Nigeria: Rapid response to protect women during COVID-19 lockdown
As COVID-19 has spread, Alliances for Africa (AfA) has become increasingly concerned about the surge in violence against women and girls in Nigeria. Executive Director Iheoma Obibi said:
“It is clear that the increased rate of violence against women and girls is a result of the effects of the pandemic. There have been increased reports of rape cases, including gang rape and child sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, intimate partner violence, domestic violence, [and] assaults by law enforcement agents coupled with poor access to sexual and reproductive health care.”
She added that women and girls living with abusive partners whose jobs and schools had been their escape route, “now face a dismal few weeks at home with their abusers”.
The AfA-led project – based in Nigeria’s Imo state – is being funded by the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women (UNTF EVAW) under the Spotlight Initiative, and engages government actors, civil society groups and members of communities to better protect women and girls from violence.
The project recognizes that the risk of violence is heightened for those already in vulnerable situations, such as women who are pregnant or homeless or dependent on a daily subsistence wage. When the lockdown abruptly ended their income-generating activities, women and girls become at risk to sexual exploitation. Iheoma Obibi commented:
“Women and girls living on the streets are [subjected to] sexual exploitation, and [without jobs] they are now subject to the worst!”
Many older women and those living with disabilities are facing starvation as food is running out and help is scarce. Some women have jeopardized their health by continuing to work as small traders to feed their families. Even women who can afford food are facing added stresses during the lockdown because they are the principal care providers in the family.
Mila Ioncheva, Programme and Operations Consultant at the UNTF EVAW, shared, “Women and girls are facing a significant rise in the incidents of violence. This extremely worrisome phenomenon combined with the healthcare systems under severe pressure and the soaring unemployment rate as direct results of COVID-19, constitutes the current reality many women’s organizations have to deal with. In the face of adversity many grantees are resorting to unprecedented measures and innovative practices to urgently respond to the needs of their beneficiaries.”
In response to these new challenges since the start of the pandemic, AfA quickly took steps to mitigate risks of violence against women and girls. These include:
- recording incidents of violence against women and girls as well as gender-based violence, including those committed by state actors;
- mobilizing support for the inclusion of women in all COVID-19 taskforce committees in Imo state;
- monitoring the distribution of government relief materials in Imo state to increase accountability and reduce corruption; and
- broadcasting reliable information on COVID-19 to counter misinformation and stop the virus spreading.
AfA’s swift action has further strengthened coalitions between state and civil society actors to address violence against women and girls – a key objective of the Spotlight Initiative.