By Kaddy Jawo
Domestic violence and the Covid 19 Pandemic may not appear to be connected, however, research has shown that the Coronavirus Pandemic has lead to lockdowns across the globe which in turn has seen a rise in domestic violence. The Covid-19 lockdown has kept more women at home with their partners for prolonged periods, often leading to domestic violence.
Through data and interviews conducted this article argues that women have found themselves between two pandemics as the Coronavirus continues to claim lives while domestic violence continued to increase during the Covid-19 Lockdown period.
After one year of Covid 19, from March 2020 to February 2021, the Gambia’s Network against Gender-Based Violence recorded 251 cases of which 93 cases were wife beating/physical violence; 137 were sexual violence; 12 were emotional violence and 9 were harmful traditional practices.
This has shown an increase in the number of cases of domestic violence, particularly physical violence during the COVID-19 period.
Fallu Sowe, the National Coordinator of The Gambia Network against Gender-Based Violence(NGBV) said the majority of the victims are women and girls. Due to the patriarchal nature of our society and cultural acceptance of violence, survivors rarely report cases or seek redress.
“In Fact, most of our women think domestic violence particularly wife beating, is justifiable as also revealed by the GDHS 2019-2020 which shows that 55% of women agree that it is justifiable for their husbands to beat them. “
He added that this is confirmed by the few cases of domestic violence being reported and collected by the Network against Gender-Based Violence in One-stop Centers from Hospitals across the country.
Lamin Fatty, the National Coordinator of Child Protection Alliance (CPA) said Children who witness Domestic Violence are victims of abuse and it has some dire consequences on their psychological and psychosocial well-being, which could equally affect their normal growth and development.
“CPA’s position has always been to create a free and conducive environment for children, especially in the homes.”
According to WHO, Children who grow up in families where there is violence may suffer a range of behavioural and emotional disturbances. These can also be associated with perpetrating or experiencing violence later in life.
Intimate partner violence has also been associated with higher rates of infant and child mortality and morbidity (through, for example, diarrhoeal disease or malnutrition and lower immunization rates).
Mbassey Manneh, a youth and Women’s rights activist, has been involved in youth and women advocacy for a decade now. Ms Manneh said a lot of violence has been happening but COVID-19 has made it worse. “We have seen that violence has been taking place in the homes, communities, for so many reasons.”
However, she added that Covid-19 has brought instability in homes whereas breadwinners have lost jobs during the pandemic and resort to violence in their homes and Women become the most vulnerable.
She highlighted what makes it so complicated is because such cases are likely not to be reported.
She recalled that a young girl in Kotu recently committed suicide because due to domestic violence and a girl pupil who was also murdered last year by an alleged boyfriend “We have seen rape cases, murder cases and inquest in homes and prosecution always become harder.
“We need a proper mechanism to address this issue, it should be captured in our laws and policies to protect women and girls’ rights. Ways to protect them during such a crisis.
She urges the government and organizations to put in mechanisms to help report these cases and sensitization and awareness campaigns.
Staggering figures on Domestic Violence
A recent demographic health survey conducted by The Gambia Bureau of Statistics (GBOS) has shown increased physical violence against women from 2013 to 2020.
The Gambia 2019-2020 Demographic Health Survey obtained information from unmarried women on their experience of violence committed by anyone and married women on their experience of violence committed by their current and former husbands or partners and by others.
“The percentage of women who have experienced physical violence since age 15 increased from 41% in 2013 to 46% in 2019-2020. However, over the same period, the percentage of women who have experienced physical violence in the last 12 months remained ‘relatively stagnant’ (10% in 2013 and 11% in 2019-2020)” the survey indicated
According to the survey, physical violence against women stood to be more common in the rural parts of the country. “The percentage of women who have experienced physical violence since age 15 is higher in rural areas (47%) than in urban areas, which amounts to (45%).”
Violence recorded 226 domestic violence cases of which 47 cases were wife beating/physical violence; 147 were sexual violence; 18 were emotional violence; 3 were economic violence and 11 were harmful traditional practices.
Who are the Perpetrators of Domestic violence?
The survey reveals that physical violence is connotated. The most commonly reported perpetrators among ever-married women are ‘current husbands and partners.
“Among never-married women who have experienced physical violence since age 15, the most commonly reported perpetrators are ‘mothers, stepmothers (53%), fathers, stepfathers (31%), teachers (27%) and sisters, brothers (25%)” the survey further indicated.
Spousal violence among ever-married women amounts to 39%, whether physical, sexual, or emotional, by their current or most recent husband or partner.
“The most common form of spousal violence is physical violence (29%), followed by emotional (24%) and sexual violence (6%). Spousal violence is more common in Janjanbureh (52%), among women with primary education (46%) and women in the poorest households (45%). Overall, 17% of ever-married women have experienced spousal violence in the 12 months before the survey|” the survey also indicates
Twenty-six percent of women age 15-49 who have experienced physical or sexual violence sought help to stop the violence. Nearly two-thirds of women (65%) never sought help nor told anyone. “The most common sources of help for women who have experienced physical or sexual violence are their own family (66%) or their husband or partner’s family.”
The statistics from the survey also indicated 22% of ever-married women aged 15 to 49 who have experienced physical or sexual violence committed by their current or most recent husband, or partners had sustained injuries.
Advocacy used by NGBV to combat DV
The main strategies being used by NGBV to combat domestic violence and gender-based violence in general are; awareness-raising of communities; capacity building of service providers; strengthening service delivery through One-stop centers; data collection/research for evidence-based advocacy; advocacy with policy and decision-makers for policy changes and enforcement of laws and use of young people as advocates and change agents in their communities.
The Network is currently strengthening its advocacy awareness creation and support to improve services for survivors in the country in partnership with different actors including the UN Agencies, ActionAid and other members particularly youth and women-led organizations.”
“We would like to inform all Gambians and non-Gambians in the country that domestic violence is prohibited by the domestic Violence Act 2013, and we must protect ourselves and our people from it by reporting cases to deter others from the practice,” warned Fallu
He also urges the Government to ensure the law is enforced to the latter to prevent it.
Gender-based violence (GBV) against women and girls has been identified as one of the most visible manifestations of gender inequalities.
Thus, studies have stated that Domestic Violence increases during crises and that it occurs in all countries of the world irrespective of the stages of development.
Physiological effects of Domestic Violence
Fatou Kinneh Jagne-Kantara, Psychology Lecturer and Head of the Counseling and Career Center, University of The Gambia said the psychological effects of domestic violence on women range from depression, anxiety, and stress to weakened self-worth and helplessness. “These symptoms can take time to overcome.”
Madam Kantara added that the victims of domestic violence should be supported with counselling and a safe shelter with social support groups that are willing to help. Most importantly, she said the victims should know that you are there for them if help is needed.
According to The World Health Organization (WHo) Violence against women, particularly intimate partner violence and sexual violence is a major public health problem and a violation of women’s human rights.
WHO indicates that globally about 1 in 3 (30%) of women worldwide have been subjected to either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime. Most of this violence is intimate partner violence.
The report also indicates that Intimate partners (physical, sexual and psychological) and sexual violence cause serious short- and long-term physical, mental, sexual, and reproductive health problems for women. They also affect their children’s health and wellbeing.
Worldwide, almost one-third (27%) of women aged 15-49 years who have been in a relationship report that they have been subjected to some form of physical and/or sexual violence by their intimate partner.
Violence can negatively affect women’s physical, mental, sexual, and reproductive health, and may increase the risk of acquiring HIV in some settings.