Affiliated organization : PARTNERS, West Africa Nigeria
Type of publication : Assessment
Date of publication : April 23, 2020
Nigeria received its first confirmed case of the Corona virus on the 27th of February 2020 in Lagos state. The index case was an Italian citizen who works in Nigeria and returned from Milan, Italy to Lagos, Nigeria on the 25th of February 2020. He was confirmed by the Virology Laboratory of the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, part of the Laboratory Network of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control. Since then, the pandemic has spread to 26 of the 36 states, with 873 confirmed cases, including 504 in Lagos, 119 in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), and 73 in Kano.
As the disease continues to spread across the nation, the Federal and State Governments have put into place structures to reduce the spread, and ‘flatten the curve’. These include the shutting down of all educational institutions, restrictions on large public gatherings, and social distancing. Most significant however, is the restriction of movement instituted by the President in the FCT, Lagos and Ogun states5. Businesses and companies have been shut down, and residents have been instructed to only come out for the purchase of essential materials e.g food and medication, and at stipulated times.
While the restrictions on movement are a necessary preventative measure, certain considerations should be given to the ripple effects it will have on the lives of affected Nigerians, especially vulnerable populations such as women, children and persons living with disabilities. Women are always more greatly affected in emergency situations and disasters, and a pandemic of this nature is no exception. According to a UN Women report titled, COVID-19 and Ending Violence Against Women and Girls’, emerging data shows that since the outbreak of COVID-19, violence against women and girls (VAWG), and particularly domestic violence, has intensified.
There has been an increase in the rate of reported cases (of SGBV). I am currently handling a case of rape… It has been transferred to force CID for prosecution. The lockdown has lowered economic activities for everyone but women are feeling the impact more because the larger percentage of people in poverty are women
In France and Argentina, reports of domestic violence and emergency calls for domestic violence cases have increased by 30% and 25% respectively since the lockdown on March 17. In Cyprus and Singapore, helplines have registered an increase in calls of 30% and 33%, respectively, and there have been increased cases of domestic violence and demand for emergency shelter in Canada, Germany, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States. In Nigeria, reports of rape and sexual violence have increased over the past few months.
Impacts of the pandemic in FCT, Borno and Kano states
A situational analysis was conducted to gain insight into the impacts of the virus on the lives of women in the three states. In addition to this, first hand opinions were obtained from women across the 6 states including medical personnel, petty traders, market women, students and law enforcement.
Reports of Sexual Gender Based Violence in the FCT have increased since movement restrictions were put in place. According to the Special Adviser to the Chairman of Abuja Municipal Area Council (AMAC), and representative of the social welfare unit, “There has been an increase in the rate of reported cases (of SGBV). I am currently handling a case of rape… It has been transferred to force CID for prosecution. The lockdown has lowered economic activities for everyone but women are feeling the impact more because the larger percentage of people in poverty are women. Most women rely on daily income to feed their families; women are forced to be on lockdown with their abuser because of no movement and no available alternatives causing them to endure violence”. A respondent from Kano stated that a friend of hers was raped; the case has been reported to the police, and the perpetrator arrested.
In Lagos, according to the Domestic and Sexual Violence Response team (DSVRT)18, the number of domestic and sexual abuse cases being reported daily has increased by as much as 50% since the Coronavirus lockdown started. According to the LSDSVRT, before the lockdown they received 8 domestic abuse cases daily but now that number has increased by 50% as the lockdown has made it difficult for victims at home to avoid their abusers. According to the coordinator of the DSVRT, “Because of this pandemic, we had to include two other hotlines and we have our USSD short code that people are taking advantage of to report, as well as social media.”
Some respondents in the FCT opined that the neighborhoods are more secure, because of the increased security presence as a result of the movement restrictions. This seems to be contrary to the experience in Lagos and Ogun states where there have been numerous incidences of armed robbery attacks over the past few weeks. In Delta state, an extension of the lockdown by two weeks caused residents of Sapele, including market women, to demand for the provision of palliatives to cushion the effect of the lockdown.
There is a need for a gender sensitive approach to all palliative measures instituted; to mitigate women’s economic dependence on men which sometimes exacerbates domestic violence, governments should target individuals rather than households when implementing direct cash transfers
How can living conditions of women be improved in the lockdown?
The following recommendations can be taken into consideration to ensure safety, security and improved quality of life for women during the lockdown:
- As stay-at-home orders expand to contain the spread of the virus, women with violent partners increasingly find themselves isolated from the people and resources that can help them. Globally, 18% of ever-partnered women and girls aged 15–49 have experienced physical and/or sexual violence at the hands of a current or previous partner in the previous 12 months. Governments must include essential services to address violence in COVID-19 response plans, ensuring that violence survivors have access to hotlines, shelters and other protection services in the context of social distancing. Police should also continue to prioritize reports of domestic violence.
- Civil Society Organizations especially those that focus on the safety and security of women can continue to create awareness on available mechanisms for reporting of such cases, as well making reporting mechanisms more accessible. PWAN has compiled a list of organizations, including relevant desks of the Nigeria Police Force were such cases can be reported23. PWAN through its Public Defenders Office in Kano state, and Public Defenders Unit in the FCT continues to provide support for victims of all forms sexual and gender-based violence.
- As the lockdown is still in place, and because SGBV cases are mostly perpetrated by individuals that survivors are closest to, we encourage families to be vigilant and observant of their environments to prevent likely occurrences of SGBV. Families should be watchful of the behaviors and movements of their children and importantly report any case of SGBV to the security agencies, human rights organizations or NGOs across the country.
During his Presidential address on 13th April 2020, President Muhammad Buhari stated that palliative measures earlier announced would be sustained, and also directed that the current social register be expanded from 2.6 million households to 3.6 million households in the next two weeks. There is a need for a gender sensitive approach to all palliative measures instituted; to mitigate women’s economic dependence on men which sometimes exacerbates domestic violence, governments should target individuals rather than households when implementing direct cash transfers. Policies should also address vulnerabilities of the extreme poor living in settings with inadequate water, sanitation and hygiene facilities.
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