SEATTLE, Washington — Amid the global response to coronavirus, safety precautions such as self-quarantine and the closure of businesses are being put in place to protect the public. However, good intentions aside, these precautions are indirectly putting women across the world at heightened risk for domestic abuse during COVID-19.
Coronavirus’s Effect on Domestic Violence
Local authorities from around the world have reported a substantial rise in abuse and many insist coronavirus, otherwise known as COVID-19, is responsible. Research published by the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA) says that for every three months of lockdown, cases of domestic abuse during COVID-19 are expected to increase by 20%. An additional 15 million domestic violence cases are predicted to occur every three months lockdown is extended. There will likely be a one-third reduction of progress in ending gender-based violence. Governments are also shifting their focus and funding to COVID-19 resources, disrupting domestic violence prevention programs.
Increase in Female Genital Mutilation
Female genital mutilation is one example of devastating results after a loss of government funds. Violence prevention programs project 5.3 million fewer girls having their genitalia cut by 2030. However, the impact of the pandemic is expected to result in a drop of a little over 1.7 million girls saved.
Lack of Protection Against Child Marriages
The halt of preventative action against domestic abuse during COVID-19 has a significant impact on reducing child marriages. Abuse prevention projects have been successful in countries where child marriage is prevalent. Over the years, these projects have been addressing cultural norms and helping girls stay in school. Research conducted by UNFPA, Avenir Health, Johns Hopkins University and Victoria University in Australia finds that after one year of the pandemic, 7.4 million girls won’t be saved from forced child marriages. When calculating the total impact of COVID-19, an additional 13 million child marriages are likely to occur by 2030.
Worsening Gender-Based Violence
Attention and resources being diverted to coronavirus delay preventive efforts that are typically aimed at combating the serious rise of gender-based violence. Stay-at-home orders increase the exposure of women and girls to violent partners or parents. Mounting financial stress fuels tension and irritation, furthering aggression and violence. Outlets that provide support, counseling and post-rape care continue to be strained during the pandemic.
The World’s Domestic Abuse Research Agenda
The Center for Global Development (CGD) is pursuing a holistic approach to addressing the severity of domestic abuse during COVID-19. By gathering newfound data, existing literature and evidence gaps, the CGD has created a global research agenda for both gender equality and COVID-19.
CGD hopes to expedite the collection of data globally. In order for resources to be redirected towards the issue, coronavirus’s escalating influence on domestic violence requires further confirmation.
Researchers from across the globe are cooperating by sharing knowledge, domain-specific findings and access to gender violence data. Sharing the total impact of the pandemic on specific locations allows decisions to be made as to which countries and populations need anti-violence resources the most.
Different Countries’ Responses
The widespread closure of civil society organizations, domestic violence shelters, primary care and social services is increasing the number of girls and women experiencing domestic abuse during COVID-19. People are starting to notice, from local governments to small business owners. Any innovative ideas that can still be successful in combating violence despite a general lack of funds are being carried out.
For example, Argentina announced that pharmacies are now equipped to be an accessible location for any person to report abuse. The pharmacies serve as a connector between the reporter and the nearest protective resources.
In France, hotels have reserved up to 20,000 free nights of vacant rooms for women and children who cannot go home. During the coronavirus, grocery stores throughout the country are providing pop-up services to house and feed victims of domestic violence.
The Spanish government’s tight lockdown policy is allowing exemptions for women who need to escape abuse. Perhaps the most encouraging progress, countries such as Australia and Canada are including gender-based violence funding in their national response plan to COVID-19.
Action Yet To be Taken
Dedicated national funding for the protection of women against violence is but one crucial step in providing widespread safety. Any country which includes domestic abuse awareness within its national COVID-19 response plan will have a much larger impact than only offering small local safe havens. Services run by civil society organizations and violence prevention programs require increased financial support from the pandemic response budgets.
Not only do governments need to regulate grants for domestic abuse outreach, but they also need to set out clear expectations for maintaining these efforts. This includes classifying abuse shelters as essential services that remain open to support abuse response teams.
The more countries that include gender violence in their coronavirus response plan, the less likely victims of domestic abuse during COVID-19 will be forgotten.
– Grace Elise Van Valkenburg