17 / 02 / 2021

COVID is spiking child marriage and domestic violence

Across Africa, women and girls face gender-based violence - including sexual violence, domestic violence, so-called honour violence, child marriage, trafficking and female genital mutilation – from a young age and on a daily, increasingly violent basis.

Covid-19 has only served to exacerbate the situation, with AHO warning that African women face “a heightened risk of domestic and gender-based violence” as a result of the pandemic.


Often, it is the abused who gets portrayed as the criminal. It is estimated there are more than 4million modern slaves in Iraq, including hundreds of thousands of victims of sex trafficking.

Many of these trafficked victims across the continent have been prosecuted for prostitution, with some sent to jail. When the justice system is so systemically broken, very few victims have confidence in the judiciary and are willing to speak up.

To tackle gender-based violence, governments need a clear, comprehensive and communicated strategy on the issue. To date, there is no clear understanding or policy between the governments on how to reduce and eliminate gender-based violence whatsoever. Women’s groups have also failed to show and real visibility in leading change within the region, leaving a handful of NGOs to raise awareness of abuse.

However NGOs cannot carry the burden of tackling widespread, systemic abuse alone, and whilst NGOs are able to provide services in the major cities, such as helplines, awareness campaigns and shelters for domestic abuse survivors, there is close to zero support in the districts and villages.

Ultimately, it is the responsibility of government to formulate policy and implement legislation as a means of tackling the scourge of gender-based violence.

Unfortunately, the African governments faces a myriad of issues, such as an inability to pay civil servants because of salaries held back, a decline in oil prices and lack of diversification of the economy. Women’s issues are therefore relegated to the bottom of the priority list. Politicians have become very good at paying lip-service to tackling gender-based violence through convincing soundbites and nice-looking campaigns, but in reality little attention is ever paid to the issue.

In 2021, as the Covid-19 pandemic hopefully settles, I call for real leadership from African governments on tackling gender-based violence: by empowering women, both legally and financially, to take control of their own lives; by reforming a corrupt and broken judicial system; by legislating to enshrine women’s rights in the rule of law; and by tackling the deep-rooted cultural attitudes that still enable men to continue to abuse with impunity.