By: R. Joyclyn Wea
MONROVIA-As the world retreated inside homes due to the lockdown measures introduced to curb the COVID-19 pandemic, report from the Ministry of Gender Children Social Protection showed alarming increase in the already existing epic-pandemic of violence against women and girls in Liberia.
The crisis created a spike in Harassment and sexual Abuse at the time that services including rule of law, health and shelters were diverted to address the COVID-19 pandemic.
Data obtained from the MGCSP indicates that in 2019, a total of 2,708 cases were reported of which 2,141 (79%) accounted for rape, gang rape and sodomy accounted while 567 (20%) for other forms of GBV. 68% out of the 79% were survivors below the age of 18 years which is far less than the 2020 statistic.
Between January– September 2020, 1,715 GBV cases were reported. Of the total 1,388 or (80%) constitutes Rape, Gang rape and Sodomy. 151 (8.8%) accounted for other forms of GBV. While 477 GBV cases were reported in the third quarters of 2020.
Of the total cases recorded in the third quarters of 2020, rape account for 312 or 65%, physical assault or domestic violence accounts for 11.9%, and sexual assault account for 7.4%.
The MGSCP data also shows that rape, sodomy and gang rape 69.7% was the highest reported GBV incident follows by sexual assault 11%. Child rape accounted for 64% of the total GBV cases reported during the three months period
The record further shows GBV actors have provided medical and psychosocial services, security or protection, legal aid services and made referrals for 477 GBV survivors during the third quarter July, August and September 2020.
According to the MGCSP report the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated key risk factors for VAWG, such as food shortages, unemployment, economic insecurity, school closures etc.
It further states that there has been an alarming increase in multiple forms of violence against women and girls, especially physical, psychological, sexual and economic forms of domestic violence fueled by household economic and food insecurity and confined living conditions due to lockdown and social isolation measures many of whom remained unreported.
GBV and Harassment whether in homes, educational settings, formal and informal work places at both private and public areas are quite pronounced, but also not adequately reported and documented.
“Women and girls may assumed that during this period, closure of services means services for violence are not open and being on lockdown with perpetrators made them feel unsafe to seek help thus leading to an under-reporting of violence to formal authorities. It’s further “Perpetrators used restrictions due to COVID-19 to exercise power and control over their partners to further reduce their access to services and support from formal and informal networks.”
Rape is the most prevalent amongst the reported GBV incidences, especially against girls who are below 18 years old.
Speaking on the data, the Executive Director of the Organization for Women and Children (ORWOCH) said SGBV should have been part of the National Response on COVID knowing that women and girls’ issues are critical.
Mmonbeydo Nadine Joah believes the increase in SGBV cases to the COVID is squarely linked to the stay-home order.
She thus stressed the need to invest in data and a uniform system which according to her will help in tracking these cases when there is a pandemic of such.
Joah: “after this pandemic, there must be a manual for an emergency situation such as the COVID and approach to addressing SGBVs. The manual should be updated every time whether there is a pandemic or not.”
It is believed that the increase is as the result f the exclusion of SGBV from the COVID response because people are locked down and no one is watching out for what happens in such a lockdown.
She bewailed “We don’t know what is happening under COVID-19 because there is not sufficient data; we cannot go into every home and community to find out what is happening there. “ before the lockdown, we saw the number of cases coming up, but with the lockdown lot of abuses have been happening and we only managed to uncovered a few.”.
Madam Joah further indicated that the peace and security of women and children depend largely on Government as such it must work to improve their lives.
She asserted and a large portion of the population feels safe, Liberia does not have a democracy.
The women Advocate emphasize the need for women to be included in the COVID and other response initiatives and not just working at the back saying noting, “We need to be represented, our issues need to be up there so that mama Liberia can be a place that everyone can enjoy freely, fairly, and make sure their issues are all addressed,” the women mentioned.
This story was produced with support from Journalists for Human Rights (JHR), through its mobilizing media in the fight against COVID-19 in partnership with Front Page Africa.