The Covid-19 crisis has been devastating for so many in different ways. Livelihoods have been lost, isolation and loneliness has taken its toll and some have paid the ultimate cost with their lives as a result of contracting the virus. We have been called on to stay home to stay safe and protect ourselves and those we love. However, for too many women and children, home is anything but safe. For those living with domestic violence, Covid-19 has created the perfect storm for abusive partners to exercise control and inflict violence on women and children. Access to support services for those suffering domestic violence has also been reduced as well as shelter capacity so that those affected are left feeling more trapped and with fewer options than ever.
Before the pandemic, 243 million women and girls aged 15 to 49 experienced sexual and/or physical violence by an intimate partner. Since the pandemic, violence against women, especially domestic violence, has intensified. It has been exacerbated by factors such as security, health and money worries; living in cramped conditions; living in isolation with abusers; movement restrictions and deserted public spaced that bring an increased risk of sexual harassment, violence and assault.
On the 6th of April 2020, António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, called for a ‘ceasefire’ amidst the ‘horrifying global surge in domestic violence’. He said that ‘for many women and girls, the threat looms largest where they should be safest: in their own homes’. However, UN women report that during the Covid-19 pandemic, intimate partner violence reports are rising across the globe, with calls to helplines in some countries increasing by 5 times what they were before the crisis. In some countries however, at the beginning of the pandemic there was a drop in helpline calls but a sharp incline in text messages and emails. It is estimated that young women and girls in particular are at a higher risk of intimate partner violence and other forms of domestic violence during the pandemic.
Pandemics and large-scale crises never have a gender neutral impact and the Covid-19 crisis is no exception. This pandemic threatens to un-do many hard-won gains made in relation to gender equality and exacerbate the global feminisation of poverty and women’s equal participation in workforce. Many of the essential workers at the frontline of the pandemic are also women including healthcare workers and those working in the cleaning and retail sectors. Women who were previously working the ‘double shift’ of childcare, housework and formal employment are being stretched beyond their limits. These factors combined work to further compound and exacerbate women’s vulnerability to violence as we continue to wade through the uncertainty of the pandemic we need to do more to keep women and children safe.