The Coronavirus has worsened legitimate concerns about sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) in The Gambia. In the year 2020, the Network against Gender-Based Violence (NGBV) in The Gambia has recorded 1,068 cases of sexual violence reported at the organization’s “One-Stop Centers”. This one-year tally nearly matches a four-year national data on SGBV that indicates more than 2000 cases of SBV from 2015 to 2019. Of these cases recorded in four years, 941 are rape cases.
Clearly, the most dangerous place to be a woman or a girl during the COVID-19 pandemic is at home due to the confinement and stay at home measures applied nationwide to curb the pandemic’s spread. Many women could not escape abusive partners or leave their homes to seek protection leading to an escalation in gender-based violence on women and girls in The Gambia.
Fallu Sowe, the National Coordinator of the Network against Gender-Based Violence (NGBV), says, “The data from the ‘One-Stop Centers only include reported cases, and are still shocking and simply inexcusable. Currently, we have set up nine ‘One-Stop Centers’ outlets in various communities around The Gambia. They are places that survivors of GBV can visit to receive care and have their cases recorded. Often when people speak of cases of GBV, it’s about figures, and we tend to forget that these are real lives. We must remember the people affected as it always takes courage for GBV victims/survivors to come out and tell their stories,” Fallu Sowe says.
The NGBV reported that women who suffered gender-based violence struggled to report abuse. The Gambian society does not perceive people and organizations working to provide protection and support to women as “essential service providers”. They must overcome severe restrictions that cause many of them to abandon filing court cases.
Think Young Women (TYW), an organization that seeks to inspire and assist girls and young women in achieving their individual needs, has recently trained 19 media practitioners in The Gambia on ethical and victim sensitive reporting about cases of sexual violence.
David Belgrove, the UK Ambassador to The Gambia who is supportive of the initiative, says, “We all know that the COVID19 pandemic has given rise to circumstances that have increased incidents of GBV. The United Kingdom Embassy in The Gambia is deeply concerned”. Says
Barriers to justice for victims/survivors
Often, victims of sexual violence do not come forward and remain silent because they do not trust the people handling their cases and the criminal justice system. Other victims are
reluctant to come forward to avoid the pressure and stigma associated with domestic violence. Some victims are even financially dependent on the perpetrators, especially those that are partners. All these barriers came into sharper focus during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Activists believe that the courts and the Police should be sensitive to sexual violence and diligently deal with SGBV cases as a matter of policy. Otherwise, perpetrators of SGBV would continue going unpunished and deter victims from reporting cases.
Mariama Johm, a Gender activist, says there is consensus among activists on establishing a special court for sexual and gender-based violence cases. “Am sure if we have such a Court, it will help apply due diligence to cases of SBV”, she said.