On this day in 1987, the world hit a 5-billion mark in population.
This significant event birthed the annually-observed World Population Day, established by the Governing Council of the United Nations Development Program in 1989. It is a day dedicated to addressing urgent population issues and at large, to celebrating humanity.
The 1994 International Conference on Population and Development submitted that reproductive health is a key element in achieving sustainable development. But then, making reproductive health and rights a reality for all still remains an unfinished business.
The NeoChild Initiative (TNCI) also recognizes the importance of a healthy population. In effect, on this World Population Day 2020, it aims to spread the word, near and far, about protecting the sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) of girls and women during the pandemic. This year's edition will focus on ‘’Putting the brakes on COVID-19; how to safeguard the health and rights of women and girls with rape and sexual assault’’.
Sexual assault encompasses a range of acts; including coerced sex in marriage and dating relationships, rape by strangers, organized rape in war, sexual harassment, rape of children, trafficking of women and girls, female genital mutilation, demands of sex for jobs or school grades and forced exposure to pornography. It is important to understand the ramifications of sexual assault not only as a physical act, but also could be verbal or visual sexual abuse or any act that forces a person to join in unwanted sexual contact or attention.
The results of a survey published by NOIPolls in July, 2019 suggested that up to one in every three girls living in Nigeria could have experienced at least one form of sexual assault by the time they reach 25.
Damilola Balogun, one of our volunteers described rape and sexual assault as getting worse day by day. "It's really sad and it's never the victim's fault", she further added.
Women and girls play a very vital role in human progress and have a significant place in the society. Throughout history, the central role of women in the society has contributed to the stability, progress and long-term development of nations. However, this indispensable demographic is being bedeviled by rising cases of sexual and gender-based violence. Rape cases, particularly, has taken a disturbing, sharp elevation in recent times. The Nigerian Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu informed the country on how worrisome this is, as he revealed that the Police had recorded about 717 rape incidents across the country between Jan. and May 2020. He added, “It has come to the public knowledge now that because of the COVID-19 restrictions, we have a surge in cases of rape and gender-based violence."
Attending to the sexual and reproductive health needs of women and girls during this pandemic is as important as fighting the pandemic itself. Women and girls are becoming an endangered kind. Regardless of the present status quo, we must not relent in our efforts towards turning around this ill fate.
Recent United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) research projected 7 million unintended pregnancies and 31 million additional cases of gender-based violence, if the present lockdown persists for 6 months. The disruption of UNFPA’s programmes on the ground could result in 2 million cases of female genital mutilation and 13 million child marriages between 2020 and 2030 that could have been averted.
Considering the consequences of unintended pregnancies such as postnatal depression and ongoing mental health problems in the mother, women are likely to bear the brunt. A quick reminder that other consequences such as economic implications (e.g. poverty) won't spare the rest of the population. According to this research, inadequate supply of contraceptives due to lockdown effect on market logistics, is suspected to be a strong factor that could trigger this 7-million upsurge. So is the sidelining of sexual and reproductive health services too, as Covid-19 seems to have stolen the show.
Some interviewed TNCI's volunteers have also shared their opinions on how safeguarding the SRHR of women and girls can be demonstrated:
Dr. Urenna Emenyonu, a TNCI Health Team volunteer encouraged women to educate themselves via available social media platforms as she observed that people spend most of their time online.
She stressed further "There is a need to unlearn whatever wrong information and for women to know what they have rights to and how to properly access it."
"In this era of the pandemic with the 'stay at home' order, already abused women find themselves stuck with their abusers with nowhere to run to.”, she added and then recommended that paramedic team or emergency responders that are well equipped to handle domestic violence cases should be created.
Abiodun Adelupe firmly believes that it is possible to eradicate rape and sexual assault totally though it will take a lot of work, enlightenment, education and institutional framework.
She urges girls to try to be as safe as possible, learn basic self-defence skills and avoid unsafe areas. She also implores parents to educate their young children on these issues, for boys to be enlightened about consent and girls to be enrolled in self-defence programs.
Ms. Adeorike Bamgbose, TNCI Content and Editorial Team Volunteer, revisited the basics. In her words, "the first step to protecting the health and rights of females is to acknowledge that every female has (her) rights irrespective of socioeconomic status, age, religion, race, tribe, complexion, body type etc."
Damilola Balogun also added that the background to sexual violence is important in understanding the ramifications of the problem, and addressing the root of the problem will be helpful rather than fixing from the surface. She also demands that proper punishment be served to all rape and sexual assault perpetrators.
In tandem with this year's goal for the World Population Day, TNCI will be going live on Instagram with our guest Jumoke Adebayo, Founder of Reprolife, where we will be discussing about the vulnerability of women and girls during the pandemic.