Araba Kwansima, a 40-year-old woman with three children, since December last year, has been living with her mother at Obuasi after she ran away from her abusive husband in Accra.
Although life in Obuasi for her and her three children is nothing to write home about, she feels better off living in a chamber and hall with her mother rather than the four-bedroom mansion at East Legon where she used to live with her husband.
Araba’s woes began in April 2020 when her once loving husband began shouting at her and their children who are between six and 13 years.
Araba’s husband, who is an educationist by profession, has been home since the COVID-19 lockdown in March 2020.
By December 2020, Araba could not take the abuse on her and the children anymore and, therefore, sought a safe haven in her mother’s house in Obuasi.
Araba’s situation, according to a project commissioned by the International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA–Ghana) through the Women Leading Voices project of PLAN Ghana with sponsorship from Global Affairs, Canada, is said to be as a result of heightened household pressures during the almost six months COVID-19 partial lockdown.
A position paper on the project identified that during the pandemic and from the above narration of Araba’s ordeal, due to heightened household pressures, women and girls were at greater risk of witnessing intimate partner abuse and other forms of domestic violence as the pandemic adversely affected income and employment, particularly affecting businesses and families.
The project was to review the government’s communication or the Presidential update on COVID-19 since March 2020.
The review, however, showed that government official communications excluded data on the impact of COVID-19 on domestic violence and that the government’s response to COVID-19 had excluded the recognition of the increased risk of abuse and violence during the pandemic to both children and women.
GBV during lockdown
The project identified that the interference in people’s revenues by the lockdown, set both monetary and mental weight on providers, who are generally men.
This, according to the project, might likewise mean increased strain resulting into an increased level of violence and this was what Araba and her three children were experiencing in their home before she ran off to her mother in Obuasi.
It is the position of FIDA-Ghana that if official communications on the pandemic continued to neglect the subject of increasing abuse on women and children, then questions ought to be raised about the state’s commitment to its safeguarding responsibilities to the vulnerable populations.
According to the women centred organisation, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) agenda confirms that violence was a barrier to gender equality, girls’ and women empowerment, as well as sustainable development and that sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) was an impediment to the achievement of other goals, including poverty eradication, health which included sexual and reproductive health of survivors of SGBV.
The position paper said the COVID-19 pandemic and its associated public restrictions made life particularly challenging for all persons. Importantly, it said it worsened the situation of most vulnerable groups, especially women, children and PWDs.
According to the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, approximately 10 per cent of Ghana’s population were PWDs. Although their rights are guaranteed both by Ghana’s constitution and international conventions, in reality these provisions had offered them very little actual protection against discrimination.
It said it could, therefore, be argued that during COVID-19, the condition of PWDs might have become deplorable and thus, unable to acquire personal protective equipment (PPE) to protect themselves from COVID-19. Therefore, PWDs are more vulnerable and at a higher risk of becoming infected with the virus.
The UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, and the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights have called for the prevention of violence against women to be a key part of COVID-19 response and recovery plans. This, they said, required that governments allocated funding for prevention and response services.
In its recommendations, the position paper called for medical care, sexual and reproductive health services, counselling, shelters and legal assistance, hotlines and services to be considered as essential service provided to women and girls, as well as PWDs.
It also said future updates on the COVD-19 situation in Ghana should provide details of specific measures taken to reduce the incidence of gender based violence.
It also suggested that representatives of DOVVSU should be a part of the President’s advisory Team on COVID-19 to enable them provide inputs and guidance to security personnel on how to assist women and marginalised groups who, one way or the other, might have suffered from some form of abuse or domestic violence during the previous lockdown or for future occurrences.
DOVVSU officials, it recommended, must be allowed to participate and make relevant inputs into the government updates on COVID-19 to indicate how sensitised and responsive they would be to calls from victims or survivors. This will also provide the public with relevant information regarding how issues of domestic and gender-based violence are being handled.
The government, it said, must also prioritise the humanitarian needs of PWDs and provide adequately for them as a result of the limitations they currently had and experienced.
The Social Welfare Department, it said, must develop or update its database of PWDs in the country and ensure that they were adequately provided for with relevant and appropriate COVID-19 PPE that would be suitable for them.
Community support systems and structures, it said, should be strengthened to protect women, children and PWDs against the virus, saying the government and its relevant institutions such as the Ministries of Health and Communications, among others, should ensure the availability of accessible and accurate information about coronavirus, testing locations, its impacts on families to all citizens, especially the vulnerable population.
It also called on the government to raise the awareness of PWDs and their representative organisations on the protective measures needed to combat COVID-19, especially knowing its implications on women and girls, as well as persons with disabilities.
The government and other relevant institutions, it added, should provide relevant support and share details on how and where PWDs including people with mental health and/or psycho-social disabilities, could access care and social support.
Development partners and humanitarian institutions, as well as donors, it said, should also increase their donations and financial and technical support to programmes and projects that support and protect vulnerable population such as women, girls and PWDs against gender-based violence during this COVID-19 period.
It appealed to development partners to be willing to and ready to engage with relevant institutions to allow for the reuse of funds to support women, girls and PWDs.