-By Funmi Falobi @ sdnonline–
While nations of the world grapple with the issue of gender-based violence (GBV), the challenge has however increased as the world battles with the coronavirus pandemic. With the Covid-19 pandemic, there has been increase in sexual harassment, rape and violence against women and girls and the number has risen during the lockdown globally. The United Nations has called it ‘shadow pandemic.’
Like the rest of the world, Africa is not spared in the increase of gender-based violence. Liberia recorded a 50 percent increase in the first half of 2020, which is 0ver 600 reported rape cases. In Kenya, almost 4000 school girls were reported becoming pregnant during the lockdown. South Africa which is said to have the highest statistics of GBV in the world also experienced upward trend in violence against women during the lockdown.
Data also reveals that Nigeria records monthly increase of gender based violence during the lockdown.
While the Federal Government of Nigeria has ratified multiple international laws and conventions to address the historical discrimination and marginalization of women and girls, including GBV, the problem is still there.
Amidst the growing statistics, a major need of abused or violated women and girls is a home that provide succor to assuage their plight.
According to an ongoing research by leading GBV response organization, Project Alert, Nigeria has less than 20 women’s shelters and even then, private organisations and religious institutions run them. Despite Nigeria having the largest population in Africa, it lacks adequate shelter to cater for the needs of victims of gender-based violence. Indeed, the provision of shelter for victims of GBV by the Government is extremely inadequate.
As part of efforts to ameliorate the suffering of victims of GBV and provide succour for them, the Centre for Children’s Health Education, Orientation and Protection (CEE-HOPE and HEARTS100 Initiative has established a Heart of Hope Shelter, a home to provide temporary shelter, counseling support and empowerment for affected women and girls.
Speaking at the commissioning of the home in Lagos, Executive Director, CEE-HOPE, Betty Abah declared that when you compare Nigeria population of over 200 million to developed nations of Canada and United Kingdom with population of 37 and 66million respectively, Nigeria can only boast of less than 20 shelters while Canada has 400 women’s shelters and UK has over 300 shelters aside homeless and animal shelters.
“This is a screaming clarion call to our government at the various levels, private institutions, and public-spirited individuals to take the need for setting up of shelters as a major priority.
“Government shelters are very, very few and far in-between. As it is with government business, even the very few run by government are mostly on life support. Most of them are perennially deprived of qualified staff, food for residents and generally running at low and negligible budgets, if ever they exist. Besides the Lagos State and Ekiti State governments, which are doing credible work in response to GBV and have some of these infrastructure and legal mechanism in place, most other states in Nigeria are performing woefully in that front, “she said.
She explained that many women and girls are still trapped in the age-long practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) but due to government’s failure to implement and enforce available laws, the practice still thrives in most states.
“As we all know, Covid-19 has come, not only as a killer of humans and destroyer of the global economy, but has also led to a global spike in GBV. Incidences of Intimate Partner Violence, physical battery, sexual violence and all sorts of domestic violence arise. It is for this reason that GBV has long been tagged ‘an epidemic within an epidemic’ and as usual, women and girls are the major victims.”
In his address, Dr. Nnimmo Bassey, Director, Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) as well as representative of Heart100 harped on relationship as the most valuable thing with other people.
“Heart100 came into existence last year due to situations around vulnerable women and children around the world as a result of covid-19. The founders continue to ensure all can live in dignity and make their voice heard.”
Mrs. Josephine Evah-Chukwuma, Executive Director, Project Alert and founder of the first women shelter in Nigeria, Sophia’s Place charged the founder of the shelter that passion and commitment will see her through.
While confirming the dearth of shelters in the country she said, ” It’s not going to be an easy thing. Shelters are one of the needed facilities for victims of GBV but passion and commitment will see you through.”