SGBV as a social, economic and health emergency during COVID-19 pandemic lockdown

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By Ikenna Osuoha
Abuja, Dec. 27, 2020 Gender Based Violence (GBV) can be interpreted in different dimensions.

While some see it as a violation of human rights based on gender, some see it as gender oppressiveness
anchored on inhumanity to human.

However, Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV) remains an emergency issue at all times throughout
the world especially during the Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

Physical and sexual violence against women took an unprecedented increase during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown and reports have it that cases of assaults both sexually and physically perpetrated
against women and girls during the health emergency skyrocketed.

Natalia Kanem, Executive Director of UN Population Fund (UNFPA) said one in every three women and girls would suffer violence in her life time and the prevalence of GBV during the COVID-19
lockdown made analysts to describe it as “pandemic inside the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Prof. Mnguember Sylvester, a Professor of Literature and Gender Studies, University of Abuja, said SGBV could come in different forms such as rape, sexual intimidation, incest, pornography, coercion, blackmail, psychological abuse, placing a person in fear of physical injuries or offensive conduct.

Others are taking undue advantage of a person living with disability, genital mutilation, wife battery,
frustrating investigation and abuse by state actors, as well as harmful traditional practices.

Health emergencies like COVID-19 pandemic inadvertently triggered all forms of violence against women and girls who eventually suffered untold sexual and physical abuses.

The lockdown as we all know restricted movement of people and kept them indoors, as businesses remained shut, which precipitated concessional rapes, wives battery, unintended pregnancies, loss
of jobs, especially women.

Prof. Sylvester said “it was during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown that the unpardonable crime of rape was perpetrated against a postgraduate student of University of Ibadan in hijab who was
raped and killed in her apartment after that of a University of Benin girl in a Church.

He said thousands of displaced women and girls in refugee camps were raped by both male workers and those who offer them food as the camps seldom meet the basic requirements to sustain the inmates.

He reiterated the importance of collaboration between states and stakeholders to protect women and
girls, and called for enactment of relevant laws as antidotes to SGBV.

Mrs Chinyere Eyoh, the Executive Director, Sexual Offenses and Assault Response (SOAR), blamed Sexual and Gender Based Violence on sociocultural norms and practices aimed at entrenching patriarchy.

Eyoh stressed the need for a departure from the mentality that women were commodities for men or sex toys, adding that “the system where men dominate women, own and rule over women and girls who
are perceived to be created to serve men must stop.

“Violence against women and girls by men and boys is prevalent in many parts of the country.”

Apart from cultural and health emergencies, wars and crises also pose great threat to safe spaces for
women and girls. Insurgencies and war create unholy opportunities to target women and girls as sex objects.

Mrs Bunmi Okesola, a Volunteer with Sexual Offenses and Assault Response (SOAR), said “until the conspiracy of silence is broken, sexual violence against women and girls will continue.”

Okesola explained that parents and caregivers by their actions contribute and promote violence against their own daughters when they fail to speak out.
She added that “many parents find it difficult to speak out when cases of rape or incest are established.

Even when they report, most times they withdraw for fear of exposing their daughters or husband’s or whatever.

“Sexual and Gender Based Violence has taken different connotations depending on the victim. It is unbelievable
to note that older persons were also violated.”

Sen. Eze Ajoku, the President of the Coalition of Societies for the Rights of Older Persons in Nigeria (COSROPIN),
affirmed that older women and men were also being abused, violated and brutalised.

Ajoku said GBV was not only centred on women and girls but affects men and boys too. In many homes, women abuse their husbands and even brutalise them.

He, however, noted that more women and girls were affected than men and boys, hence the concentration
on them, as legal practitioners and activists consistently called for declaration of emergency on GBV to
address the problem.

Mrs Chinyere Ufere, a legal practitioner and member of International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA), advocated capital punishment as panacea for Sexual and Gender Based Violence.

Ufere, who decried such violence against women and girls, said “the perpetrators deserve to die.

“A 70 year old man abusing a 12-year-old girl is not a human being but a beast and he deserves to die as a beast.”

Former President Goodluck Jonathan had in 2015 signed into law the Violence Against Persons Prohibition (VAPP)
bill and made it a law aimed at addressing issues of Gender Based Violence but the law was yet to be domesticated
by many state governments.

Therefore, activists and advocates are strongly advocating for an unbridled adoption of the law in the 36
states of the federation for a reduction or end to SGBV.

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