by Twitter Team @endcuttinggirls

According to a @UNICEF Publication, “the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic is of a scale most people alive today have never seen” (https://www.unicef.org/coronavirus/agenda-for-action). Worldwide, the outbreak is claiming lives and livelihoods as health systems buckle, borders close and families struggle to stay afloat. 

Communities across the globe are rising to the challenge – from health workers risking their lives to fight the virus, to young people deploying innovative ways to share public health messages. Yet, even as the spread of the virus slows in some countries, its social toll will come fast and hard. And in many places, it will come at the expense of the most vulnerable children. 

According to UNICEF, “Without urgent action, this health crisis risks becoming a child-rights crisis”. Disruptions to society have a heavy impact on children: on their safety, their well-being, their future.

As communities are disrupted, Girls/Women already at risk of violence, exploitation and abuse will find themselves even more vulnerable. Social and economic turmoil will heighten girls’ risk of early marriage, pregnancy and other forms of violence such as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).

With isolation, Girls/Women at risk of undergoing FGM will be farther from help. And the stress and stigma of illness and financial strain will exacerbate volatile family and community situations. 

We must prevent this pandemic from turning into a crisis of child protection. Governments need to account for the unique risks of girls and women. The existing crisis of violence against Girls/Women is likely to worsen in the context of COVID-19.

In Australia, a Women’s Safety New South Wales survey reveals that 40 per cent of frontline workers have reported increased requests for help by survivors, and 70 per cent have reported that the cases received have increased in their level of complexity during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Increase in reports of violence is happening at the same time that services are being compromised. 

Life-saving care and support to women who experienced violence (i.e. clinical management of rape and mental health and psycho-social support) may be disrupted when health service providers are overburdened and preoccupied with handling COVID-19 cases. Even where basic essential services are maintained, a collapse in a coordinated response between different sectors, i.e., health, police and justice and social services response, and social distancing will mean that sectors will be challenged to provide meaningful and relevant support to women and girls who are experiencing violence.

In other cases, where movement is restricted, and/or where access to quality essential services is limited, or being administered differently, as a result of social distancing (e.g. counselling by phone, emails or other platforms), requests for help have been decreasing.

Women and girls at this time may not be able to reach networks, organizations that provide support and recognize abuse (e.g. women’s rights networks, teachers, health workers, faith leaders, community development officers, Child Protection Network etc.).

Also, given the existing gender digital divide, women and girls in many countries, especially those who face multiple forms of discrimination, may not have access to a mobile phone, computer, or internet to access services or be able to safely use these at home as they may be closely monitored by the perpetrator and other family members. The social and economic costs of violence against women and girls are substantial, with broader costs associated with delivering services to victims, as well as the costs related to the criminal justice response.

The global cost of violence against women and girls (public, private and social) is estimated at approximately 2 per cent of global gross domestic product (GDP), or US$1.5 trillion. That figure can only be rising as violence increases now, and continues in the aftermath of the pandemic.

A predicted rise in the different forms and manifestations of violence against women and girls will not only exacerbate the economic impacts of the COVID-19 crisis but will also slow down economic recovery across the world.  The economic impact of COVID-19 resulting from the widespread closure of businesses and industries puts increased financial strain on communities.

Experience from the Ebola and Zika outbreaks shows that epidemics exacerbate existing inequalities, including those based on economic status, ability, age and gender. The financial impact of COVID-19 will also affect the capacity of local women’s organizations, to advocate for policy reforms on violence against women and girls and for service provision to survivors of violence over the long-term.

It is critical for Government to address the increase of violence against Girls/Women during COVID-19 lockdown as stated below;

  • Government should allocate additional resources and include evidence-based measures to address violence against women and girls in COVID-19 national response plans.
  • Government should Treat services for women who experienced violence, including FGM, as essential services.
  • Government should strengthen services, including shelters, through capacity rapid assessments, and through design of risk assessments, safety planning and case management, adapted to the crisis context, to ensure survivors’ access to support.  
  • Government should ensure psychosocial support for women and girls who experienced violence and frontline health and social support workers.  
  • Government should expand the capacity of shelters, including re-purposing other spaces, such as empty hotels, or education institutions, to accommodate quarantine needs.   
  • Government should strengthen helplines, through online counselling and technology-based solutions such as Short Message Services (SMS), online tools, and social support networks.  
  • Government should raise awareness of police and judiciary about the increase of violence against women and girls during COVID-19 and provide training on how to respond, protect and refer victims and survivors to appropriate services.  
  • Government should train first responders on psychosocial support, including health workers, law enforcement and court officials and emergency shelter and counselling staff still operating during the crisis.  
  • Government should provide training for education and child services staff on safety and referral information for children who may be experiencing abuse at home or who may be vulnerable to online predators.  
  • Government should ensure support for grassroots women’s rights organizations, especially those that provide essential services to hard-to-reach, remote and vulnerable populations.
  • Government should ensure women’s organizations and women’s community organizations participate in the decision-making processes so that needs and concerns are identified and included in prevention of and responses to violence against women and girls.  
  • Government should consider the role of women’s organizations in recovery plans and the longer-term solutions to address the increase of violence against women and girls during COVID-19.
  • Government should collect sex-disaggregated data on the incidence of violence against women and girls, including domestic violence (including psychological and economic violence) and sexual violence, recording place of occurrence.  
  • Government should collect data on the needs and capacity of services to respond to the increased demand from women and girls in the context of COVID-19.  
  • In conclusion, the Government should ensure that any data collection effort does not put women and girls at greater risk of violence and distress.  .

