This study explored the linkages between the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown directives and the well-being, sexual and gender-based violence of women and girls in Nigeria. The study is also intended to support policy recommendations to accompany both the immediate and Post– COVID -19 approaches to overcoming pre-existing gender inequalities and vulnerabilities. The study used the survey research design/method and was conducted from April 21st to May 19th, 2020 with 1243 respondents who anonymously responded to a phone enabled online questionnaire. The questionnaire consisted of six sections: Demographic information and questions on the Health, Economic, Education, Security, and Sexual and Gender Violence during the lockdown. The collected data was analyzed using an excel spreadsheet. The study also conducted interviews of 160 women and girls’ and responses were analyzed for common themes using excel macros. The study found fear of infection to be the most reported health challenge, and significant linkages between the lockdown and the experience of violence for girls between 10-24 years, as well as major economic disruptions for retirees and women with monthly household incomes between 201,000 to 400,000. The study also found significant shortages of food and hunger and inadequate educational support for most students. Security and safety concerns were not found to be a major issue. The major policy recommendation is for the development of appropriate gendered emergency infrastructure and protocols that can be effectively deployed during national emergencies.
In December 2019, a growing number of cases of a novel Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) named Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), was registered in Wuhan, China, and by February 2020 it had spread to many countries. Nigeria reported its first case on February 27th, 2020, in Lagos, a major city and international entry port, and by mid-March, several cases were also reported across the country. On March 29th, 2020, the Federal Government imposed the first lockdown orders – for an initial 2 weeks- in Abuja, Lagos, and the Ogun States. Some State Governor’s also instituted varying degrees of lockdowns and movement restrictions as a precautionary effort to control the spread of the disease.
While the focus of the restriction orders was on the public health emergency of containment of the COVID-19 virus, the impact of the restriction had been predicted to have a severe impact on the livelihoods of girls and women based on reports from countries that had imposed these lockdowns ahead of Nigeria. An analysis by United Nations Women of the gendered impacts of COVID-19 found an increase in gender-based violence. It also warned that the pandemic would likely disproportionately affect women, and exacerbates preexisting gendered risks and vulnerabilities.
The problem of sexual and gender-based violence has been a persistent problem in Nigeria. The problem is further exacerbated due to cultural norms and institutional weaknesses that make it difficult for broad-based sanctioning and legal actions to address the problem. While there is overwhelming news and social media reports of gender-based violence there is no coordinated system for the collection of data on its extent but the Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey-2018 conducted by DHS reported that among women age 15-49, (31%) reported having experienced violence.
Conclusion and Recommendations
The coronavirus pandemic has upended lives across the world. The global impact of COVID-19, both in lives lost and economic devastation, is likely to leave a lasting mark for many years to come. The best path forward includes making sure that we use the painful lessons learned during this crisis to better prepare ourselves for the future. This must include appropriate fundamental policies and legislative actions that can strengthen the current vulnerabilities and inequalities that women and girls routinely face.
The disparate gender impact of COVID-19 illustrated in this report should come as no surprise given the ongoing legacy of patriarchy that continues to produce unequal outcomes that affect nearly every aspect of life for women and girls in Nigeria.
The insights gleaned from this study should be used to help governments, NGOs, and businesses better understand and develop the emergency and relief efforts, recovery and sustainability initiatives, that will most efficiently and effectively prevent and protect women from the adverse effects of a weakness in the infrastructure and protocols of national emergencies.
Development of a National Emergency Infrastructure and Protocols: It is vital that the Federal, State and Local Governments work to develop coordinated and inclusive disaster and emergency plans. Many of the weaknesses of the lockdown directives arose from the ad-hoc manner in which it was declared and managed. The capacity and existence of many of the systems that were essential to the success of the directives appeared to be new and untested, and in some cases non-existent.
Creation of a Gender Unit within the Central Bank: The economic lives of women and girls in Nigeria is largely dependent and functions within the informal sector. There is a responsibility owed to Nigerian women to streamline the operations of that sector to ensure that they have access to financial services, and business environment security to ensure that their livelihoods are protected. This unit within the Central Bank should be tasked with ensuring that the interest of women-owned micro, small, and medium businesses are considered within the larger context of national monetary policies.
Development of an affordable alternative learning/education platform: The structural dimensions of education have now changed dramatically, with the rise of remote e-learning. Suggestions are that for many students this may be the new form of teaching and learning. Nigeria’s education sector must begin to develop affordable means of e-learning that are accessible to students regardless of family income, place of residence, and so on. These alternative systems must also not be dependent on the ability to afford or access data or electricity. While this may appear to be a tough challenge, it is clear that failure to do so will lead to a new crisis of ‘out-of –learning’ children in Nigeria.
Development of a network of subsidized Violence Support Shelters and Counseling Services for Women and Girls: The Ministry of Women Affairs should lead to establishing the policy and legal framework for the establishment of violence shelters and services for women across the country. These shelters should be subsidized and be staffed with qualified personnel with the capacity to provide victims with a safe environment, and ancillary services such as counseling, job skills, financial assistance, and many more.
Strengthening Child Protection and Social welfare Services:
The Federal Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development should strengthen the Child protection and social welfare services that exist. To reduce the rate of sexual abuse of children, and the dehumanizing of children, this service needs to be strengthened and made available at every community in all the states. More hands need to be trained and engaged to provide effective service.
Security and Safety
Safety and security during the lockdown period were not reported to be a major issue. However, this was due in part to the implementation of various community-driven vigilante and community protection services. Many of the respondents called for the expansion and deployment of community policing. However, the need to beef-up the community-level protection of women and girls must be prioritized and strengthened.
Collection of Gender Disaggregated Data and Integration into Public Policy:
NCDC did not provide gender-disaggregated data on how many of those who had been tested were women. Without the gender-disaggregated data, it is difficult to take any position on whether women had proper access to testing. This further raises the call for the collection and publication of gender-disaggregated data by government agencies and its inclusion in the formulation of public policy.
As part of efforts to promote and protect the rights of Women and Girls in Nigeria, Change Managers International Network/100 Women Lobby Group, with funding from ActionAid Nigeria through the Women’s Voice and Leadership Nigeria Project.
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