Strict restrictions placed on women rights organisations during the COVID-19 lockdown led to an increase in sexual and gender-based violence.
The Executive Director of Women’s Rights and Health Project (WRAHP), Bose Ironsi, said this at a one-day virtual civil society storytelling event that was held to mark this year’s 16 days of activism against gender-based violence (GBV).
Mrs Ironsi said the campaign against sexual and gender-based violence was not considered as an essential service, hence the huge gap in women and girls-related issues during the lockdown.
She said the ministry of women’s affairs and youth meant to protect the vulnerable were not also part of the COVID-19 response team.
“Women groups could not move to help others because of the lockdown. We tried all our best to get a pass but SGBV wasn’t considered essential during this period,” she said.
As everyone retreated to their homes due to the lockdown measures introduced to limit the COVID-19 pandemic, reports showed an increase in violence against women, especially in rural communities.
The Minister of Women Affairs and Social Development, Pauline Tallen, had in June said over 3,600 rape cases were recorded across Nigeria during the lockdown.
The perpetrators in these cases have included family members, neighbours, landlords, the police and other security forces.
The 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence campaign is a programme of Agents
for Citizen-Driven Transformation (ACT) funded by the European Union (EU) and holds from 25 November to 10 December.
This year’s campaign against gender-based violence initiated by the United Nations came under the global theme: “Orange the World: Fund, Respond, Prevent, Collect!”
ACT partners joined the movement with the advocacy theme: Share to Support and Prevent.
Mrs Ironsi noted that the pandemic affected every sphere of human lives.
She said due to the pandemic, survivors of gender-based violence were forced to isolate with their perpetrators.
She, however, said the government failed to put mechanisms in place to ensure the proper implementation of international and regional conventions and treaties that guarantees the rights of women and children.
“Provisions for women on the frontline of the response were lacking. In the face of the pandemic, we recorded an alarming rate of sexual and gender-based violence,” she said.
The Chief Executive Officer, Comfort Literacy Interventions and Capacity Enhancement (CLICE) Foundation, Comfort Onyaga, also said the lockdown prevented them from assisting victims of abuse.
She said lots of people in Rivers state reached out to her foundation during the period of restricted movement in the state.
She also noted that the economic impact of the pandemic led to severe violence in some homes.
A member of the child protection network in Sokoto state, Mainasara Umar, said the COVID-19 pandemic exposed children to lots of negative activities, including non-access to education.
He, however, said his network worked on some innovations to address and eliminate these ills.
“Some efforts include a robust synergy between CSOs, the media, security operatives, women groups, traditional and religious leaders.
“Also, the implementation of the EU-UN Spotlight Initiative has helped a lot towards addressing GBV cases in Sokoto State,” he said.
Mr Umar said the culture of silence from abused victims is no longer a problem as more people have learnt to speak up.
“This is confirmed by the number of cases reported in communities,” he said.
He called for increased awareness of issues surrounding SGBV, especially in hard to reach communities.
He also appealed to state governments to provide adequate budgets to support victims of SGBV.
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