The United Nations is advocating an immediate global action to end all forms of violence against women and girls in the midst of a global effort to curb the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic across the world.
Reports from countries in every region show that the lockdown and social isolation, coupled with increased social and economic pressures, are leading to an increase in violence in the home, the United Nations News reported on Monday.
Countries have been on lockdown in a bid to curb the spread of COVID-19, a deadly respiratory disease caused by the Coronavirus. It has infected over a million people globally and caused over 60,000 deaths.
Speaking on the seriousness of the violence against women and girls, the UN Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed, said statistics showed that one in three women will experience violence in their lives before this pandemic broke out.
“In Papua New Guinea, where I commemorated International Women’s Day last month, the rate is even higher, at two in three,” she said.
According to her, “my concern today is for all women across the world, who are suffering even more now, due to the extra-economic and social stresses caused by a radical shift away from normal life.”
She highlighted that this stress is leading to an increased danger of violence.
“It’s clear that when women and girls are ‘locked down’ in their homes with abusive partners, they are at much greater risk than ever before,” she said.
She said the upsurge in violence is not limited to one country or one region.
Ms Mohammed said media reports are documenting an increase in violence across the globe – from Argentina to China, Germany, Turkey, Honduras, South Africa, the United Kingdom and the United States to name just a few.
“And the worry is that these figures only reflect reporting. Domestic violence is typically grossly under-reported. In the case of restricted movement and limited privacy, women are finding it difficult to phone for help. So, the likelihood is that even these figures represent only a fraction of the problem.
She said the availability of data is not the same everywhere, particularly in developing countries.
Ms Mohammed said women, who are suspected of exposure to the coronavirus are faced with being thrown out onto the street in the midst of lockdown.
“We are seeing not just a huge increase in the number of women and girls being abused but also a greater complexity to the violence being perpetrated,” she said.
“Abusers are taking advantage of isolation measures, knowing that women are unable to call for help or escape. All of this is happening against a backdrop of health and social services that are overwhelmed, under-resourced, and have shifted to manage the implications of the virus,” she said.
She lamented that civil society organizations, which may have previously helped victims of violence are unable to operate and “the domestic violence shelters that have been able to remain open are often full; shelter managers are not equipped and scared to take in new victims because of the virus.”
Actions to be taken
She said all actors have a responsibility to perform, from individuals to governments, from the UN to business and civil society.
Ms Mohammed said gender-based violence must be at the centre of all domestic plans on COVID-19 response.
“There are innovative actions being taken that should be both commended and replicated. In Argentina, for example, pharmacies have been declared safe spaces for victims of abuse to report. Similarly, in France, where grocery stores are housing pop-up-services and 20,000 hotel room nights have been made available to those women who cannot go home,” she said.
She said the Spanish government has told women that they are exempt from the lockdown if they need to leave the home because of abuse.
“Both Canada and Australia have integrated funding for violence against women as part of their national plans to counter the damaging fallout from COVID-19,” she said.
Ms Mohammed appealed to governments in all countries to dedicate funding in national COVID-19 response plans for domestic violence shelters.
“Government should increased support to call-in lines, including text services so reports of abuse can take place discreetly, online legal support and psychosocial services for women and girls.
She said the United Nations is prioritising protection services for women by providing humanitarian support, which includes some of the poorest and most unstable parts of the world.
“The UN is building on the Spotlight Initiative, a large-scale partnership with the European Union to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls,” she said.
She highlighted that the initiative is also aiming to increase core support to women’s organizations providing services and who are at risk with the shift in funding priorities.
“In this unprecedented and unpredictable global crisis, the United Nations remains committed to protecting and supporting women, wherever they are in the world,” she said.