Couples should engage in productive things at home
COVID-19 is an unprecedented global pandemic that knows no borders and has not been witnessed in the last 100 years. As this disease takes its devastating toll on humanity, threatening the lives of millions across the world, it is important that coping and mitigating strategy be put in place to help the most vulnerable while the scientific community, advanced countries and the World Health Organisation (WHO) battle to find effective treatment as well as develop a vaccine as a long term solution. However, of serious concern is the growing number of domestic violence as a result of pressures arising from measures taken to deal with the pandemic. Hardly a day passes without reports of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) in major towns and cities across the country.
The Women Aid Collective (WACOL) recorded more than 30 cases of violence against women and girls in the last week of March when the Coronavirus (Covid-19) lockdown started with the stay at home order by the government at the federal and many of the states, as part of preventive measures to curb the pandemic. Some12 cases were also recorded within the first week of April. These cases point to a serious problem of SGBV amid the pandemic for which urgent action is required. It is pertinent to recognise that the most dangerous place in the world for women in abusive relationships during this pandemic is their homes. Couples who cannot stand each other are now forced to co-habit 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The necessity for women in abusive relationships to stay with their abusers has heightened their risk and vulnerability to all forms of violence. The causes include idle stay at home by estranged couples, lockdown of businesses, depleting depleting family finances and increased fear and anxiety over the future and life after Covid-19. Some of the affected persons may be inclined to resorting to unconventional stress inhibitors like illicit drugs and alcohol at this difficult time.
Therefore, part of the unintended consequences of this coronavirus pandemic is a spike in domestic violence-related cases. Facts and figures are already emerging that this is becoming a hot issue globally. It is also becoming a serious challenge in our country. Founded by Prof. Joy Ezeilo, WACOL has received in a period of six weeks since the first index case was reported in Nigeria no fewer than 50 cases of spousal abuses, some very serious. In line with its mission, the charity has been offering free legal aid and safe houses for some of these abused women and girls.
We must commend WACOL which has been at the forefront of advocacy and inclusion in the fight against this pandemic and the protection of women’s rights and vulnerable groups in Nigeria. It has started online services, including operating hotlines that provide quick response to women and girls in difficult circumstances. We enjoin other stakeholders to join in their efforts. Working together we can mitigate the impact of Coronavirus in Nigeria and protect the weakest at this time of a global pandemic.
We advocate the intensification of community sensitisation to prevent SGBV and mobilise support, including shelter, legal and financial assistance for vulnerable women and girls during this lockdown. It is important for couples to avoid needless altercations and instead show tolerance, endurance and love at this period. Understanding that this lockdown is temporary and that everybody will eventually get back their space when it is over remains important. People should find productive things to engage them while at home or in self isolation. The authorities must also be alert to their responsibility of protecting women and girls who constitute the most vulnerable people in a patriarchal society like ours.