On the occasion of the 2020 World Humanitarian Day, the National Commission for Refugees, Migrants and Internally Displaced Persons organised an e-conference where global humanitarian stakeholders dissected the many challenges triggered by Covid-19 and the way forward. Their verdict: although pandemic affects everyone and group, internally displaced and refugee women and girls are the worst-hit, writes Olaoluwakitan Babatunde
According to a Fijian proverb, life is like this: sometimes sunshine, sometimes rain. However, as the English would say, when it rains, it pours. And it has been pouring on Nigeria’s internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees, especially women and girls.
Beaten mercilessly by the rains of insurgency, banditry, communal clashes, herder-farmers clashes, and sometimes flooding, they have battled for survival in about 26 IDP and refugee camps across the country. Then came the Coronavirus pandemic, unannounced, and viciously.
However, when it rains on your neighbours roof, your feet also get wetted. In a highly globalised world, friends of Nigeria also share the burdens and concerns over the wellbeing of the millions of displaced in Nigeria. It was not surprising, therefore, that the international humanitarian community rallied round the country at the e-conferencethemed “Building the Resilience of Internally Displaced and Refugee Women and Girls in the COVID-19 Era” organised by the National Commission for Refugees, Migrants, Internally Displaced Persons,NCFRMI, to commemorate the 2020 World Humanitarian Day and also brainstorm on the welfare of this highly vulnerable community.
Laying the groundwork, the moderators – former Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations, Nigel Fisher and the Deputy Director (IDPs) at the NCFRMI, Fatima Mamman-Daura – recalled that while the pandemic had continued to take tolls on all segments of humanity, the IDPs and refugees have been worse off.
Fisher, who joined from Canada, said: “While Covid-19 makes no distinction between social and economic status, there is no doubt that once again, as in any emergency, the poorest and the most disadvantaged are disproportionately affected, and among them women and girls in particular.
“Our focus today is how to support displaced women and girls to be resilient, to maintain their dignity, to be able to assert their rights, and to support their health and protection in its widest sense in this era of COVID-19.
“We have to address the risks that they face in the context of the overall security situation and exposure to abuse or violence in their immediate environments; their access to basic healthcare and community services; their protection from communicable diseases, above all Covid-19; their access to clean water, adequate sanitation, basic food and nutrition for themselves and their children; their ability to maintain decent hygiene; and their economic roles and livelihoods without which their exposure to risks increases significantly”.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, UNHR, which opened the floor, noted that IDP and refugee women and girls were targets of attacks and abductions while going out of the camps to perform their daily livelihood and household activities such as farming and fetching of firewood.
“In normal crisis situations, movement is restricted. But with Covid-19, restrictions have increased. IDPs and refugees cannot move freely, especially outside the camps where they have access to jobs and livelihood opportunities. Our recent study shows that family livelihoods have been impacted.
“Women also suffer a lot from destruction of properties and shelters and the risk of abuse and gender based violence also increase.
“Again, we know that with Covid-19, most of humanitarian workers have reduced their presence. We know we can no more access the refugee and IDP camps. When the presence of the protection actors is also reduced by Covid-19, the risks are high”, UNHCR Deputy Representative for Nigeria, Mr. Roger Hollo, also explained.
On the way forward, Hollo said: “The most important thing to do is to empower women and girls in IDP and refugee communities to stand for their rights. We need to empower them also in this crises era to be able to go out, to not only be able to access jobs and livelihood opportunities, but also to be part of the protection mechanisms we are setting up for them to be able to remain in those communities while we are waiting for durable solutions for their displacement situations”.
To the Public Services International, PSI, women and girls, who find themselves on the move, are already in vulnerable situation. Additionally, those of them, who are in the North, particularly suffer socio-cultural practices such as patriarchal system, which may not promote equality.
PSI’s Project Coordinator for English Speaking West Africa, Ms. Moradeke Badru, advocated for access to quality health services, as IDPs are also citizens.
“The government is trying their best to make quality healthcare available. But we will say that they are grossly inadequate. We will say that we have women who are pregnant in the camps, but who may not have access to basic drugs given to pregnant women.
“The rates of pregnancy and giving birth are very high because of unavailability of family planning commodities and other essential commodities, which could save women at childbirth”, she said.
She equally lamented the rate of abduction or killing of frontline humanitarian workers by insurgents, pointing it out as a serious hindrance to humanitarian and healthcare services delivery.
“Government must stand up for healthcare workers and humanitarian service providers. We would like to advocate that government provides maximum security in all the healthcare facilities around camps. And in this era of durable solutions and reintegration, most of these IDPs that are going back to communities need protection and healthcare too”, Badru stressed.
She added that building girl child resilience in Covid-19 era should include improving girl child education while in the camps to reduce early child marriage, teenage pregnancies, and the complications that can arise from them.
