Gender Based Violence and Psychological Impacts on Female Victims during the COVID-19 Lockdown in Nigeria
COVID-19 pandemic put a lot of strain on everybody all around the globe but more on women. Lockdown, one of measures employed to curb the spread of this pandemic brewed lot of violence and more especially gender based violence (GBV) in which young girls and women were more at the receiving end. Hinged on posttraumatic stress framework, this paper presents some unanticipated denouement of COVID-19 lockdown in respect to GBV by using three case studies of GBV in Nigeria that made topical newspapers and recommend an increase in deliberate involvement of social workers in the fight against GBV on women.
The new strain of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) was first isolated in December, 2019 from a group of patients presenting with very acute pneumonia-like infection in Wuhan, China.1 The World Health Organization (WHO) pronounced it a global pandemic on 11th March, 2020.2 One of the worldwide adopted strategies to curb the spread of the virus was “lockdown” which necessitated the restrictions of human rights in their freedoms of association, movement and peaceful gathering.3 Nigeria was not exempted following the directive from the President on the 29th March, 2020 for a total lockdown in some states like FCT and Lagos, which were the epicentre of the pandemic in Nigeria while Ogun a neighbouring state joined after a couple of weeks.4 This lockdown brewed a lot of social vices, one of which was increased violence. This was experienced all over the globe with an alarming upsurge with an increase in calls to the helpline by at least 20%, 40%, 30% and 25% in Brazil, Spain, Cyprus and the UK respectively.5
The uprising of Gender Based Violence (GBV) throughout the COVID-19 lockdown in Nigeria was alarming with a 56% increase in the first week of the lockdown in April, 2020.6 In Nigeria, every week, violence of diverse forms is published on both social and news media. The perpetrators are often from the male gender. According to Dr. Akiode-Afolabi, the pioneering director of Women Advocates Research and Documentation Centre (WARDC), “The lockdown itself has evolved into a trigger”. The lockdown increased the difficulties faced by women in the sense that women whose coping mechanism was ordinarily proceeding to their workplace in the morning and getting back in the evening were continually locked down with their violator.7
Some of the reports recorded GBV in states (Lagos, Ogun, and the FCT) with total lockdown. Other states with partial lockdown too also experienced their share of this silent epidemic. For instance there were cases of rape and murder in Ibadan Oyo state. One of such that made it to the major headlines was the case of late Barakat Bello, a 18 year old student of Tertiary institution in Ibadan who was home alone, gang-raped and killed for suspected ritual purpose on the 1st of June, 2020.8 One of the major of factors that precipitate GBV is the lack of control or one party trying to control the other which degenerates rapidly into physical, verbal, emotional, sexual, economic or other forms of violence.7 The victims of these social vices hardly recover from the traumatic experience and most times it develops into more challenging mental health problems. Anchored on post-traumatic stress framework, this study presents three of the numerous cases of the violence that women experienced throughout the COVID-19 lockdown in Nigeria.9 Data was sourced from major national and international news media (The Guardian, Al Jazeera, Premium Times, Punch Newspaper, BBC News and Vanguard Newspaper)
Increased number of reported cases gender based violence from 23
states in Nigeria between March and April 2020 - source: Federal and State Ministries of Women affairs
Sexual and domestic violence cases reported in Lagos in
- Domestic Violence
- Sexual Violence
- Physical Child Abuse
The late 22-year old, Uwaila Vera Omozuwa, known as Uwa, was a student of Department of Microbiology, University of Benin in Edo state.
Acting in accordance with the directive from the President about closure of tertiary institutions, Uwa had to go home and be with her family. She considered the church where she worshipped a safe haven to revise her academic work. She made this a habit while waiting for the lockdown to be lifted. However, the safe haven turned to her murder scene.
On May 27, 2020 Uwa was found inside her pool of blood in the church. She was beaten, raped and struck on the head with a fire extinguisher. She died thereafter in a health facility.10 The police arrested and revealed her murderers on the 26th August, 2020. The perpetrators acknowledged the knowledge of her movement which aided their evil acts.
They confessed to being motivated by the a million naira paid to assassinate her by a suspected female ritualist who instructed them to use white linen to clean her blood. A post-mortem evidence of the rape was further confirmed by the police.11
Halima Bulama, a 22-year old married woman in Damaturu the capital of Yobe state, north-eastern part of Nigeria was abused by her husband, Ba’ari Abacha on May 2020.
She had just returned from a family function from another village in Damaturu and in a consuming rage, he hacked off her right hand with a machete. While receiving treatment in a teaching hospital in Damataru, Halima explained that the husband is always quick to anger and vowed not to return to his house, she said “If he can do this he can definitely kill her”.
In the husband’s defence, he said he acted that way because she had no regard for martial ethics and disobeyed him by attending a family function. He stated that he regretted his action as it was in anger.12
Pamela (pseudonym), a 23-year old lady in Sakpenwa, a town in River state, Nigeria was arrested for not wearing face mask by four police officers at check point on her way to Port Harcourt on a public bus at around 6.30pm.
She was later driven to a guest house and was allegedly raped by one of the police officer till dawn after several threats of killing her. Pamela claimed that she has never been the same since the incident occurred. She reported the case to the police and was able to get witnesses (both driver of the public bus she was in and some of the guest who saw the police officer at the guest house used for the evil act).
