Due to the COVID – 19 pandemic and the forced lockdown as a protective measure against the transmission of the virus into the community. There was a noticeable increase in the number of cases of violence against women and girls, being reported as more women and children were in quarantine with their abusers. This shadow pandemic, recognized globally, has become a grave and growing concern.
At WARIF, we recorded a 64 percent increase in calls during the lockdown, with 72 percent of the cases being from women at risk.
This necessitated the need for immediate intervention with safety protocols being implemented and the availability of the services at the WARIF Rape Crisis Centre in Lagos State.
Additionally, in response to this crisis in grassroot areas, the WARIF COVID-19 Response in Rural Communities Program was also designed and implemented in 5 Local Government Areas in the State, aimed at sensitizing households on safety response protocols and the provision of services at the WARIF Centre for survivors in addressing the prevalence of domestic and sexual/ gender-based violence in their grassroots communities.
The corner stone of this program were the Primary Gatekeepers from the Gatekeepers project: Traditional Birth Attendants (TBAs) already trained as first responders on cases of GBV. The selected TBAs of 50, were placed into small surveillance cell groups of 3 to 4; each with a Team Lead. These groups were deployed into their various communities, making house to house visits to ensure the wellbeing of vulnerable women and children who were isolated in homes, frequently with their abusers, with no access to the outside world.
TBAs were also given a monitoring and Evaluation kit with which necessary information was collated by each surveillance cell group, indicating the numbers in households visited in their communities, the prevailing awareness and knowledge of the shadow pandemic by the occupants and provided important information on the referral centres, help lines and other safety planning measures during their visits.
The first cycle of the program was carried out in five local government areas of Lagos state – Epe, Alimosho, Ikorodu, Kosofe and Apapa. These LGAs were selected due to a high number of women in these communities with Alimosho the largest with a population of 5,700, 714 in number.
Additional support and assistance were given to these traditional birth attendants by the organization, through the distribution of personal protective equipment such as face masks, hand sanitizers and gloves to protect these frontline workers and reduce the risk of spread of the virus in their respective communities.
Community members were also given the WARIF handbills with details on how to contact the organisation in situation of sexual violence and to report cases of gender-based violence in their environment. We were able to reach over 10,000 individuals through this initiative.
It is our plan to expand our reach during and beyond the COVID-19 Pandemic period.