On her part, the Coordinator, Gender Based Violence, who doubles as the Acting Coordinator of Humanitarian Sector, of the United Nations Population Fund, UNFPA, Ms. Sylvia Opinia, stressed that indeed the reproductive health need of women and girls increase, rather than disappear, during times of crisis. This is because access to information and supplies are greatly disrupted. These, she said, result in lack of family planning services and life-saving interventions like obstetrics care, which will in turn result in unplanned pregnancies, unsafe abortions, women and girls dying or being permanently disabled because of rape or complicated delivery.
She called for immediate actions to address “the alarming increase in gender-based violence”.
“In the North East States where we have about 2 million people in IDP camps, over 65 per cent of the cases of gender based violence is happening in the context of intimate partner violence. Therefore, the perpetrators are mainly people who are known to them and at times, people who are in the position where they are expected to provide protection to them.
“It is important that the capacity of gender violence service institutions are strengthened. In this case, we are talking about comprehensive service provision and also ensure that there is investment in making services available, most importantly address structural barriers and negative social norms.
“Very important and related to this is working with men and boys to use their power to protect women and girls from violence and negative socio-cultural practices.
“Also, pregnant women in the context of Covid-19 fear to access healthcare facilities because of the fear that they might contract Covid-19. Therefore, they neglect prenatal care. So, access to services should include ensuring that they have safe delivery as well as safe access to prenatal care”.
THE UNFPA Coordinator equally advocated the engagement of community health workers and traditional birth attendants as they they become the nearest care for pregnant women in IDP and refugee contexts and Covid-19 era. Furthermore, she stressed the need for provision of protective equipment for the health workers at a time like this.
Intervening from Geneva, Deputy Coordinator, Civilian Population Protection, International Red Cross Society, ICRC, Anna Agnieszka, saidCovid-19 had increased the challenges of the already vulnerable populations suffering from the effects of the conflicts and also rendered the response more difficult due to internal and international movement restrictions that have been imposed. She observed that stigmatisation had also made it difficult for many women and girls to seek medical help in Covid-19 era.
She added that the ICRC had observed that border shutdown and strict control as well as refusal of entry into IDP and refugee camps for fear of spreading COVID-19 had aggravated the challenges of the vulnerable people, noting, however, the ICRC was determined and had continued to share information as well as engage with military authorities and civilians with notices and guidelines to ensure respect for human rights while responding to the pandemic.
On the efforts of the NCFRMI in addressing the effect of Covid-19 on displaced women and girls, using the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, as a case study, Dr. George Ohwoekevwo, who is the Health Adviser at the Commission, said Covid-19 had grossly interrupted supply chain,reproductive and maternal care of IDPs, especially as regards basic investigations such as ultrasound scan.
“A painful example was the case of a premature rupture of membrane and spontaneous delivery of a 27-week preterm as they were unable to secure transportation in good time due to the lockdown. We eventually lost the baby.
“Post-lockdown, we have had more women test pregnancy positive and this added to the burden of sexual reproductive health services with the minimal available resources.
“We need community engagements, increased funding, partnerships, and capacity building”, he explained.
Dr. Ohwoekevwo listed efforts by the agency to build the resilience of IDP and refugee girls and women to include trainings in the production of facemasks, soap and hand sanitiser as well as distribution of Water Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) items to put prevent outbreak.
Meanwhile, in his remarks, the Honourable National Commissioner, NCFRMI, Senator Basheer Lado, celebrated the humanitarian workers and stakeholders for always giving Nigeria and her displaced people a shoulder to lean on. He paid respect to those, who have lost their lives in the course of their humanitarian work.
In his intervention, the Deputy Director of Humanitarian Affairs at Nigeria’s Federal Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and Social Development, Mr. Charles Anaelo, conveyed the goodwill of the Honourable Minister, Sadiya Umar Farouq to the global humanitarian community on the occasion of the World Humanitarian Day.
Anelo said the Ministry was leveraging the experiences of COVID-19 response dynamic to work “on a framework of collaborative engagement for effective and efficient delivery of national humanitarian management with direct and sustainable impact on the first beneficiaries―citizens, Persons of concern and their families”.
“The overall goal of the proposed initiative is to strengthen national humanitarian services in times of disasters and delivering of social development for all, especially the most vulnerable and persons of concern”, he explained.
Meanwhile, whereas the e-conference surpassed its target, the question, as the co-moderator, Fisher, aptly put it, is “So, what next?”
Indeed all eyes are now on the NCFRMI, the parent Ministry, and the global humanitarian stakeholders to leverage the ideas harvested at the e-conference to build the resilience and wellbeing of IDPs and refugees in Nigeria, particularly the women and girls, for a problem well understood is half solved.