Antonio Gutteres, Secretary-General of the United Nations is calling for measures to address a “horrifying global surge in domestic violence” as a direct result of women and girls being forced to remain in lockdown due to COVID-19 prevention measures.
Peace is not just the absence of war. Many women under lockdown for #COVID19 face violence where they should be safest: in their own homes.
Today I appeal for peace in homes around the world.
I urge all governments to put women’s safety first as they respond to the pandemic. pic.twitter.com/PjDUTrMb9v
— António Guterres (@antonioguterres) April 6, 2020
Gutteres noted that “for many women and girls, the threat looms largest where they should be safest: in their own homes.
Before the global pandemic, statistics showed that a third of women around the world will experience some form of domestic violence in their lives. In Albania, that number increases to 53%. Due to government mandated shelter-in-place measures implemented all around the world, combined with economic and social stresses brought on by the pandemic the numbers are dramatically increasing.
According to the UN, the issue affects both developed and developing economies. Almost 25% of female college students in the US report experiencing sexual assault or misconduct, while in sub-Saharan African, intimate partner violence impacts 65% of women.
Research by the World Health Organisation details how violence impacts women’s physical, sexual, reproductive and mental health. It also shows that women who suffer abuse are more likely to suffer from depression or suffer from alcohol related issues.
In 2017, over 87,000 women were intentionally killed- over half by their intimate partners or family members. Gender based violence is as serious for women as cancer, and a greater cause of death than traffic accidents and malaria combined.
In Lebanon and Malaysia, the UN said calls to violence helplines have doubled. In China they have tripped and in Australia search engines like Google are seeing the biggest increase in searches for help with domestic violence, in five years.
These numbers give some indication of the extent of the problem but only cover countries where reporting systems are in place. In countries where there are weak institutions and less data collection, the vulnerability of women and girls will be higher
Gutteres said that responding to the rise in violence is more challenging because institutions are already under a huge strain from the demands of dealing with the pandemic.
“Healthcare providers and police are overwhelmed and understaffed”, said Mr. Guterres, “local support groups are paralyzed or short of funds. Some domestic violence shelters are closed; others are full”.
The UN chief urged all governments to make the prevention and redress of violence against women a key part of their national response plans for COVID-19, and outlined several actions that can be taken to improve the situation.
“Together”, concluded the UN Secretary-General, “we can and must prevent violence everywhere, from war zones to people’s homes, as we work to beat COVID-19”.