COVID-19 Stokes ‘Shadow Pandemic’ of Violence Against Women, Says UN Group

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COVID-19 coronavirus digital art by Prachatai via Flickr.

Warning of what it describes as a “shadow pandemic,” a United Nations women’s group has called for increased resources and services aimed at protecting victims of domestic abuse imperiled during the coronavirus crisis.

“Confinement is fostering the tension and strain created by security, health, and money worries,” said Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, executive director of UN Women, in a statement released Monday.

“It is increasing isolation for women with violent partners, separating them from the people and resources that can best help them.”

The group, also known as the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, said the increase in violence against women must be dealt with urgently through measures embedded in economic support and stimulus packages that meet the gravity and scale of the challenge and reflect the needs of women who face multiple forms of discrimination.

In Argentina, Canada, France, Germany, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States, government authorities, women’s rights activists, and civil society partners have flagged increasing reports of domestic violence during the crisis, and heightened demand for emergency shelter, said UN Women.

The United Nations called on Sunday for urgent action to combat the worldwide surge in such violence.

“I urge all governments to put women’s safety first as they respond to the pandemic,” Secretary General António Guterres wrote on Twitter.

The New York Times reported that “there was every reason to believe that the restrictions imposed to keep the virus from spreading would have such an effect,” according to Marianne Hester, a Bristol University sociologist who studies abusive relationships.

Domestic violence goes up whenever families spend more time together, such as the Christmas and summer vacations, Hester said.

“Now, with families in lockdown worldwide, hotlines are lighting up with abuse reports, leaving governments trying to address a crisis that experts say they should have seen coming,” said The New York Times.

While many are scrambling to offer services to those at risk, delays mean that irreparable harm may already have occurred, advocates fear.

UN Women said, “It’s a perfect storm for controlling, violent behaviour behind closed doors. And in parallel, as health systems are stretching to breaking point, domestic violence shelters are also reaching capacity, a service deficit made worse when centres are repurposed for additional COVID-response.”

The issue brief “COVID-19 and Ending Violence Against Women and Girls” can be read here.

See also: “Rising European Domestic Violence Seen as Warning for U.S.”

Nancy Bilyeau is deputy director of The Crime Report.

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