According to a
@UNICEF Publication, “the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic is of a scale
most people alive today have never seen” (https://www.unicef.org/coronavirus/agenda-for-action). Worldwide, the outbreak is claiming lives
and livelihoods as health systems buckle, borders close and families struggle
to stay afloat.
across the globe are rising to the challenge – from health workers risking
their lives to fight the virus, to young people deploying innovative ways to
share public health messages. Yet, even as the spread of the virus slows
in some countries, its social toll will come fast and hard. And in many places,
it will come at the expense of the most vulnerable children.
UNICEF, “Without urgent action, this health crisis risks becoming a
child-rights crisis”. Disruptions to society have a heavy impact on children:
on their safety, their well-being, their future.
are disrupted, Girls/Women already at risk of violence, exploitation and abuse
will find themselves even more vulnerable. Social and economic turmoil
will heighten girls’ risk of early marriage, pregnancy and other forms of
violence such as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).
isolation, Girls/Women at risk of undergoing FGM will be farther from help. And
the stress and stigma of illness and financial strain will exacerbate volatile
family and community situations.
prevent this pandemic from turning into a crisis of child protection. Governments
need to account for the unique risks of girls and women. The
existing crisis of violence against Girls/Women is likely to worsen in the
context of COVID-19.
In Australia, a Women’s Safety New South Wales
survey reveals that 40 per cent of frontline workers have reported increased
requests for help by survivors, and 70 per cent have reported that the cases
received have increased in their level of complexity during the COVID-19
Increase in reports of violence is happening at
the same time that services are being compromised.
Life-saving care and support to women who
experienced violence (i.e. clinical management of rape and mental health and
psycho-social support) may be disrupted when health service providers are
overburdened and preoccupied with handling COVID-19 cases. Even where basic
essential services are maintained, a collapse in a coordinated response between
different sectors, i.e., health, police and justice and social services
response, and social distancing will mean that sectors will be challenged to
provide meaningful and relevant support to women and girls who are experiencing
In other cases, where movement is restricted,
and/or where access to quality essential services is limited, or being
administered differently, as a result of social distancing (e.g. counselling by
phone, emails or other platforms), requests for help have been decreasing.
Women and girls at this time may not be able to
reach networks, organizations that provide support and recognize abuse (e.g.
women’s rights networks, teachers, health workers, faith leaders, community
development officers, Child Protection Network etc.).
Also, given the existing gender digital divide,
women and girls in many countries, especially those who face multiple forms of
discrimination, may not have access to a mobile phone, computer, or internet to
access services or be able to safely use these at home as they may be closely
monitored by the perpetrator and other family members. The social and economic
costs of violence against women and girls are substantial, with broader costs
associated with delivering services to victims, as well as the costs related to
the criminal justice response.
The global cost of violence against women and
girls (public, private and social) is estimated at approximately 2 per cent of global
gross domestic product (GDP), or US$1.5 trillion. That figure can only be
rising as violence increases now, and continues in the aftermath of the
A predicted rise in the different forms and
manifestations of violence against women and girls will not only exacerbate the
economic impacts of the COVID-19 crisis but will also slow down economic
recovery across the world. The economic
impact of COVID-19 resulting from the widespread closure of businesses and
industries puts increased financial strain on communities.
Experience from the Ebola and Zika outbreaks
shows that epidemics exacerbate existing inequalities, including those based on
economic status, ability, age and gender. The financial impact of COVID-19 will
also affect the capacity of local women’s organizations, to advocate for policy
reforms on violence against women and girls and for service provision to
survivors of violence over the long-term.
It is critical for Government to address the increase
of violence against Girls/Women during COVID-19 lockdown as stated below;
Government should allocate additional resources
and include evidence-based measures to address violence against women and girls
in COVID-19 national response plans.
Government should Treat services for women who
experienced violence, including FGM, as essential services.
Government should strengthen services, including
shelters, through capacity rapid assessments, and through design of risk
assessments, safety planning and case management, adapted to the crisis
context, to ensure survivors’ access to support.
Government should ensure psychosocial support for
women and girls who experienced violence and frontline health and social
Government should expand the capacity of
shelters, including re-purposing other spaces, such as empty hotels, or
education institutions, to accommodate quarantine needs.
