Based on previous experience in responding to humanitarian crises including outbreaks, the COVID-19 pandemic will compound existing gender inequalities and increase the risk of different forms of gender-based violence (GBV).
The protection and promotion of the rights of girls and women should be prioritized during this pandemic.
Where movement is restricted and people are confined, priority should be given to ensuring access to prevention, protection and care services, including psychosocial support, and adapting community-based surveillance systems for girls and women at risk of and affected by female genital mutilation, especially in hard-to-reach areas.
Female genital mutilation risk mitigation and response should be integrated in GBV and child protection COVID-19 preparedness and response plans.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, meeting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including the elimination of female genital mutilation by 2030, will be disrupted, and an estimated 2 million additional cases of female genital mutilation will need to be averted.
The health impacts of violence, particularly intimate partner/domestic violence or Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) on women and their children, are significant.
Violence against women can result in injuries and serious physical, mental, sexual and reproductive health problems, including sexually transmitted infections, HIV, and unplanned pregnancies.
Health systems have an important role to play in ensuring services for women who have experienced violence remain safe and accessible during the COVID-19 outbreak.
While recognizing that COVID-19 has placed an immense burden on the health systems and health workers in caring for the sick, there are things that can help mitigate the impacts of violence on women and children during this time:
All stakeholders involved in COVID-19 response need to be aware of and raise awareness of the potential impacts that physical distancing, stay at home and other measures to address this pandemic are likely to have on women who are subjected to violence and their children.
Governments and policy makers must include essential services to address FGM and VAW in preparedness and response plans for COVID-19, resource them, and identify ways to make them accessible in the context of social distancing measures.
Health facilities should identify information about services available locally (e.g. FGM hotlines, shelters, rape crisis centers, counselling) for survivors, including opening hours, contact details and whether these can be offered remotely, and establish referral linkages.
Health providers need to be aware of the risks and health consequences of FGM/VAW. They can help women who disclose by offering first-line support and relevant medical treatment. First line support includes: listening empathetically and without judgment, inquiring about needs and concerns, validating survivors’ experiences and feelings, enhancing safety, and connecting survivors to support.
Humanitarian response organizations need to include services for women/Children subjected to violence and in their COVID-19 response plans and gather data on reported cases of FGM/VAW.
Community members should be made aware of the increased risk of violence against women & Children during this pandemic and the need to keep in touch and support women & Children subjected to violence, and to have information about where help for survivors is available.
It is important to ensure that it is safe to connect with women when the abuser is present in the home.
Women who are experiencing violence may find it helpful to reach out to supportive family and friends, seek support from a hotline, or seek out local services for survivors.
They may also find it useful to have a safety plan in case the violence escalates. This includes having a neighbor, friend or relative or shelter identified to go to in the event they need to leave the house immediately for safety.
Before we 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.
Female 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. @WHO
The World Health Organization (WHO) classifies FGM into four types, and all four types are all practiced in Nigeria.
Type I: 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.
Type II: 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.
Type III: 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.
Reinfibulation is covered under this definition. This is a procedure to recreate an infibulation, for example after childbirth when defibulation is necessary.
Type IV: 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.
FGM 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 (UNICEF 2016).
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).
For more information about FGM you can visit http://www.who.int or watch
At this point, I will stop the conversation so we can reflect on the key points discussed as I entertain any questions. #COVID_19 #endcuttinggirls
Thanks for being part of the conversations today. Join us every other Thursday 5-7pm. Visit our www.endcuttinggirls.org for more info and updates on FGM, and kindly follow the handle “@Endcuttinggirls” on all social media platforms.