COVID-19: ECOWAS Ministers Recommend Zero Tolerance to Sexual and Gender-based Violence
DAKAR, 14 October 2020 – Following a virtual regional Ministerial meeting on: “Sexual and Gender-based Violence and the Status of Girls’ and Women’s Rights during the Covid-19 Pandemic and Beyond” from 8th to 9th October, 2020, the Ministers in charge of Gender, Women and Children of ECOWAS Member states agreed on a position of Zero Tolerance to Sexual and Gender-Based Violence.
Organized by the ECOWAS Gender Development Centre in collaboration with international development partners (Plan International, World Vision, UNICEF and UN Human Rights), this important meeting brought together key stakeholders in the gender sector and the protection of women and girls from the 15 ECOWAS Member States.
In her opening remarks, Dr. Siga Fatima Jagne, Commissioner for Social Affairs and Gender of the ECOWAS Commission, noted that COVID-19 has had more devastating side effects on women and girls, especially in terms of human security parameters such as economic, food, health, personal, and community security. She indicated that since the outbreak of COVID-19, there has been an upsurge in sexual and gender-based violence, including West African countries where girls and young women have been the most affected.
“We call on all our Member States, our societies, our governments, state and non-state actors, international, continental, bilateral and regional organizations; developmental and technical partners to join hands with us to ensure, promote, establish and instil an abiding culture of Zero Tolerance to Sexual and Gender-based Violence and the Elimination of all Forms of Violence Against Women and Girls at all Times and Circumstances within the ECOWAS Region”, the Ministers in charge of Gender, Women and Children stated.
West and Central Africa has the highest rate of child marriage in the world with 40% of girls getting married before the age of 18 and 24% before the age of 15. The confinement, or restriction of mobility, due to COVID-19 safety measures has created an environment conducive to sexual violence, as children and women are forced to spend more time in reduced space, with their potential perpetrators in the family environment.
In addition, with the extended closure of schools, many girls may never return to school; and may end up becoming child-brides. Moreover, the growing poverty gap among women and within families is a strong contributor to the higher prevalence of child marriage, as families use marriage as a survival strategy to reduce the number of family members under their care.
As they recognized that sexual and gender-based violence are violation of human rights and that they do impact negatively on physical and mental health and constitute barriers in achieving the global Sustainable Development Goals, the ministers decided to:
- Reaffirm their commitment to safeguard the rights of women and children, especially girls, as well as ensure their protection through advocacy and programming
- Pledge to channel efforts towards the creation of an environment that is conducive for girls to lead safe, educated and healthy lives, and to prepare them for their future leadership roles as agents of change in their communities and the world at large;
- Commit to ensuring the mobilization of the needed resources as well as the engagement and inclusion of all relevant influencers to ensure the protection of girls and women and to eliminate gender-based violence, sexual exploitation, harmful practices such as Child marriage and Female Genital Mutilation within COVID-19 response plans and beyond, including continued support to survivors in conflict and non-conflict situations as well as in humanitarian settings;
- Commit to play an active part in the effective and rapid implementation of recommendations from different pertinent authorities aimed at addressing Sexual and Gender-Based Violence and to ensure respect for the rights of girls and women.
This meeting followed an ECOWAS experts’ meeting that took place from 5th - 7th October with several objectives: to review the effects of COVID-19 on women and girls, particularly with regard to sexual and gender-based violence and child marriage; as well as opportunities for the empowerment of women and girls; to call for renewed actions relating to the implementation of the ECOWAS Roadmap on the prevention of child marriage; and to share the experiences of ECOWAS Member States relating to their prevention and response activities on various issues of sexual and gender-based violence prior to and during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The development partners through this press statement fully endorse the Ministerial recommendations and will support the effective implementation, monitoring and enforcement of the following recommendations across the West Africa Region.
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