Facing Two Pandemics: The Coronavirus and Violence Against Women

By Praachi Kumar, PhD Fellow at United Nations University-MERIT

Inequities are exacerbated during global crises, and we need to put the spotlight on domestic violence. I wouldn’t be the first to suggest that violence against women is a pandemic. According to 2017 estimates, 137 women are killed by their partners on average per day, globally (UN Women). As we brace for further devastations due to the coronavirus, duty bearers need to accommodate those who face dual crises, one of which is interminable and invisible.

With an increase in the intensity of the outbreak, many potential exit routes for women have been severed, and abuse has taken new forms. Domestic violence phone lines are experiencing a greater influx of phone calls and Time (2020) documents that perpetrators are withholding medical care, financial assistance and are threatening to throw the victims out of their homes so that they catch the coronavirus. Fewer women are seeking medical care for injuries caused as a result of domestic violence due to the fear of contracting the virus and with the risk of overcrowding, women’s shelters are limited in their capacity to accept victims. COVID-19 uniquely impacts multiple dimensions of abuse. Perpetrators are spreading misinformation and fear, as well as justifying abuse on account of the virus. Travel restrictions and lack of public services have hurt women’s escape plans (National Domestic Violence Hotline).

The coronavirus has compelled most of us to stay at home. For women who are victims of violence, domestic volatility is intensified when they are confined in their homes with an abuser. The cases for domestic violence tripled in China in February 2020 compared to 2019 (Time, 2020). However, women are not the only ones at risk of harm. Being at home makes children more susceptible to abuse. Recommendations range from digital campaigns to keep older children informed about the avenues and support systems available to them, and ensuring recreational possibilities, especially for families with children (DW, 2020). For women, particularly those experiencing violence, connectivity becomes crucial according to Human Rights Watch (2020), yet the digital divide is a function of social institutions and several factors may inhibit technology use by girls and women, such as insufficient computing resources, social norms, cost, shared use, and for victims of violence, the risk of being monitored.

The Atlantic (2020) calls the Coronavirus a ‘Disaster for Feminism’, citing the pandemics effect on earnings inequality between men and women. The article avers that the incomes of men bounce back faster than those of women in these circumstances. With a greater care burden as a result of children and dependents staying home, women find themselves responsible for most of the unpaid household labour which can shift the earnings dynamic in a double income household against them. Japan and Italy have come up with supportive measures such as offsetting costs for workers to take paid parental leave or vouchers for families with young children. According to the Human Rights Watch (2020), informal workers in developing countries, many of whom are women, lack adequate safety nets which they can use to insulate their earnings from the crisis.

“A demonstration in Mexico City to bring attention to femicides’

Finally, the impact of the coronavirus on the economy, philanthropy and charitable giving would mean fewer financial resources, leaving many non-governmental organisations without finances necessary to keep their services and programmes afloat. The coronavirus threatens the survival of many of these organisations (CNN, 2020). Women’s shelters and those programmes which cannot be offered remotely are especially in jeopardy. Rebuilding after the crisis will undoubtedly require multi-stakeholder effort, and without sufficient resources, domestic violence programmes by non-governmental organisations and development agencies will be severely impacted. We will exit this pandemic without the necessary policy support to women victims of domestic violence unless resource disruptions are proactively addressed.