Women rights groups, including 283 organisations, have urged the Federal Government to prepare for the likely surge in cases of sexual and gender-based violence resulting from the coronavirus lockdown.
The President General Muhammadu Buhari had, on March 29, ordered the lockdown of Lagos, Ogun and the Federal Capital Territory for an initial period of 14 days. Some states have taken similar action.
The activists made the call in a joint statement by the Executive Director, Women Advocates Research and Documentation Centre, Dr Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi; Secretary General, Women’s Rights Advancement and Protection Alternative, Saudatu Mahdi; and the Country Director, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, Dr Joy Onyesoh.
The statement read, “While the ‘stay-at-home’ order serves to protect families from the disease, it has the tendency to worsen sexual and gender-based violence against women and girls.
“Experience from other countries, like China, shows a corresponding rise in the number of women reporting increased incidents of domestic violence. Tension arising from the economic impact of the lockdown such as reduced income and financial difficulties are contributing to this surge.
“The President acknowledged that the restrictions would impose hardship on Nigerians but emphasised that the pandemic was a matter of life and death. In some instances, sexual and gender-based violence is a matter of life and death in Nigeria.”
According to the activists, reports and evidence from the work of many of the undersigned groups affirm the claim.
They said pre-existing economic hardships, where an estimated 91 million citizens lived below global daily survival benchmark, was already bad enough.
They added that it was only a matter of time before the violence would rise beyond the current index of one-in-three Nigerian women and girls experiencing SGBV in private and public spaces.
“We therefore call on Nigeria’s federal and state governments to ensure respect of women’s rights and protection from gender-based violence within the context of the lockdown in the FCT, Lagos and Ogun states, and other states in total or partial lockdown,” they stated.
The groups urged government to respond to potential risks and challenges by, among other things, designating and strengthening gender desks and family support units within police departments and other departments of government.
They also called for the provision of family support units and gender desks with effective telephone hotlines that persons with disabilities and vulnerable citizens could report domestic violence or any other gender-based violence for immediate help.