Photo Credit: Clem Onojeghuo
Home is the most dangerous place for women according to the United Nations, which complicates the stay-at-home guidelines and physical distancing protocols intended to limit the spread of COVID-19.
Gender-based violence (GBV) is one of the most destructive forms of gender inequality, and it was already a global issue before COVID-19, affecting 1 in 3 women in their lifetime. Six in every 10 murdered women are killed by an intimate partner or a family member, and in the last 12 months, 243 million women and girls across the world have been subjected to sexual or physical violence by an intimate partner.
Gender-based violence is endemic in most societies in the world. By way of explanation, social scientists point to the connections between norms of masculinity, structural and gender inequalities, and interpersonal power relations. In this view, gender-based violence becomes a way for perpetrators to sustain their dominance over women and maintain current structures of gender inequality.
Now, gender-based violence has become the emergency-within-the-emergency.
“As more countries report infection and lockdown, more domestic violence helplines and shelters across the world are reporting rising calls for help,” reports Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women. The lockdown has created a perfect storm for perpetrators who find themselves with unlimited access to their victims, and women and girls with fewer avenues to reach out for help. Home confinement, health threats, and job losses exacerbate conflict and tension at the personal and family level, while health systems and shelters become too stretched to meet victims’ needs.
This is in addition to the increased risk of forced marriages and trafficking due to job and income loss by parents as a result of the pandemic.
When facing a challenge of this magnitude and gravity, it is easy to feel powerless, but there are a number of measures at the individual and organisational level that can be undertaken to limit the increase of gender-based violence during the COVID-19 lockdown.
Just as collective, global effort is required to slow the spread of COVID-19, everyone can contribute to limiting the “shadow pandemic” of gender-based violence. This is an opportunity to fight two pandemics at once, and a chance to take on the longstanding global crisis of violence against women and girls.