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COVID-19 increases violence against women

“One in three women may suffer from abuse and violence in her lifetime. This is an appalling human rights violation, yet it remains one of the invisible and under-recognized pandemics of our time.” -- Nicole Kidman November 25th is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. School closures, stay-at-home orders and the economic down turn are impacting families and in particular women. In addition to the negative impacts of COVID-19 on women, we now add another atrocious violation, the dramatic increase of violence against women.

Various forms of gender-based violence

It is estimated that 35 percent of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or sexual violence by a non-partner (not including sexual harassment) at some point in their lives. However, some national studies show that up to 70 per cent of women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence from an intimate partner in their lifetime, says a report from UN Women.

Nearly 87,000 women globally were intentionally killed in 2017 and more than half (50,000- 58 per cent) were killed by intimate partners or family members, meaning that 137 women across the world are killed by a member of their own family every day.

Adult women account for nearly half of all human trafficking victims detected globally. Women and girls together account for 72 per cent, with girls representing more than three out of every four child trafficking victims. And the majority or 80% are trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation.

At least 200 million women and girls aged 15-49 have undergone female genital mutilation in the 30 countries with a majority of girls mutilated before age five. With population movement, female genital mutilation is becoming a practice with global dimensions, in particular among migrant and refugee women and girls.

A survey across 27 universities in the United States in 2015 reported that 23% of female undergraduate university students reported having experienced sexual assault or sexual misconduct. And yet, rates of reporting to campus officials ranged from five to 28 per cent. It is shocking that in 2020 women are experiencing widespread violence and most go underreported.

COVID-19 has sharply increased gender-based violence. Why is that?

  • Security, health and financial worries increase among families: Pandemics create panic causing people to think that their lives are totally out of control. In these situations, individuals often turn their anger and frustration on their intimate partners. Despite the increased abuse, during phases of lockdown, victims of domestic violence receive less social support from friends and family.

  • Cramped living conditions: In many parts of the world including in developing countries, families are confined to small spaces where perpetrators have easy accessibility.

  • Isolation with abusers: In many countries, the risk of intimate partner violence has shown rapid increases after stay-at-home orders were enforced. Furloughs and job losses have led to situations of anger and depression that have been directed at women leading to violence. This is exacerbated with family members spending increased time together in close quarters.

  • Restrictions on movement: Governmental restrictions on outside work and travel have made it easy for perpetrators to exercise control and cut women’s access to family and friends. Deserted public spaces: Governmental restrictions on outside work and travel have made it hard for survivors of gender-based violence to seek solace in public spaces that were once areas of refuge before the pandemic.

A global tragedy

Violence against women during COVID-19 is a global tragedy! In Spain, the emergency number for violence against women received 18 percent more calls, while France saw a 30 percent increase. The national abuse hotline in the UK went up by 65% during the week of March 25 while in Australia, Google reported a 75% increase in online searches for help with gender-based violence. During the first week of a lockdown in March, South Africa saw a whopping 90,000 reports of violence against women! In China, the number of violence against women cases reported to a police station in Jingzhou, a city in Hubei Province, tripled in February 2020, compared to the same period the previous year.

In the United States, early data from police departments showed that cities like Portland, Oregon, recorded a 22% increase in arrests related to domestic violence compared to prior weeks, following stay at home orders in March. In San Antonio, after stay-at-home orders, Texas, the police department received an 18% increase in calls pertaining to family violence in March 2020 compared to March 2019.

In the US, women of color are already disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. They are over represented in front line and health care jobs and are, as such, most vulnerable to COVID-19. Systems of discrimination and racism have created health care disparities for communities of color resulting in higher death rates as a result of the illness. Add to this bleak picture the vulnerability to gender-based violence in communities of color has increased as a result of COVID-19.

“When it comes to domestic violence, the most vulnerable are Black women. They would rather remain with the enemy they know than leave and contend with a support system that fails them. What makes victimization in the context of COVID-19 even more destructive is the dearth of survivor resources,” writes researcher Bernadine Waller in an article in Newsday. Black women also bear the highest rates of femicide.

One in three Latina women (34.4%) reported being a victim of an intimate partner’s sexual or physical violence or stalking, according to the CDC. The situation gets bleaker for Latino immigrants who are less likely to report domestic abuse and seek help from formal agencies due to fear of deportation. Immigrants also experience added barriers such as limited access, limited English proficiency, and shortage of culturally responsive services and professionals.

What organizations can do:

  • Employers should take a thoughtful and empathetic approach to potential cases of violence against women as they may manifest in different ways. Adequate training can help managers be more attentive to these cases.

  • Employers should provide wider access to employee assistance programs and managers and human resources professionals should be well-trained in understanding how to approach situations involving violence against women.

  • It is essential that managers undertake frequent virtual check-ins on the health and wellness of employees.

  • Employee Resource Groups (ERG) can play an important role in building a sense of community and providing support to survivors of violence against women.

  • Ensure that your organization has a zero tolerance policy for violence at work and hold offenders accountable regardless of who they are.

  • Provide training for men and women to not only recognize gender based violence but provide strategies and resources to address it.



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