It is in times of crises that the best and worst of humanity comes out. It is during this time that the struggles of the underprivileged and those at high risk of abuse could easily be forgotten as lawmakers focus on protecting its citizens.
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In a recent statement on Twitter, Ministry of Public Service and Gender Cabinet Secretary Professor Margaret Kobia, assured women and girls of her ministry’s continued vigilance to their plight particularly now during the coronavirus pandemic.
“As we observe the Government guidelines on how to contain the spread of COVID-19, we remain alive to the fact that women are relatively at a higher risk of suffering gender-based violence particularly during the curfew period,” the tweet read in part.
It went on to provide the toll free helpline number assuring those who called of immediate assistance.
In a statement on its website, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) states that in the wake of crises e.g. conflict, natural disaster or pandemic, ‘women and girls continue to be the most vulnerable to sexual and gender-based violence and abuse’.
The coronavirus pandemic threatens women on multiple facets. Quite often, women hold jobs in the informal and domestic sector. It is these jobs that have become high risk since many of those working in these sectors are losing their jobs or being forced to take pay cuts. In some households, women are the breadwinners and caregivers and this loss of jobs could have a compounded effect not only to the women themselves but to their families as well.
COVID-19 also puts women at high risk of abuse. Instances of gender-based violence escalate in times of stress. Many have lost their sources of income even as family responsibilities glare at them, movement has been restricted and life as we knew it has changed for the foreseeable future. This can take a toll on anybody’s mental health. In some cases, abusers turn to violence, attacking their wives and daughters, when they need an outlet.
Due to curfew and isolation measures put in place, women who have been in abusive households now lack the freedom to access safe houses where they can receive care and escape their abusers. Many cases of abuse will probably go unreported, leaving the victims alone in their fight against their abusers.
According to UNFPA, gender-based violence affects victims’ mental and physical wellbeing. They may suffer from injuries, anxiety, post-traumatic stress, depression and may become suicidal. And when they lack an outlet, the abuse can take a toll on them.
There is a global call to policy makers to remember those who are vulnerable as they look for solutions to contain COVID-19. We as upstanding members of society too need to be vigilant and report cases of gender-based violence even as we self-isolate.
Thus, Prof Kobia’s message of hope comes at a fitting time.