COVID-19 Exposes Greater Risk of Violence against Women, needs urgent attention
- Global statistics indicate that 1 out of every 3 women worldwide has experienced physical or sexual violence in their lifetime
- Domestic abuse rates has increased globally since the decision to curb the pandemic had come to play.
- Victims of domestic violence, should refuse to suffer in silence and expose offenders
Violence against women tends to increase during every type of emergency, including epidemics, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). The health impact of domestic violence on women and their children are very significant, as such acts mostly result in injuries and serious physical, mental, sexual and reproductive health problems, including sexually transmitted infections, HIV, and unplanned pregnancies- WHO, 2020.
Global statistics indicate that 1 out of every 3 women worldwide has experienced physical or sexual violence in their lifetime of which the majority are perpetrated by intimate partners- WHO, 2020.
“Violence against women remains a major threat to global public health and women’s health during emergencies”- WHO, 2020.
Separate reports by Melissa Godin in the Time magazine, March 18, 2020 , titled “As Cities Around the World Go on Lockdown, Victims of Domestic Violence Look for a Way Out,” and another by Women’s Aid UK, titled “The Impact of COVID-19 on Women and Children Experiencing Domestic Abuse, and the Life-Saving Services that Support Them,” on March 17, 2020, showed that China, the United Kingdom, the United States, and other countries experienced an increase in domestic violence cases since the outbreak of COVID-19.
How COVID-19 exacerbated risks of violence for women
In a recent report released by WHO on April 7, 2020 titled “COVID-19 and violence against women; What the health sector/system can do”, WHO cited several instances through which women may be at a higher risk of violence during this pandemic. These include stress, the disruption of social and protective networks, and decreased access to services.
Women in abusive relationships have higher risks of being abused because people in relationships such as married couples and cohabiters are expected to spend more time together as a result of the pandemic and any trigger may result in an abuse as well as may have to cope with additional stress and potential job losses, during lockdown periods.
Women lost contacts with friends or family members who may have been helpful during such instances of abuses. Closure of schools also meant more family responsibilities on women who had to provide care for the little children also resulting in stress.
Since most women are informal sector workers, the disruptions in economic activities caused by the pandemic also limited their ability to earn income. Limited income for women put them at higher risk of experiencing economic abuses.
There was also the likelihood of reduced access to vital sexual and reproductive health services for women subjected to violence as a result of the pandemic. Health workers who are women are also prone to violence at home or workplaces. Abuses of women health workers pose serious threat to the health systems that are already stressed.
Addressing violence against women during the COVID-19
Mitigating violence against women during these times require a collaborative effort from many stakeholders across diverse sectors of the economy. Health Care providers and health facilities, government and policy makers, Humanitarian response organizations, Community members and Women who are experiencing violence are expected to play very important roles in this fight.
“The risks of violence that women and their children face during the current COVID-19 crisis cannot be ignored”- WHO, 2020.
WHO has outlined in their report some remedial actions which women experiencing violence may find helpful. Some include reaching out to supportive family and friends who can help practically (e.g. food, child care) as well as in coping with stress; developing a safety plan for themselves as well as their children’s safety in case the violence gets worse. This includes keeping numbers of neighbours, friends, and family whom you can call for or go to for help; having accessible important documents, money, a few personal things to take with you if you need to leave immediately and plan how you might leave the house and get help (e.g. transport, location).
Finally, keep information on violence against women hotlines, social workers, child protection or nearest police station, and accessible shelters and support services. Be discreet so that your partner or family members do not find this information.