Discussants on an online conference on curbing gender-based violence have called for collective efforts to fight the menace during this Corona-virus pandemic and beyond this period.
Project Alert on Violence Against Women, an implementing partner of the Spotlight Initiative hosted a Webinar with the theme Covid 19 & Sexual and Gender-based Violence response in Lagos, brought together stakeholders to discuss the issues surrounding Gender-based violence and proffer ways to tackle it during and after the pandemic.
One of the discussants, Mr Praise Fowowe, a Sex Educator and Child Sexual Abuse Activist spoke about the role of men in curbing domestic & sexual violence during covid19, mentioned that a violent spouse is a troubled adult with installed self-sabotaging pattern that can be handled provided he is willing to get help
He called for a redefinition of the concept of manhood and womanhood, and a shift beyond culture and what we were thought to believe while growing up. He urged couples to try to promote and advocate a team based marital system by defining who a husband or a wife is.
“we must redefine the role descriptions and also create an effective immigration system for families by determining who can live with us and why they should take residence with us as a couple or a family. When things go wrong, how do we excuse the predator?”
He mentioned that people must bond and engage in family activities together, communicate realities and ask for inputs when they are unclear about issues or developments.
Susan Ihuoma Kelechi, a Disability Inclusion Advocate said it is a known fact that women with disability are more at risk because of their gender, disability and poor economic status as we also know that Gender-Based Violence, GBV is a global issue.
Ihuoma believes that the COVID-19 pandemic came with a lot of challenges for the disability population, especially women with disability since the perpetrators of violence against them, are often their care givers which includes intimate partners and family members.
“Women and girls with disability do not have access to information on gender-based violence. Neither do they even consider some forms of abuse meted out on them to be gender-based. Infact sometimes they feel abuse is love.”
She says the various COVID-19 response measures which include lockdown, stay at home, isolation, regular hand washing all posed new risk to the autonomy, health and lives of the disability community especially women with disability.
“It makes us more vulnerable to abuse – physical, sexual, emotional and verbal”
In responding to GBV during this period of COVID 19, Ihuoma believes it is important that all interventions take into account and include women and girls with disability.
How exactly has the police handled the issues during this pandemic? The Lagos State Police Public Relations Officer, DSP Bala Elkana in his contribution agreed that there are cases and he mentioned some of these and the arrests that were made by the police.
He also chronicled the measures that have been put in place by the police to include: Provision of dedicated lines for complaints, Awareness campaigns and security tips/alerts, getting few Courts sit during the lockdown, provision of temporary detention facility at Area J Command and stringent observance of safety guidelines
Elkana also said the lockdown had not reduced the number of sexual and gender-based violence in Lagos, noting that there is a sharp increase in reported cases of domestic violence but proudly said that police response is not significantly affected by the lockdown.
For Mrs Titilola Vivour-Adeniyi,Coordinator, Lagos State Domestic and Sexual Violence Response Team, she gave the statistics of an average 8 new cases a day before the lockdown and about 13 new cases daily during the lockdown indicating a very sharp increase in GBV.
She mentioned that the Response Team had made provision of hotlines, 24/7 Web Chat as well as *6820# USSD Shortcode application for people to quickly place a call when violence erupts or is noticed.
There is also the provision of psycho- social support (online counselling) for survivors, while social media according to Vivour-Adeniyi, has been helpful in encouraging people to speak up and report cases.
On the issue of awareness, she stated that jingles on Sexual and Gender Based Violence- are put out to create awareness about the issues and inform members of the public on relevant contact details
Vivour-Adeniyi mentioned that they have been faced with the challenges of mechanisms for referral, limited availability of shelter, and also inability of shelters to take in new clients. The inability of the police to effect normal arrests, detain abusers & charge cases to court and sometimes fake messages being received on the various hotlines.
She also pointed to lack of funds for logistics and media campaigns especially during this Pandemic and the unwillingness of clients to report issues virtually because some insist on coming into the office to make their reports.
On the way forward to achieve measurable success, she called for Shelter in at least all 5 Divisions of the State. Upgrade of more police stations to Family Support Units, decentralisation of critical services and crowd sourcing data which she described as one of the most important tools for the fight to end violence against women.
Data according to Vivour-Adeniyi is essential to understand VAW and for education and policy making. Egypt for instance she says has an app for collecting/ reporting stories on street harassment, gang abuse, women being assaulted etc and also maps where these incidents happen.
While answering some questions about the role of the Police, the Police PRO, Elkana said the average policeman is not trained to deal with rape cases but he said every police station is required to listen to every complaint that comes through during this covid19 period. He mentioned that there are phone lines that people can call into even as he admitted that to run a Family Support Unit requires a lot.
The Moderator and ED of Project Alert, Mrs Josephine Effah Chukwuma decried the underfunding of the police and the burden put on citizens to fund investigations on their various matters.
Susan Ihuoma Kelechi called for all hands to be on deck because everyone has to be responsible and know that a woman is a woman whether with a disability or not.
Mrs Effah-Chukwuma rounded off by saying that the Spotlight Project will move through 9 local government areas across the 3 Senatorial zones where men and women will be trained on what to do when issues of SGBV happen.