Sara Selleri | Palladium - May 01 2020
Violence Against Women is on the Rise Amidst Guidelines to Stay Home

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.


  • Remain vigilant and report immediately any suspected cases of domestic violence in your community. What goes on “behind closed doors” is everyone’s concern if it involves violence against women or children, and we can all play a role in protecting vulnerable people.

  • Use personal and family networks, social media, etc. to increase awareness of gender-based violence, including reporting and prevention. Share information on dedicated helplines or measures in place at the community level for victims to turn to in need.


  • Use your company’s existing reporting lines and mechanisms (such as whistleblowing hotlines) to report cases of gender-based violence, and train staff on how to respond or refer to dedicated services. Take this opportunity to evaluate and update your mechanisms if needed.

  • Liaise with country teams to put in place targeted activities to counteract gender-based violence and provide support to victims. Stay up to date with the services offered for reporting and victims’ support, and use existing channels and networks to promote initiatives and provide information.

  • Consider redirecting efforts and/or repurposing funding for activities that may be stalled during the lockdown for initiatives that target the gender-based violence crises. Introduce incentives for employees to design and carry out initiatives.

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.