The COVID-19 pandemic is heightening already existing vulnerabilities for gender-based violence, reducing survivors access to report, seek help or receive quality response services. In some situations, there has been an increase in the incidents of GBV; however, in north-east Nigeria, restrictions and lockdown measures have presented barriers for survivors who are seeking help and service provision.
Organizations providing GBV services have had to adapt and apply flexible approaches, in order to continue providing service for survivors and people in need. The GBV Sub-Sector has engaged in the development of COVID-19 response strategies, collaborating with the COVID-19 Task Force and supporting partners to maintain service provision.
The GBV Sub-Sector (GBVSS) developed technical and strategic guidance notes and strategies, as well as compiled and shared relevant resources for partners to support response actions in the COVID-19 context. The resources are on GBV case management, the GBV information management system (GBVIMS), safe space management, PSEA, and other relevant resources. Staff have received appropriate training on adapting new guidelines and guidance notes to service provision.
The GBVSS facilitated the transition to remote service provision in the context of COVID-19. Partners established confidential spaces including service provision hubs to provide remote services through telephone helplines throughout the COVID-19 pandemic in Maiduguri, Pulka and Monguno (Borno State). This enhanced access to GBV case management and psychosocial support services for survivors and other vulnerable individuals.
Facilities and service delivery points for GBV services, such as women and girl’s friendly spaces, integrated/women empowerment facilities, and one stop centres, have set up hand washing facilities and put hygiene measures in place to ensure staff and beneficiaries adhere to public health standards. Partners also set up designated areas (temporary confinement spaces or rooms) with dignity for beneficiaries showing signs or symptoms of COVID-19 while health teams are contacted. Partners also procured and provided COVID-19 prevention items and supplies to protection desks and women and girls friendly spaces. Moreover, GBV response teams in referral centres are following Infection, Prevention and Control procedures.
The GBVSS conducted mapping of critical GBV response stakeholders and updated GBV referral pathways. To support GBV response teams to respond appropriately, they were provided with personal protection supplies such as face masks, hand sanitizers, gloves, and other protective gear to meet the logistical needs of GBV survivors. GBV/PSEA messages were developed focusing on reporting channels, GBV service availability and referral pathways. The GBVSS also started the process of scaling up the rollout of Primero/GBVIMS+ to document case management practices during lockdowns with limited engagement. Given that remote service provision has risks associated with guaranteeing safety and confidentiality, GBVIMS+/Primero facilitates ethical and confidential incident data management and security.
The GBV Sub-Sector conducted a test run of Smart RR - a mobile application which enables survivors, social workers and service providers to report and refer GBV incidents to relevant service providers and authorities, conducts service mapping, automatically updates the referral directory, and collects and analyses referral data. The application is an innovation of a local NGO partner, built on the referral mechanism of the GBV Sub-Sector to mitigate existing challenges such as under-reporting and difficulties associated with accessing services.
The reduced presence of humanitarian personnel, especially in some of the deep field locations, has strained available services and limited access to GBV service provision. Meanwhile, frontline staff and response teams lack access to adequate basic personal supplies to enable them to respond appropriately to the identified needs.
Community-based GBV prevention activities have also been limited due to physical distancing measures during the COVID-19 pandemic. These are avenues through which communities are engaged on GBV awareness and avenues for seeking help for survivors.
Moreover, families directly affected by COVID-19 face serious stigma from community members especially when a family has been confirmed to be positive or is suspected. Additional efforts, including raising awareness to counter stigmatization, need to be undertaken to ensure the protection of people affected by COVID-19.