From London to Lombardy, from Madrid to New York, from Lagos to my home city of Accra, streets are empty, businesses are shut and social activities curtailed. The cities are in lockdown. The deadly covid-19 has forced once buzzing cities to go quite like the cemetery in my hometown, Banko. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), lockdown is essential to reduce the rate of spread of the virus and buy time for health professionals to deal with it.
Whiles the lockdown is absolute essential in the fight against covid-19, there is every reason to believe that the lockdown would create a fertile ground for domestic abuse to thrive. This is because experts assert that domestic violence goes up whenever families spend more time together. France 24 reports a nationwide spike of about 30% in domestic violence during the lockdown in France. In the United Kingdom, the BBC reported the National Domestic Abuse helpline saw a 25% increase in calls and online requests for help since the lockdown. In Spain, the emergency number for domestic violence received 18% more calls in the first two weeks of lockdown than in the same period a month earlier. The same trend follows across China, United States of America, Italy, among others. Domestic violence has thus become an opportunistic infection of the coronavirus pandemic.
Whiles news of increase in domestic violence is been reported globally, there is absolute silence on the matter in Ghana during this period; not as if Ghana has no issues of domestic abuse especially abuse against women. Indeed, a study conducted by the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) in collaboration with the Ghana Statistical Services (GSS) in 2016 showed domestic violence incidence rate in Ghana was 27.7% among women and 20% among men. Again, the United Nations (UN) global database on violence against women in Ghana stands at 24% as at 2019. These figures are likely to spike during the lockdown in Ghana.
Unfortunately, there is no help in site in Ghana for victims of domestic abuse during the lockdown. Going to report a matter to the police is not considered an essential service. Though the Ghana Police Service has some social media platforms such as Facebook and Whatsapp where complaints can be lodged, these platforms are not favourable to victims who are not technologically savvy. Furthermore, the lockdown has also closed almost all support networks (neighbours, families, friends) making it even far more difficult for victims to get help or escape. Victims of domestic violence can only endure the abuse of their abusers during this period.
The United Nations Secretary General, Mr. Antonio Gutteres, in an address to nations wrote on his Twitter feed on Sunday 5th April, 2020 “I urge all governments to put women’s safety first as they respond to the pandemic”. He lamented the rise in domestic violence as “horrifying” and urged all governments “to make the prevention and redress of violence against women a key part of their national response plans for COVID-19”.
However, in the numerous social interventions by the Government of Ghana in the fight against covid-19, little or nothing has been said to protect victims of domestic violence during the lockdown. Indeed, in classifying the vulnerable groups to get support from government during the lockdown, victims of domestic violence were completely left out. In Italy and many other countries, special hotlines have been dedicated for victims to report abuse of domestic violence. They have even gone ahead to set special hotels where victims could be “quarantined” until the lockdown is over. It can be said that government has failed largely so far to prepare the way covid-19 fight will not create opportunities for abusers to terrorize their victims.
Going forward, it is suggested that government should make reporting of domestic violence during the lockdown as an essential service. Just as other special hotlines have been set aside to report suspected cases of covid-19, hotlines for requesting for food among others, a special dedicated hotline should be available for victims to report abuses. Also, as government is trying to shelter head potters popularly called “kayaye”, same or similar accommodation should be provided for victims of domestic violence during this lockdown.
Again, advocates for human rights especially the right of women should not go into hibernation during this period. They should continue to support victims of domestic abuse including if possible providing hotlines where victims can report abuse and also providing accommodation.
In conclusion, we must all endeavour to stop domestic violence; protect women and other vulnerable men. Whiles staying at home, show love not hate, show love not violence to your partners and children. The violence in us should rather be directed towards the coronavirus by washing our hands with soap under running water, covering our mouth whiles coughing and sneezing, exercising and eating balanced diet.