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Domestic Violence during Coronavirus: A Double Pandemic

The fight against gender-based violence has knocked the rock in The Gambia due to the outbreak of coronavirus. This is rooted to the fact that many activists and professionals have redirected their efforts to fight the pandemic which has potential to cause drawbacks in the successes registered in eliminating the sexual and gender-based violence in the country.

Although The Gambia is yet to impose full lock-down to curb the spread of the virus, the government has ordered its offices to lay-off substantial numbers of staff, close down businesses and restrict others while the private sector also asked most of their staff to stay at home amidst the pandemic.

“With regards to domestic violence in the Gambia since the outbreak of the Coronavirus, we have not yet done an assessment to determine whether the rate has increased or decreased as a result of the lock-down. However, from the cases we are hearing we are assuming that there might be an increase in the number of cases,” says Fallu Sowe, coordinator of the Network Against Gender Based Violence (NGBV).

      Fallu Sowe

To look deeper into the assumption of Fallu Sowe, The Chronicle spoke to Aisha Baldeh, the director of the Paradise Foundation, one of the organizations assisting victims of domestic violence in the Gambia. She believes discussions related to this topic have always been not an easy one. Some of these she said are ‘misconceptions’, part of which are attributed to cultural or religious misappropriations about the roles and rights of women in society.

“Over 600 calls of which 38% of callers were seeking information about the GBV helpline and the GBV-related services that are available in the country. This highlights that a significant number of calls were related to GBV and Sexual & Reproductive health queries, of which a team of doctors and nurses volunteered to address, thus serving as referral points,” Aisha stated.

The GBV-related incidents reported included occurrences of rape, physical beatings, financial negligence, negligence of paternal duties, underage marriage and factors that encourage sexual harassment in schools, she added.

According to her, a tool was developed to track these cases to ensure that their needs were addressed, where 5 percent of calls were seeking assistance for nutrition. She says all cases requesting nutrition support were referred to the Department of Social Welfare (DSW) for support.

While there is a need for increased physical action/efforts from service providers who are fighting Gender Based Violence including Domestic Violence, there also remains a need for intervention to orient the general population on domestic violence.

Earlier last month, the Ministry of Women, Children, and Social Welfare in partnership with Paradise Foundation set up a project dubbed ‘Tahawou Jigueen’ to help create a toll-free line where victims of gender-based violence can report their cases for swift interventions.

Aisha says a case management team was set up comprising the Department of Social Welfare, the Gambia Police Force (GPF), Female Lawyers Association of The Gambia (FLAG), Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Health, GBV Focal Person and a representative of the Mental Health Unit.

“The objective of the team is to provide feedback based on the referred cases.  This is key for the functionality of the 1313 National Response GBV Helpline.”

While domestic violence has been a rooted global challenge for years, the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened the situation which put women and girls in extreme danger. Experts say this is due to the rising number of unemployment, increased anxiety and financial stress, and a scarcity of community resources which have become the consequences of the virus. And many victims find themselves isolated in violent homes, without access to resources, family, or friends.

According to UNFPA’s global projections on gender-based violence released in April 2020, COVID-19 will disrupt efforts to end child marriage. It also indicated that 31 million additional cases of gender-based violence can be expected to occur if the lockdown continues for at least 6 months.

“Domestic violence in The Gambia is an occurrence that requires serious and unwavering attention,” Aisha said, attributing the prevalence to taboo.

“Taboo has long been associated with domestic violence…speaking out against it is not as easy as it should be. Shame, embarrassment and guilt are examples of emotions that victims of domestic violence face all over the world, even in countries where there is zero tolerance for domestic violence.

“One could therefore imagine how hard and complicated it is for a vulnerable victim to come out to report and seek help in The Gambia where society still somewhat tolerates domestic violence,” she noted.

Aisha believes that while the government’s stay-at-home order was meant to prevent the spread of the virus, it negatively gives room for frustrations within families resulting in an increase in domestic violence.

The Domestic Violence Act 2013, provides protection for the survivors of domestic violence, particularly women and children. But Aisha is worried about the lack of serious implementation of the laws against gender-based violence in the country.

“Many perpetrators of GBV have gotten away with their crimes because of sympathy from families, bribery to officers of the law, lack of evidence to pursue legal action etc.”

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