• Migdalia Hernandez

How COVID-19 Can Put Women at Greater Risk for Violence

More than 1 in 3 women worldwide have experienced physical/and or sexual violence, mostly at the hands of an intimate partner. Gender Based Violence tends to increase during emergencies, including epidemics like the one we currently find ourselves in. Along with the immediate global health threat caused by COVID-19, the rise in domestic violence cases since the outbreak has been significant and its health impacts cannot be ignored. “Violence against women can result in injuries and serious physical, mental, sexual and reproductive health problems, including sexually transmitted infections, HIV, and unplanned pregnancies” (World Health Organization 2020).

Whether you are personally affected by Gender Based Violence or not, it’s vital to understand how women you love or women in your community may be struggling, especially during these challenging times. While violence against women should always be taken seriously, we need to pay specific attention to how COVID-19 can put women at greater risk for violence:

  • Stress, the disruption of social and protective networks, and decreased access to services all can exacerbate the risk of violence for women.

  • As distancing measures are put in place and people are encouraged to stay at home, the risk of intimate partner violence is likely to increase. For example:

• The likelihood that women in an abusive relationship and their children will be exposed to violence is dramatically increased, as family members spend more time in close contact and families cope with additional stress and potential economic or job losses.

• Women may have less contact with family and friends who may provide support and protection from violence.

  • Access to vital sexual and reproductive health services, including for women subjected to violence, will likely become more limited.

  • Other services, such as hotlines, crisis centers, shelters, legal aid, and protection services may also be scaled back, further reducing access to the few sources of help that women in abusive relationships might have.

Health facilities and health workers are overwhelmed by the effects of COVID-19, but there are some steps we can take to support the women in our communities who are victims of domestic violence and to help keep their children safe.

Community members should be made aware of the increased risk of violence against women during this pandemic and the need to keep in touch and support women. Truth is, it’s impossible to predict who may be subjected to neglect, emotional abuse, mental anguish or physical violence so reaching out regularly may combat more than loneliness, it may save a woman from harm. Abuse comes in many forms and most women will not reveal their concerns unless they can trust that their secret will be kept, hence, it is important to ensure that the abuser is not present (or out of earshot) when you are having in-depth conversations. Things to ask about would be whether she has enough food for the family, how she is managing the increased domestic work load imposed by self-isolation and if there is anything she wishes to talk about. Open ended questions and listening for emotional undertones tend to work best in these situations.

Women who are experiencing abuse may find it helpful to reach out to supportive family and friends, seek support from a hotline, or access local services. She may also find it useful to have a safety plan including access to some money in case the violence escalates. If the situation arises and she needs to leave the house immediately, having a neighbor, friend, relative or shelter identified is vital and may need to be updated regularly.

Given the prevalence of this problem and the ways gender based violence has been exacerbated by prolonged self-isolation, ALL of us are encouraged to be vigilant and aware, providing compassion and a trusting, safe place to turn for our women friends and family.

Where to find help

In the U.S. reach out to the National Domestic Violence Hotline for information and to access resources here: https://www.thehotline.org/

Find help across Canada through the Ending Violence Association of Canada: https://endingviolencecanada.org/getting-help-2/

REFERENCES: World Health Organization 2020. https://www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/emergencies/COVID-19-VAW-full-text.pdf

LEARN MORE: https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/question-and-answers-hub/q-a-detail/violence-against-women-during-covid-19

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