG, management of the Mirabel Centre; a Sexual Assault Referral Centre, made the critical decision to remain open daily from 10am - 2pm. Since the lockdown began on 23rd March 2020, the centre has provided services to over fifteen clients, within just a 4-day period. Most of these cases have been incidences of defilement. There are growing concerns that the lock-down will lead to an increase in rape and other forms of sexual violence as survivors remain in close proximity with perpetrators over a prolonged period of time.
The recorded cases show an increase in the level of reporting as it concerns survivors of sexual violence. It is also possible to infer linkage between kids being out of school due to the en-forced lockdown and the increase in reported cases. As the data from China on COVID and violence against women and girls has shown, it is extremely likely that we will continue to witness a
surge in the cases of violence against women and girls during the lockdown and there must be response strategies in place to address the gendered implications of the pandemic.
Amidst the COVID crisis, there are critical concerns as refuges for survivors of violence such as the Mirabel Centre struggle to remain open. While there are available essential health sup-plies such as hand sanitizers and masks, other challenges abound. It is exceedingly more costly to stock up on these supplies as prices have surged beyond 1000%. Public hospital laboratories are also closed which means medical tests have to be carried out in private laboratories which are not more expensive but also carry lower guarantees of professionalism and confidentiality of information.
Over the past few days, the Mirabel Centre has reported three additional cases of sexual violence against adult women. Due to the lockdown, counseling had to take place over the phone as the only staff working from the centre presently is doctors. In addition, the centre depends on other agencies to provide services to clients which are outside their scope of engagement. Where these agencies have shut down either due to government directives or protection measures for staff, it has become more difficult to make the necessary referrals. The Lagos State Domestic and Sexual Violence Response Team (DSVRT) and government shelters have since been shut down.
The lockdown in Lagos carries severe consequences as the Lagos State government has stipulated one-month imprisonment or three months of community service for anyone who violates the stay-at-home order. If the lockdown continues and the number of incidences continues to rise, it may become extremely difficult for centers to respond effectively per the demand. This is even more evident with the shutdown of the DSVRT that should be at the fore-front of responding to incidences of VAWG during this period. In addition, it will be extremely difficult for staff, especially the medical and counseling professionals, to commute to the centre daily, as transport service providers remain scarce.
A gender-responsive strategy must be underscored by the government and all stakeholders in dealing with the fall-out of the COVID-19 crisis. This includes the prioritization of gender-based violence (GBV) Centres as essential services, as well as the inclusion of women in decision-making to ensure that valid gender concerns are adequately captured. UN Women is currently negotiating with state governments for the provision of government-branded vehicles and drivers to aid the movement of staff at the Centres.
Source: United Nations' Newsletter March 2020 Edition.