However, no punishment has been rolled out for the perpetrator even though she was told the alleged police officer has been remanded.13
Relating Post-Traumatic Stress Framework: Impacts of Violence on victims and their families
The concept of post-traumatic stress is an expedient framework in comprehending the consequences of violence as well as victims’ actions and experiences in diverse ways.9 During her stay in the hospital in Damaturu where Halima (Case two) was receiving treatment, she reiterated that her husband was hot-tempered and swore not go back to her husband in her own words “If he can cut off my hand then he can easily kill me.” Halima will never regain a total control of the hand that was hacked off, limiting what and what she will be able to do as she’s still a young woman of 22-years of age.12 The family of Uwa (Case one) were in serious emotion distress as seen in a video post on twitter involving the sister. The sister also told the journalist that they asked her father if he was the first person that her daughter would be a victim of rape," thereby trivializing the emotional discomfort the family is going through.10,11 Fred (victim’s cousin) being the one caring for the family since the incident occurred told Al Jazeera; “Pamela has been having challenges (Case three) in getting a good night sleep succeeding the assault happened”. Pamela herself narrated that she has not really been herself and had lost consciousness twice since the incident happened. The rape event heightened Pamela’s health challenges who lost her spouse more than two years ago and was left all alone with a toddler and an infant and had to take occupancy with her mother who could care for her.13
Enroute to Justice
Most of the victims of these GBV do not get a swift and decisive justice especially when the abuser is not to be found or is a law enforcement agent. Uwa's case like many other cases has its own conspiracies. Uwa’s family claimed that the police were making derogatory remarks and requesting bribes prior to investigation of the case. 11 For the case two (Halima), the husband was arrested but we do not have a recorded measure of punishment that apportioned to him.12 In Rivers State, where Pamela’s assault occurred, Al Jazeera was told by the police that her accused abuser was already arrested and is still “in custody”, but Pamela’s family were not convinced that the police are giving it their all to secure justice for Uwa, claiming the fact-finding process have been a sluggish one and police officers are not supportive as they should be.13
Role of social workers in addressing violence during the lockdown
The social workers have huge roles in combatting GBV and helping victims to recover from the traumatic experience during the COVID-19 lockdown in Nigeria. However, there is dearth of empirical study on this. The few sources of data (mostly organisational reports and blog post) reported lack of structural social service systems as barriers to social workers’ discharge of duties. Lack of access to helplines, shelters and limited NGOs that specialize in rendering help and legal support to victims were identified as challenges for the victims of violence.
Conclusion and Recommendations
There was a peak in violence throughout the COVID-19 inspired lockdown in Nigeria. The role of social worker in addressing violence during this period in Nigeria is either downplayed and has not been given much attention in literature. There is the need for government to consciously involve social workers in addressing GBV and enrich the structural social service systems. Non-governmental organizations that specialize in providing support and legal expertise to victims should be more encouraged so as to get swift justice for them without allowing the victims to relive the awful experience.
- Zhu et al.; China Novel Coronavirus Investigating and Research Team, A novel coronavirus from patients with pneumonia in China. N. Engl. J. Med 2009; 382: 727–733
- WHO (2020) WHO Director-General’s opening remarks at the media briefing on COVID-19 - 11 March 2020. from who.int
- Amnesty International (2020b) Nigeria: authorities must uphold human rights in fight to curb COVID-19.Lagos: Amnesty International Ltd. amnesty.org (Accessed 17th March, 2020)
- Sahara Reporters (2020) Buhari Orders 14-day Lockdown in Lagos, Ogun and FCT over Coronavirus Outbreak. Sahara Reporters. saharareporters.com (Accessed 17th March, 2020)
- Bradbury-Jones C. and Isham L. The pandemic paradox: The consequences of COVID-19 on domestic violence J.Clin Nurs. 2020;29:2047–2049.
- UN Women. Gender-Based Violence in Nigeria during the COVID-19 Crisis: The Shadow Pandemic. 2020. unwomen.org (Accessed 17th March, 2020)
- The Guardian (2020) Sexual and gender-based violence: Hidden social pandemic under radar of COVID-19 lockdown guardian.ng (Accessed 17th March, 2020)
- Punch Newspaper: Another student raped, killed in Ibadan, Ekiti hawker defiled: punchng.com (Accessed 17th March, 2020)
- Wasco. S. Conceptualizing the harm done by rape: applications of Trauma Theory to Experiences of Sexual Assault. Trauma, Violence & Abuse (2003) 4:309-22
- Vanguard newspaper: How 22-year old UNIBEN student was raped inside church murdered. vanguardngr.com (Accessed 17th March, 2020)
- BBC News (2020) #WeAreTired: Nigerian women speak out over wave of violence - bbc.com (Accessed 17th March, 2020)
- Premium Times (2020): Amidst Covid-19 lockdown Nigeria sees increased sexual and gender violence premiumtimesng.com (Accessed 17th March, 2020)
- Aljazeera (2020), Women ‘abused’ by police enforcing COVID-19 rules in Nigeria aljazeera.com (Accessed 17th March, 2020)