Mitigating humanitarian crises on women

In this report, ENE OSHABA examines implication of humanitarian crises on women and need for adequate actions to create a safer society for women and children who suffer various forms of violence and abuses across the country.

In recent times, violence against women and children has formed subject matter of discussions on many platforms given the rise in the trend. The situation have also given rise to the need for conscious efforts towards curbing the trend and creating a safer society for the vulnerable.

Humanitarian action, which entails providing material and logistic assistance to people who need help, is one of the means of protecting this vulnerable group. However, gender experts have argued that humanitarian action cannot be achieved without understanding and responding to the specific needs, priorities and capacities of diverse groups.

It is also believed that integrating gender equality reinforces a human rights-based approach to humanitarian action; just as incorporating gender equality in humanitarian action enhances the impact of humanitarian strategies and interventions.

Humanitarian needs

United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) report has shown that in Nigeria crisis, especially in the north eastern part of the country, has created severe humanitarian needs where conflicts between non-state armed groups and government forces has resulted in mass displacement, food insecurity and increased protection risks for civilians.

The report stated that risks were compounded by climate-related shocks and disease outbreaks, widespread Violence against Women and Girls (VAWG) in which a considerable number of women and girls have been abducted by armed actors, where they may be subjected to sexual violence and forced marriage.

…Effect on women

Historically, major humanitarian crisis in the country have been linked to flooding, violent conflicts such as farmer-herder crisis, kidnapping, Boko Haram insurgency among others.

Facilitating a session titled: Gender and Humanitarian Interventions during a four-day Capacity Building for Humanitarian Assistance in West Africa (HAWA) Multiplier Module (MM), organised by the Women in Humanitarian Response in Nigeria Initiative (WiHRiNI), recently in Abuja, the UN Women Nigeria, Programme Specialist, Peter Mancha, said the humanitarian crisis in North-east states of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe (BAY states) which spilled over into the Lake Chad region remained among the most severe humanitarian crises in the world today. 

This, he said has increased the number of people in need of urgent assistance in North-east from 7.9 million at the beginning of 2020 to 10.6 million since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic (UNOCHA, 2021).

“Since the start of the conflict in 2009, more than 36,000 people have been killed in the BAY states and thousands of women and girls abducted,” he stated.

Mancha, while giving a gender-analysis of the impact of the insurgency revealed that while men have disproportionally been killed, women are an overwhelming majority IDPs.

“Violence against women, girls and children, including sexual violence, exposure to trafficking, and other forms of Gender Based Violence (GBV) is predominant.

“Women are often forced into survival sex in exchange for food, movement and items to meet their basic needs,” he stated.

‘It’s extremely pathetic’

Similarly, a Researcher at the National Defense College Center for Strategic Research and Studies, Olajumoke Ganiyat Jenyo, who was a participant at the WiHRiNI training, said the current humanitarian situation in Nigeria was extremely pathetic adding that the country was bedeviled with a myriad of security crises, which are on the increase due to inadequacies associated with conflict resolution mechanisms.

“These crises include rampant cases of kidnapping, armed banditry, farmer-herder clashes and most potently, insurgency which the country has been grappling with, from 2009 till date.

“The attendant consequences have led to loss of millions of lives, livelihood and properties as well as rising occurrences out of school children, internal displacements and refugee situations,” she explained.

According to her, “The impact of humanitarian crises on women, either in terms of armed conflicts or other forms of insecurity, is most worrisome, alarming and disheartening.

“Regrettably, the effects range from physical fatigue, emotional torture and gender based violence to psychological trauma, health hazard and disruption of economic activities.

“Looking at the physical effects of humanitarian crises on women, cases of injury, death and disability amongst others, are evident,” she said.

“Emotional effect manifests in suicidal cases, deliberate self-harm, depression, post traumatic disorder, anxiety disorder, withdrawal syndrome, low self-esteem as well as abuse of drugs and psychotropic substances.

“The economical effects could be in the loss of livelihood, reduction of negotiation power and lack of access to basic amenities of life. Gender based violence is evident in cases of rape involving women and girls as well as Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps, or even forced to survival sex (trading sex), with their attendant health hazards such as sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies,” she added.