Across the globe, UNICEF is working with communities, governments and partners to slow the spread of COVID-19 and minimize the social and economic impacts on children and their families. UNICEF commits to the statements below; (https://www.unicef.org/coronavirus/agenda-for-action).

  1. UNICEF commits to – Working with governments, authorities and global health partners to ensure vital supplies and protective equipment reach the most vulnerable communities. (https://www.unicef.org/coronavirus/agenda-for-action).
  2. UNICEF commits to – Prioritizing the delivery of life-saving medicines, nutrition and vaccines, and working closely with governments and logistics networks to mitigate the impact of travel restrictions on the delivery of these supplies. (https://www.unicef.org/coronavirus/agenda-for-action).
  3. UNICEF commits to – Working with partners to urgently distribute water, sanitation and hygiene facilities to the most vulnerable communities.  (https://www.unicef.org/coronavirus/agenda-for-action).
  4. UNICEF commits to – Distributing vital public health messaging and advice to slow the transmission of the virus and minimize mortality. (https://www.unicef.org/coronavirus/agenda-for-action).
  5. UNICEF commits to – Supporting governments to keep schools safe and ensure children continue to learn. (https://www.unicef.org/coronavirus/agenda-for-action).
  6. UNICEF commits to – Providing advice and support to parents, caregivers and educators to support home and remote learning, and working with partners to design innovative education solutions. (https://www.unicef.org/coronavirus/agenda-for-action).
  7. UNICEF commits to – Providing guidance to employers on how best to support working parents, and designing new social protection solutions that ensure the poorest households can access critical funding. (https://www.unicef.org/coronavirus/agenda-for-action).
  8. UNICEF commits to – Providing peer-to-peer learning and information sharing between young people to support their mental health and combat stigma, xenophobia and discrimination. (https://www.unicef.org/coronavirus/agenda-for-action).
  9. UNICEF commits to – Stepping up our work with refugee and migrant children and those affected by conflict to ensure they are protected from COVID-19. (https://www.unicef.org/coronavirus/agenda-for-action).

The UNICEF_Nigeria State FGM implementing partners will continue to respond to reported cases of FGM as they work with the Government of Nigeria to prevent the spread of COVID-19 while ensuring that girls/ women are safe from FGM.

Before we close, we would like to share a brief overview of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) for the benefit of those joining our tweet conference for the first time.

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) includes all procedures that involve the partial or total removal of external genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.

The World Health Organization (WHO) classifies FGM into four types, and all four types are all practiced in Nigeria.

Type I: partial or total removal of the clitoris and/or the prepuce (Clitoridectomy). Subgroups of Type I FGM are: type Ia, removal of the clitoral hood or prepuce only; type Ib, removal of the clitoris with the prepuce.

Type II: partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora, with or without excision of the labia majora (excision). Subgroups of Type II FGM are: type IIa, removal of the labia minora only; type IIb, partial or total removal of the clitoris and labia minora; type IIc, partial or total removal of the clitoris, labia minora & labia majora.

Type III: narrowing of the vaginal orifice with creation of a covering seal by cutting and appositioning the labia minora and/or the labia majora, with or without excision of the clitoris (infibulation). Subgroups of Type III FGM are: type IIIa, removal and apposition of the labia minora; type IIIb, removal and apposition of the labia majora.

Reinfibulation is covered under this definition. This is a procedure to recreate an infibulation, for example after childbirth when defibulation is necessary.

Type IV: unclassified – all other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for nonmedical purposes, for example, pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterization. Type IV also includes the practice of “massaging” or applying petroleum jelly, herbal concoctions or hot water to the clitoris to desensitize it or pushing it back into the body, which is common in many parts of Nigeria, especially Imo State.

FGM has no known health benefit, and is harmful to girls and women. It involves altering, removing and/or damaging otherwise healthy female genital tissue. It is estimated that over 200 million girls and women worldwide are living with the effects of FGM, and every year some 3 million girls and women are at risk of FGM and are therefore exposed to its potential negative health consequences (UNICEF 2016).

In Nigeria, the Nigeria Demographic Health Survey (NDHS 2018) revealed that 20% of women aged 15-49 years had undergone FGM, a decrease from 25% (NDHS 2013). 

For more information about FGM you can visit http://www.who.int or watch

At this point, I will stop the conversation so we can reflect on the key points discussed as I entertain any questions.

Together we will end FGM in this Generation.