Government should strengthen helplines, through
online counselling and technology-based solutions such as Short Message
Services (SMS), online tools, and social support networks.
Government should raise awareness of police and
judiciary about the increase of violence against women and girls during
COVID-19 and provide training on how to respond, protect and refer victims and
survivors to appropriate services.
Government should train first responders on
psychosocial support, including health workers, law enforcement and court
officials and emergency shelter and counselling staff still operating during
Government should provide training for education
and child services staff on safety and referral information for children who
may be experiencing abuse at home or who may be vulnerable to online predators.
Government should ensure support for grassroots
women’s rights organizations, especially those that provide essential services
to hard-to-reach, remote and vulnerable populations.
Government should ensure women’s organizations
and women’s community organizations participate in the decision-making
processes so that needs and concerns are identified and included in prevention
of and responses to violence against women and girls.
Government should consider the role of women’s
organizations in recovery plans and the longer-term solutions to address the
increase of violence against women and girls during COVID-19.
Government should collect sex-disaggregated data
on the incidence of violence against women and girls, including domestic
violence (including psychological and economic violence) and sexual violence,
recording place of occurrence.
Government should collect data on the needs and
capacity of services to respond to the increased demand from women and girls in
the context of COVID-19.
In conclusion, the Government should ensure that any
data collection effort does not put women and girls at greater risk of violence
and distress. .
Across the globe, UNICEF is working with
communities, governments and partners to slow the spread of COVID-19 and
minimize the social and economic impacts on children and their families. UNICEF
commits to the statements below; (https://www.unicef.org/coronavirus/agenda-for-action).
commits to – Prioritizing the delivery of life-saving medicines, nutrition and vaccines,
and working closely with governments and logistics networks to mitigate the
impact of travel restrictions on the delivery of these supplies. (https://www.unicef.org/coronavirus/agenda-for-action).
The UNICEF_Nigeria State FGM implementing
partners will continue to respond to reported cases of FGM as they work with
the Government of Nigeria to prevent the spread of COVID-19 while ensuring that
girls/ women are safe from FGM.
close, we would like to share a brief overview of Female Genital Mutilation
(FGM) for the benefit of those joining our tweet conference for the first time.
Genital Mutilation (FGM) includes all procedures that involve the partial or
total removal of external genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs
for non-medical reasons.
The World Health Organization
(WHO) classifies FGM into four types, and all four types are all practiced in
partial or total removal of the clitoris and/or the prepuce (Clitoridectomy).
Subgroups of Type I FGM are: type Ia, removal of the clitoral hood or prepuce
only; type Ib, removal of the clitoris with the prepuce.
partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora, with or without
excision of the labia majora (excision). Subgroups of Type II FGM are: type
IIa, removal of the labia minora only; type IIb, partial or total removal of
the clitoris and labia minora; type IIc, partial or total removal of the
clitoris, labia minora & labia majora.
narrowing of the vaginal orifice with creation of a covering seal by cutting
and appositioning the labia minora and/or the labia majora, with or without
excision of the clitoris (infibulation). Subgroups of Type III FGM are: type
IIIa, removal and apposition of the labia minora; type IIIb, removal and apposition
of the labia majora.
is covered under this definition. This is a procedure to recreate an
infibulation, for example after childbirth when defibulation is necessary.
unclassified – all other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for
nonmedical purposes, for example, pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and
cauterization. Type IV also includes the
practice of “massaging” or applying petroleum jelly, herbal concoctions or hot
water to the clitoris to desensitize it or pushing it back into the body, which
is common in many parts of Nigeria, especially Imo State.
has no known health benefit, and is harmful to girls and women. It involves
altering, removing and/or damaging otherwise healthy female genital tissue. It
is estimated that over 200 million girls and women worldwide are living with
the effects of FGM, and every year some 3 million girls and women are at risk
of FGM and are therefore exposed to its potential negative health consequences
In Nigeria, the Nigeria Demographic Health Survey
(NDHS 2018) revealed that 20% of women aged 15-49 years had undergone FGM, a
decrease from 25% (NDHS 2013).