…IDPs not safe in camps

Another participant, the Programme Officer, Community Emergency Response Initiative-(CERI), Toyin Igotun, opined that the humanitarian situation in Nigeria was a terrible, lamenting that people affected by humanitarian crises whether natural disasters or manmade such as violent crises are left in hopelessness due to high level of insecurity in the country.

“We have a situation where gunmen attack people in IDP camps thereby making it difficult for them and their property to be secured.

“The humanitarian crises always have devastating effect on women as wives, mothers, daughters, sisters, most times women are never considered in the course of planning for beneficiaries of humanitarian relief because attention is usually focused on men who would always over power the female IDP’s.

“Managers of the humanitarian situation forget about the basic needs of women either as mothers whom others depend on or for their own needs in terms of their sanitation and hygiene needs, they don’t consider women who are breasting feeding with regards to their nutrition, sanitation needs etc,” she noted.

Speaking further she stated: “Today due to the devastating humanitarian crises, the IDP camps are over 80 per cent women and children. Women and girls are sexually abused, raped, denied basic necessities of life; some are orphaned, widowed and made homeless.

“There are so many traumatised women and girls due SGBV related cases. Women in Nigeria are unsafe at home, on the farms, in the market, and even in the offices and places of worship,” said Mabel Adinya Ade, another participant at the training.

Mitigating effects on women

The prevention and mitigation of gender-based violence as a critical component of any programme in humanitarian action cannot be overemphasized.

As stated by the UNWomen programmes specialist every humanitarian actor should factor this approach in their work to ensure the rights of women, girls, men and boys to life and live free from violence and abuse.

Also to ensure that every humanitarian actor is trained in protection issues and standard codes of conduct to combat sexual abuse.

He maintained that wars, natural disasters and related crisis situations have profoundly different impacts on women, girls, boys and men, stressing that women and men respond differently in efforts to resist violence, survive and support their dependents, women and men act differently.

Continuing he stated that crisis impact women, girls, men and boys differently because needs and interests of women, girls, men, and boys vary, as do their resources, capacities and coping strategies in crises.

“As men generally have greater control over income, land and money, their coping mechanisms differ. In crisis and post-crisis settings, women often find themselves acting as the new head of their households.

“Women and girls are more likely to suffer from food insecurity in emergency settings. This creates a context in which women are more susceptible to abuse and exploitation, including sexual transactions for money.

“Crisis impact women, girls, men, and boys, differently. Women and girls are neither exclusively nor solely the passive victims of crisis. Men and boys are more likely to engage in combat and are majority of casualties caused by war vulnerable to forced recruitment by armed groups single-male heads households often do not have the skills to cook and care for young children when women and men are included equally in humanitarian action, the entire community benefits,” he assured.

“The situation can be mitigated through proper training and orientation of the officials or managers of the humanitarian situations; establishment and adherence to laws and policies that are supposed to guide the management of any humanitarian operation; getting women to get involved and participate in taking decision on issues that affect them; institution of proper monitoring system to ensure that female concerns or related issues are prioritised in line with established laws and policies,” said the Programme Officer of CERI, Toyin Igotun.

“Government should ensure that all human rights of people affected by crisis are respected and ensure application and adherence to the international humanitarian laws and the Geneva Conventions.

“Government is not doing enough to protect the citizens, women in particular from humanitarian crises, first there must be regulations, laws and policies which must be respected and adhered to by all, women’s right should be respected and protected without them asking for it.

Carry out implementation in line with global best practices; attend to humanitarian situations based on needs; ensure the involvement and participation of women in decision making especially on issues that concern or affect their own interest, ensure that any violation is properly attended to and redressed.

“Government should also ensure that humanitarian situations or issues are professionally done or handled; ensure that all officials or personnel engaged to provide humanitarian services are properly trained and equipped with proper orientation and right sense of duty.

“The government should ensure compliance with laid down rules and policies, ensure compliance with humanitarian laws and the additional protocol and compliance with global best practices and ensuring that abuses or violation of the laws or policies are properly addressed,” she stressed.

On her part, Mabel Adinya Ade said the government needed to adopt a humanitarian development and peace nexus bearing in mind cross cutting issues (gender and social inclusion, cohesion, collaboration and synergy building to draw lessons that add value to programming designs through findings documented from a well strategised/coordinated monitoring and evaluation systems.

