I recently wrote a report for the VAWG Helpdesk looking at the impact of COVID-19 on violence against women and girls in Nigeria, specifically:
- Trends and patterns
- Women’s meaningful participation in COVID-19 crisis response structures
- Current responses
- Key needs, gaps, and barriers/ challenges
- Opportunities, entry points and recommendations
Violence against women and girls (VAWG) was widespread in Nigeria before COVID-19 and there has been a significant increase during the pandemic. As the evidence base is currently being built, this query relies primarily on interviews with women’s rights activists and government officials and data from VAWG services and that released by government ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs). A full list of respondents is provided in the references section. More information is available about particular regions and types of VAWG. However, a number of organisations are currently gathering and analysing data for the period that covers the pandemic and more information should be forthcoming shortly.
Evidence on how COVID-19 is affecting trends and patterns of violence against different groups of women and girls in Nigeria is summarised below. It is important to note that there are considerable difficulties in safely and accurately collecting data on VAWG due to the ethical and methodological challenges imposed by COVID-19. There are also challenges around interpreting changes in trends and patterns due to both an increase in awareness of how and where to report, but also increased barriers to reporting:
- Intimate partner violence (IPV): Women’s rights organisations and VAWG services report that intra-household tensions have risen during the lockdown and subsequent economic crisis, increasing the likelihood, frequency, and severity of IPV. Husbands can exert coercive and controlling behaviour and seek to escape their breadwinner responsibilities through (threatening) divorce. IPV between young unmarried heterosexual couples has also arisen as young people spend more time at home and if young women wish to end relationships. There are also reports from The Initiative for Equal Rights (TIERs) that physical, emotional and sexual violence within same-sex relationships has increased. Organisations working with sex workers have observed an increase in physical violence by partners as sex workers are no longer providing financially.
- Non-intimate partner (physical and emotional) domestic violence: Levels of physical violence perpetrated by parents against children is likely on the rise but, given barriers children face to reporting and the widespread acceptance of parental violence (within limits), it was not possible to get clear data. Disability rights activists report an increase in family neglect, abuse, and confinement. People with non-normative sexual orientations, gender identities, and gender expressions (SOGIE), forced to spend more time with family, have experienced more abuse. They have been thrown out, forced to move in with abusive ex-partners and given shelter by those who robbed them.
- Sexual violence: VAWG services have observed increased levels of sexual violence against children perpetrated by men of all ages, including father raping daughters. While it is difficult to find data on marital rape, there are indications this violence is increasing as has incidence of corrective rape of lesbian and bisexual women. There is significant risk of survival sex and sexual exploitation due to economic hardship and of increase in rates of unsafe abortion.
- Early and forced marriage: The extent to which the pandemic has affected dynamics around early and forced marriage is, at present, unknown but campaigners worry about a potential increase.
- Female genital mutilation/ cutting (FGM/C): There is little evidence on how COVID-19 and related government measures affect rates of FGM/C but there are indications that it has risen according to anti-FGM/C campaigners.
- Denial of inheritance: Women’s rights organisations report that women whose husbands died during the pandemic have been forced to vacate homes by husbands’ families in the south east.
- Decreased safety of public spaces: An increase in theft, robbery and other criminality has gendered impacts with women and girls experiencing violence and feeling less safe according to women’s rights organisations. People who do not conform to gender-stereotyped dressing see increased harassment and threats. Sex workers also reported increased physical violence.
- Police extortion and violence: Women’s rights activists noted a number of cases where police officers, in collusion with perpetrators, have arrested survivors and extorted money from them. Sex workers have also been affected by police raids on brothels, bars and clubs and crackdown on street sex work. Police officers have engaged in contact tracing of gay, lesbian and bisexual people during the pandemic for purposes of blackmail and extortion.
- Risk of election-related VAWG: There are growing concerns that forthcoming elections in September 2020 in Edo and Ondo states are likely to involve electoral-related VAWG given current political dynamics and already increased VAWG reporting.
- Online VAWG: The pandemic has seen increased levels of cyber-bullying, internet attacks, and slut-shaming of women and girls online. Perpetrators are (threatening to) share personal information, conversations and intimate photographs. Entrapment of gay, lesbian and bisexual people has led to photographs and video shared and used in blackmail. Some social media posts say COVID-19 is a punishment from God for homosexuality and/ or women’s behaviour. Their number, reach, and influence are unknown.
- There are significant risks for women human rights defenders who are subjected to increased trolling, online violence and threats. They also put themselves at risk to respond to survivors and are interacting directly with perpetrators of violence more often.
Women’s meaningful participation in formal decision-making was very low in Nigeria prior to the pandemic and this exclusion continues in COVID-19 response structures. Gender analysis is largely not integrated into planning, implementation, review, and policy-making. Not many programmes are working to increase women’s meaningful participation in decision-making around COVID-19.
Over the pandemic, attention on VAWG has increased. Increased reporting, public discussion, and women’s rights activism has led to improved public awareness, political discussion of VAWG, and the declaration of a state of emergency by the Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF). While VAWG has gained greater public salience, there are few large-scale programmes that improve prevention and response. The Donor Partners Gender Group (DPGG) has been mapping VAWG services and hotlines, identifying the existence of gaps, and developing an overview to track COVID-19 related interventions by members.
COVID-19 has exposed the nature and scale of pre-existing challenges, lack of systems, and the extent to which VAWG is not prioritised. Key needs, gaps and challenges include:
- Narratives around victim-blaming and stigmatisation of survivors which deters reporting.
- Lack of proactive measures on disability inclusion in VAWG work.
- Uneven domestication and application of anti-VAWG legislation across states.
- Many women and girls have limited or no information on access to services.
- Personnel working in VAWG services are concerned about COVID-19 infection.
- Some medical personnel working for VAWG services have been pulled into the COVID-19 response.
- VAWG services, forced to manage with existing staffing, funding and other resources, struggle to meet increased demand.
- Provision of shelter accommodation remains a serious gap.
- Mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) needs have increased but provision of counselling services has been affected by the pandemic.
- Particularly in the early months of the pandemic, the police were focused on enforcing government measures and less available to attend to VAWG reports.
- Courts have struggled to adapt to present realities. They are either no longer operational or have moved to online hearings.
- VAWG services were initially not considered essential services. Despite permits to exempt workers from movement restrictions, they are still questioned and harassed by the police.
- VAWG services were forced to advise women and girls how to protect themselves and to reach out to and stay with neighbours, family and friends rather than providing direct assistance.
- There are many women’s rights organisations working on VAWG service provision and advocacy but there is a need for capacity strengthening and movement building.
- Work on prevention is largely missing or not based on evidence.
- Lack of proper data gathering, collation and analysis is a significant barrier and gap.
- No organisation is engaging meaningfully on protection of women human rights defenders.
- Coordination and funding are still as significant gaps.
You can read the full report here.