*By Eunice Musiime
Across the globe, there is increasing evidence of the disproportionate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on women and girls’ rights. Arguably, this has been due to pre-existing structural inequalities that affect preparedness, response, mitigation, and recovery of economies. A Covid-19 inspired issue brief by UN Women on ending violence against women and girls (VAWG) noted that alongside increased reports of VAWG, there are greater complexities of violence emerging. The UN Women brief references lessons learnt from the Ebola pandemic that demonstrated that multiple forms of violence are exacerbated within crisis contexts, including trafficking, child marriage, and sexual exploitation and abuse. Thus far, stories from countries that had early experiences of the virus confirm that COVID-19 is set to follow similar trends. The current pandemic and how several governments have responded provide a treasure trove of information on how women’s rights have to be addressed pre- and post-crises.
Take for example, the disruption of access to justice. Women and girls are in particular danger of being adversely affected in the administration of justice, access to legal remedies, and dispute resolution. The capacities of legal systems, even in the most developed countries, are proving to be inadequate, with courts in some instances deliberately cutting back on processing cases or even temporarily shutting down in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
By contrast, some countries have instituted special provisions and response strategies in order for women to access justice despite the prevailing circumstances. Notably, Ethiopia has continued to hear domestic violence cases with minimal interruption. Other countries are using virtual means to keep the justice system operating, such as enabling domestic violence survivors to utilize teleconferencing during court proceedings and putting in place measures to ensure access to the courts, including legal advice, psychosocial advice, and police availability as required.
In Uganda, The Association of Women Lawyers (FIDA-U), a premier women’s rights nongovernmental organization that uses law as a tool for social justice, has also adapted to virtual service provision. In an interview with Chief Executive Officer Ms. Lilliane Adriko, she noted that FIDA-U has had to adjust to the times in order to adhere to the new social distancing rules put in place by the government. As feared, the organization has so far seen a 133% increase in reports of domestic violence . Fortunately, FIDA-U has been able to leverage existing relationships to refer cases to duty bearers such as the Police Family and Child Protection Unit and