Gender-based violence (GBV) increases during every type of emergency- whether economic crises, conflict or disease outbreaks. Pre-existing toxic social norms and gender inequalities, economic and social stress amplified by the COVID- 19 pandemic restrictions have led to an increase in reported cases of GBV. Many women are ‘locked down’ at home with their abusers while being cut off from normal support services.
The Centre for Environment Human Rights and Development (CEHRD) has therefore observed with so much concern the rise in rape and domestic violence incidences in Nigeria. CEHRD condemns gender-based violence in its entirety especially rape and domestic abuses. The high incidence of rape now that families are sheltering together against the spread of COVID-19 pandemic in the country is condemnable. According to the Nigeria Police report, between January to May 2020, seven hundred and seventeen (717) cases of gender-based violence were recorded. In Rivers state, civil society organizations working on gender have reported over thirty-two (32) cases of domestic and sexual violence while in Bayelsa state, there has been over fifty-eight (58) cases. We believed the reported incidences are grossly higher because the vast majority of cases are not reported due to stigmatization, distrust in the justice system as well as fear of reprisal.
Children are precious gifts that should be protected. Thus, it is worrisome to note that they are also victims. A society that fails to protect her children has also failed to protect its future. We, therefore, urge all citizens to collectively say no to all forms of gender-based violence. Public education on GBV is a requisite tool but we also need to solidify family bonds so that our children and families are able to report violations and also flag off potential predators.
CEHRD urges us as society to have a rethink in our expectations of gender roles. We do so by grooming women who are unafraid to change the narrative. This means training the girl child to think and act without the limitations that culturally prescribed role of gender entrenches. Women must support themselves by encouraging each other and collectively demand for their rights – gender equality. Everyone has a role to play if we will curb this evil of GBV. Law enforcement agencies must ensure that their actions do not further victimize GBV victims. They must enforce the law irrespective of the victim family belief or class of the violators.
The Federal and States government and CSO stakeholders should therefore as a matter of urgency:
· Ensure that all the States in Nigeria domesticate and enforce Violence Against Persons’ Prohibitions (VAPP) Act
· Provide counselling services and other effective remedies to victim of sexual and domestic violence
· Ensure that GBV response services, including justice services are designated as essential and remain open and accessible
· Conduct a rapid GBV-COVID-19 assessment to understand the changing context and any gaps in capacity or services
· Promote the inclusion of organizations that works on gender issues development plan, implementation and monitoring
· Promote and protect human rights throughout COVID-19 pandemic response value chain.
· Ensure emergency COVID-19 related policies and legislation uphold international human rights standards
· Ensure that individuals, especially women can safely avert abusive situations by providing accessible support, advice and reporting mechanism
· Support partnerships and coordination between the Police, the health sector and civil society in providing safe space and justice to victims of sexual and domestic violence
· Ensure that cases such as rape and domestic violence are classified as urgent cases by Courts that have restricted operations due to lockdown.
Gender Officer, CEHRD
About CEHRD’s Gender Programme
CEHRD gender programme aims to integrate equity into policies and practices. Through trainings, CEHRD supports community women to change culturally prescribed roles and become equal partners in development. CEHRD also support institutions like the police and health workers through trainings and workshops. CEHRD institutional support is to ensure that response are gender sensitive and protects and respect human rights. CEHRD is an active campaigner for the domestication of the Violence against Person Prohibition (VAPP).