Photo: This women's VSLA group in Niger process peanuts to make a living (c)Ollivier Girard/CARE
Abuja, Nigeria, 19 October 2020 - Ahead of the Central Sahel Conference on Tuesday 20th October 2020, CARE is calling on donors and governments in the region to urgently increase funding for the Central Sahel crisis, and to make sure gender-based violence is prioritized in the response; to help save and improve the lives of millions of women and girls across the Sahel region.
The Central Sahel border region between Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger is the epicentre of one of the world's fastest-growing humanitarian crises. Violence between armed groups, natural disasters brought on by climate change and widespread poverty have pushed a record 13.4 million people to need humanitarian assistance, out of which five million are children.
In less than two years, violence and insecurity in Central Sahel have driven 1.5 million people from their homes and 7.4 million people into acute hunger. Lockdowns and other COVID-19 prevention measures have pushed an additional 6 million people into extreme poverty.
Humanitarian organizations require US$1.4 billion to provide emergency assistance for the remainder of 2020 and up to 2021. As of 7 October 2020, the humanitarian response plans for the Central Sahel were only 39 per cent funded. A further US$867 million is needed to reach the $1.4 billion funding requirements to save and protect lives in the region. A further $1.56 billion is required to finance humanitarian response plans in 2021.
Within this 39 per cent, only 2 per cent has been earmarked to support those affected by gender-based violence (GBV), despite levels of GBV, and particularly domestic violence, which has soared during the pandemic and lockdown periods. As government structures are strained, humanitarian organizations are being left to try to plug the gaps.
As one health worker in Niger notes: "there are many cases of domestic violence. Women with injuries come to the [clinics] during this period of crisis. Care services exist but lack the means to ensure effective and efficient care. It is the NGOs working in the field of gender-based violence that take care of them".
CARE’s Rapid Gender Analysis survey of over 260 people, carried out across West Africa earlier this year showed an overall rise in domestic abuse and economic abuse during the pandemic, and increased risks of sexual abuse and exploitation in some contexts.
"The impact of gender-based violence, particularly against women, has been under-documented and under-resourced in the Central Sahel,” said Mahamoudou Guimbayara, CARE West Africa Regional Humanitarian Advocacy Coordinator.
“The region is also facing a real protection crisis where all civilians, but particularly women and girls, are seeing a sharp increase in many forms of violence, including gender-based violence,” he said.
"This is why we are asking donors and governments in the region to make sure that humanitarian appeals are fully funded and to earmark specific funds and support or GBV-prevention and assistance. This will enable us to scale up our programs to help survivors and to make sure that community-based organizations, which are on the forefront of this GBV shadow pandemic, receive the necessary funds and support to carry out their critical activities,” said Guimbayara.
On Friday 16 October CARE, Plan International and UNFPA will highlight the issue of GBV in the Central Sahel at an event where activists and civil society participants will speak about the very real impact that conflict, natural disasters, food crises and now COVID-19 have had on women’s safety, wellbeing and livelihoods.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, women and women’s civil society have been critical frontline responders and leaders in humanitarian response efforts. Yet, the public health emergency has had a disproportionate impact on women and girls. COVID-19 has exacerbated pre-existing inequalities and resulted in alarming health and economic impacts for women and increased risk of gender-based violence. Women and girls are pillars of the response in their own communities, but the existence of their organizations is threatened by lack of funding for COVID and the other programs they were implementing.
Humanitarian actors, the UN and donor organizations must ensure refugee women, including adolescent girls, have a seat at the table and a voice in defining humanitarian interventions. It has already been shown, for example, that involving women in shaping and implementing the response will reduce the risk of harm against them and specifically of gender-based violence.
One woman told CARE about the effect that lockdown was having now that her husband had stopped going out to work and was staying home all day.
“There are two major things that my husband can do in this house; merciless beating or violent sex”, she said.
“I’m just praying that medical scientists provide a vaccine because the disease has come to stay with us and some of us may not survive in our homes if this continues. Now I’m experiencing the fear of my husband and the fear of the disease at the same time.”
Despite this recognized Shadow Pandemic, GBV is not addressed as a separate sector of response in the UN Global Humanitarian Response Plan for COVID-19. Over 533 concerned agencies have therefore written a letter to UN Under-Secretary General Mark Lowcock for urgent action to make gender-based violence (GBV) a key response priority of humanitarian response plans.
Notes to Editor:
CARE has the following advocacy spokespeople available for interview at the event:
To speak to civil society members and anti-GBV activists working in the region, please contact CARE’s media team to arrange interviews in French.