“It is sad that for over a decade of escalated violent arm conflicts, Nigeria has not got its act together. Schools are converted to IDP camps; children are out of school; those that are in school are being kidnapped and in constant fear.

“Women and girls, other vulnerable groups: boys, elderly, as well as the disabled, and neglected. Nutrition and health concerns are alarming circumstances in all troubled areas.

“My greatest worry is the complete lack of attention to humanitarian situations in the north central Benue, Plateau, and North-west including Taraba and Kaduna states,” Ade stated.

Government’s efforts

Mancha noted that the Nigerian government has committed to several global, regional and national instruments, treaties, conventions, policies and laws to enhance gender mainstreaming: CEDAW Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action United Nations Sustainable Development Goals UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325 National Action Plan (NAP) on UNSCR 1325, and domestication in 14 states ECOWAS Conflict Prevention Framework – Women, Peace and Security Action Plan National Gender Policy 2006, among others.

He, however, regretted that the major challenge was weak implementation of these important frameworks.

“Nigerian Constitution 1999 (as amended) Section 14 (2) b. “the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government….” Chapter 2 and Chapter 4 (Section 34 & 35) Penal and Criminal Codes Terrorism Prevention Act (TPA) 2013 Violence Against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) Act, 2015 Child Rights Act, 2003 Gender and Equal Opportunities Laws of states International treaties and conventions (CEDAW etc.)

“Humanitarian crises heighten protection risks for women, girls, men and boys as crises weaken or collapse the usual informal and official protection mechanisms. Women, girls, and persons with disabilities are often exposed to higher risks given that crisis contexts aggravate preexisting gender inequality and discrimination. Men and boys are also victims of GBV, particularly in conflict-related humanitarian situations,” he added.

Need for gender mainstreaming

Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country, with an estimated population of about 200 million, and women constitute about 50 per cent of the population.

Gender inequality is widespread in the country due to patriarchy; deeply entrenched discriminatory cultural practices; and weak implementation of gender equality policies, operational frameworks and laws.

Gender equality implies that women and men, girls and boys, have equal opportunities, treatment and conditions for realising their human rights, dignity and potentials in contributing to, and benefitting from the society, while gender equity calls for fair sharing of resources, opportunities and benefits amongst women and men.

It is as a result of this that mainstreaming gender, which implies that the impact of all policies and programmes on women, men, boys and girls should be considered at every stage of programme cycles, from planning to implementation and evaluation becomes imperative.

According to Mancha, gender was not only recognised as a stand-alone goal but also a cross-cutting for the actualisation of other development goals.

He said humanitarian response would be effective and result-oriented when gender was mainstreamed at all levels of the cycle, just as the need to create the space for the active and meaningful participation and representation of women in humanitarian response has continued to be emphasised.

Mancha further noted that the Pillar 4 of Nigeria’s National Action Plan on UNSCR 1325 emphasize the need to mainstream gender in crises management; early recovery and post-conflict reconstruction; stressing that this was a smart approach for the benefit of men and women in the country and the world in general.

Mabel on her part, called on the government to rise up to her responsibilities and protect the lives and property of all citizens; adhere to international laws and principled guiding humanitarian assistance and also embrace humanitarian development and peace nexus in addressing the growing humanitarian situations in Nigeria.

“Civil-military relations need to be well coordinated to effectively build peace while reconstruction, rehabilitation, and resettlement is going on in the North-east.

“We need to draw lessons from the past by initiating healing, and reconciliation and take measures in instituting community policing, disarmament .

“Issues of kidnappings must be tackled using draconic approach in dealing with kidnappers and their sponsors.

“Gender and social inclusion must be mainstreamed into policies and implementation of humanitarian and conflict and building initiatives for a sustainable solution to peace in Nigeria,” she stressed.

Meanwhile, Jenyo called on government and all stakeholders to embrace wholesome national approach that would ensure that women’s perspectives in peace and security were adequately integrated.

“This would involve recognising and appreciating the potential of women in preventing conflicts and promoting sustainable peace, through their inclusion in all peace processes (conflict resolution, prevention, negotiation, peace building and post conflict reconstruction).

“Above all, the government and other stakeholders should work together towards the implementation of the provisions of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security.”