As more countries report infection and lockdown, more domestic violence helplines and shelters across the world are reporting rising calls for help. Almost all countries have reported increase in sexual and gender violence during Covid-19 lockdown.
According to the UN:
- Confinement is fostering the tension and strain created by security, health, and money worries.
- 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.
- Even before COVID-19 existed, domestic violence was already one of the greatest human rights violations.
- In the previous 12 months, 243 million women and girls (aged 15-49) across the world have been subjected to sexual or physical violence by an intimate partner.
- As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, this number is likely to grow with multiple impacts on women’s wellbeing, their sexual and reproductive health, their mental health, and their ability to participate and lead in the recovery of our societies and economy.
Under-reporting of domestic and other forms of violence
Wide under-reporting of domestic and other forms of violence has previously made response and data gathering a challenge, with less than 40 per cent of women who experience violence seeking help of any sort or reporting the crime. Less than 10 per cent of those women seeking help go to the police.
- The current circumstances make reporting even harder, including limitations on women’s and girls’ access to phones and helplines and disrupted public services like police, justice and social services.
- These disruptions may also be compromising the care and support that survivors need, like clinical management of rape, and mental health and psycho-social support.
- They also fuel impunity for the perpetrators. In many countries the law is not on women’s side; 1 in 4 countries have no laws specifically protecting women from domestic violence.
Impact of Shadow Pandemic
- If not dealt with, this shadow pandemic will also add to the economic impact of COVID-19.
- The global cost of violence against women had previously been estimated at approximately USD 1.5 trillion.
- That figure can only be rising as violence increases now, and continues in the aftermath of the pandemic.
The crisis has led to an alarming escalation of violence in the home, with women bearing the brunt of the frustration and anger. In some areas, there have been reports of women being prevented from seeing doctors, and female doctors being spat on while testing other women for COVID-19.
Sexual and gender-based violence is a hidden consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic
Sexual and gender-based violence is a hidden consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic. As communities around the world are forced to stay at home, women and girls are at a heightened risk of domestic violence, intimate partner violence, child abuse, and other forms of sexual and gender-based violence.
Because disasters exacerbate pre-existing gender inequities and power hierarchies, violence in the home may worsen as prolonged quarantine and economic stressors increase tension in the household. Women and girls are isolated from the people and resources that can help them, and they have few opportunities to distance themselves from their abusers.
During the present COVID-19 pandemic, mass school closures are tending to entrench learning gaps between girls and boys, and putting many more girls at risk of sexual exploitation, early pregnancy and early or forced marriage.
It is clear, for example, that an important priority is the provision of basic health care to all individuals and communities free of charge at the point of delivery. All evidence points to a clear link between weak health systems and vulnerabilities to domestic violence. So urgent action needs to be taken to ensure that during this COVID-19 pandemic, victims of abuse are able to access the health care they need, including mental health services.
Covid-19: Focus on Reproductive Health
Women’s health is also a vital issue during a pandemic. In this, reproductive health has to take precedence. There have been several reports of women going into labour and giving birth on trains. Health services are not reaching them in time in many urban and rural areas. At a time when basic health services are stretched, it is quite likely that women’s health needs, both in the public system and at home, are not a priority.
Despite the outreach of ASHA in many parts, the effect of such deadly ailments as Covid-19 on pregnant women could be fatal. The government’s advisory on asking them to stay home is important, but not sufficient.
As of now only 36.4% of mothers get assistance under the Janani Suraksha Yojana, which gives financial assistance for women who give birth in a public hospital. This leaves out a sizeable chunk of women who need reproductive health services. As a result of supply chains shutting down, the access to medicines for the population in general and women in particular have decreased.
In order to access reproductive health systems such as contraception, it is often necessary for women to be able to get to a public health centre. In addition, the costs of both reaching such centres and contraceptives has gone up.
Within communities, women are the most marginalised and it is necessary to hear their voices in the fight against Covid-19. The government’s commendable ASHA scheme should be an entry point into understanding how the virus is affecting people in different areas. These are statistics which must be included in the fight against Covid-19 with reference to protecting women.