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COVID-19: Stay-at-home heightening sexual violence against women, girls — Groups





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COVID-19: Stay-at-home heightening sexual violence against women, girls — Groups
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By Joseph Erunke – Abuja

Women groups numbering 286, have alleged increase in sexual violence against women and girls as Nigerians observe the ongoing stay-at-home directives of both federal and state governments over coronavirus outbreak in the country.

To this end, the groups faulted President Muhammad Buhari for failing to direct the setting up of help desks for victims to report cases too, saying victims were going through traumas following the inability of avenues where they can lodge complaints.

A statement Friday, signed by Dr. Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi, Executive Director, Women Advocates Research and Documentation

Centre (WARDC), Saudatu Mahdi, Secretary-General, Women’s Rights Advancement and Protection Alternative (WRAPA) and Joy Ada Onyesoh, Country Director, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, said reports indicated that there was an increase in sexual and gender-based violence.

“We, therefore, call on Nigeria’s Federal and state governments to ensure respect of women’s human rights and protection from gender-based violence within the context of the lockdown in FCT, Lagos and Ogun states, and other states in total or partial lockdown,” they said in the statement.

The groups while expressing concern “that the president’s speech did not address the issue of gender-based violence during this hard time” also alleged that, “There was no mention of the needed measures to monitor and curb the escalation of gender-based violence.”

“Measures that indicate how sexual and gender-based violence victims can access help in the restricted conditions of the lockdown were not included,” it said, urging that, “Essential services and facilities in form of short term (shelters), legal and trauma counselling services when required should be included.”

“As the nation locks down, and in a bid to prevent the pandemic, it is important that these support and protection services are available and accessible so that women are shielded from the risks of transferred aggression in their homes,” the statement said.

According to the women groups,”Focused sensitization and information on essential services are important for women and other marginalized groups who may be in violent situations arising in family settings, neighborhoods or from the actions or inactions of other state and non- state actors.”

“From experience, it is our opinion that in these circumstances it will be more difficult for women to seek help or escape from abusive relationships particularly where they live with the abusive partner during the lockdown”, the statement said, adding that: “Equally worrisome is that children are also open to more violence and will need protection during this period.”

They called on both the federal and state government to designate and strengthen gender desks and family support units within police departments and other departments of governments.

Besides, the groups urged governments to, “Ensure that the family support unit and Gender Desk are provided with effective telephone hotlines that persons with disabilities and vulnerable citizens can report domestic violence or any other gender-based violence and get immediate help.”

They tasked the authorities to also do the following:” Ensure that within and beyond this COVID 19 crises, support resourcing and access are extended to organizations responding to domestic violence to provide assistance, including shelter, counselling, and legal aid to sexual and gender-based violence survivors; “Ensure that in the COVID-19 awareness programs on radio and television, targeted information dissemination on gender-based violence prevention.

“Direct provision of designated public services, including shelters, to remain open and accessible to vulnerable people during this period as essential services.

“Launch and intensify public enlightenment campaigns aimed at preventing and containing the spread of the virus, including sign language, closed caption, and other appropriate means.

“Consult and work with civil society organizations in all initiatives to provide information and services to the public.

“Target persons with special needs providing information and resources to alleviate their vulnerabilities especially those needing shelter (IDPs), migrants, refugees, and neurotypical persons.

“Ensure that pregnant women and other women at risk in hospitals and detention centers, who are at higher risk of contagion during this crisis, enjoy appropriate care to address their needs.

Lastly, we call on Nigeria’s Federal and State Governments to monitor and ensure that restrictions taken in the public interest do not result in any gender-specific harm to women and girls who are already extremely vulnerable and at risk of being denied their basic human rights.”

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Chuka (Webby) Aniemeka

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