In the Shadow of a Pandemic: Cameroonian Women say Covid-19 Opens them up to Domestic Violence

 

Jane points to a deep opening on her forehead and shakes her head, tears rolling down her cheeks. “My husband did this to me,” she says. She says fighting with her husband has become a daily routine ever since Cameroon declared a lockdown as one of the measures to fight the raging Coronavirus that has so far killed over 140 Cameroonians with more than 3000 confirmed cases.

“We all stay at home these days, and my husband wants sex all the time,” she says.

“He doesn’t care if I want it too or not. Even when I am sick, he wants to sleep with me and when I object, I am beaten. This wasn’t the case before this Coronavirus. Before now, he would come back home tired and he would simply sleep off. Then we had a happy home. It’s not more the case.”

The global Covid-19 pandemic has claimed loved ones before their time, and once bustling cities and neighborhoods now stand in lock-down.

But that isn’t the only tragedy of the pandemic. Mounting evidence suggests the lockdown has also led to a spike in domestic violence against women and girls.

According to the United Nations Fund for Population Activity (UNFPA), 13 million cases of gender-based violence are expected for every three months of the lock-down globally, and some 325,000 women will get pregnant against their will.

In the once independent territory of Southern Cameroons, also referred to as Ambazonia, where a separatist war is already disproportionately affecting women, the Covid-19 has already made things worse for this vulnerable group of people.

Local nongovernmental organization (NGO), Beacon of Light Association (BeLA)  that works to give respite to victims of gender-based violence has raised the alarm, saying it is receiving increasing numbers of women complaining of domestic rape and battery perpetrated by their spouses, as a result of the lockdown.

“The current global crisis has worsened the existing inequalities in our communities,” says Yeku Eleen Ndze, Founder and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of BeLA.

 

Yekpu Eleen Ndze at a Sensitization Session (Photo credit: Timescape Magazine)

 

She told Timescape Magazine that school closures, confinement in physical space as well as quarantines “have amplified tension in homes, abuse and exploitation of women and girls.”

She said although there are no studies to quantify the abuse, her organization has been “receiving more calls and reports from survivors of domestic violence, most of them dealing with rape and sexual violence”.

She said her organization has been providing psycho-social support to the survivors and referring critical cases to other competent structures.

She called on the government to factor gender-based violence in its response to the Covid-19 pandemic.