The Continuous Battle Against Gender-Based Violence
With ongoing lockdowns, many women have found themselves taking up a more significant housework load, often trapped in traditional roles and denied the time to focus on their work or education. Others were facing life-threatening situations of domestic violence as they were stuck at home with their abusive partners.
The global pandemic has shed light on the grueling issue of gender-based violence. According to research data collected from China, the United Kingdom, the United States, and other countries, domestic violence cases have increased dramatically since the COVID-19 outbreak began. Often resulting in injuries and detrimental physical, mental, sexual, and reproductive health problems, the impact of violence on women and their children is alarming.
“We know that the multiple impacts of COVID-19 have triggered a ‘shadow pandemic’ of increased reported violence of all kinds against women and girls,” said Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the head of UN Women. While the vaccines to curb the coronavirus are already here, the solutions to the ‘shadow pandemic’ of gender-based violence might take more time and effort to implement.
“We all know that fear”
Gender-based violence is directed against a person due to their gender, or violence that affects persons of a particular gender disproportionately. Currently, girls and women are the primary victims of such violence resulting in physical, sexual, and psychological abuse.
The issue is widespread, putting many women at risk. According to the WHO, 1 in 3 women worldwide have suffered from physical or sexual violence in their lifetime. Most of this violence is intimate partner violence. Worldwide, almost one-third (27%) of women ages 15-49 years who have been in a relationship said they were abused physically or sexually by their intimate partner.
“Violence against women is a global public health problem of pandemic proportions, and it starts at an early age,” says Dr. Claudia Garcia-Moreno, the founder of the Sexual Violence Research Initiative. “The number could be much larger as fear of stigma could be a barrier to many women reporting sexual violence.”
Andrea Simon, the director of End Violence Against Women in the UK, recalls how “we all know that fear. Every woman knows that fear of what might happen if they just go about their everyday lives without thinking and planning and making decisions about where they can go, what they should wear, where they should sit.”
Laws that should protect
More than 155 countries have passed laws on domestic violence. In 1994, the U.S. signed the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) to combat violence against women and provide protection to women who had suffered violent abuses. The act has been updated to include such supports as housing protection for the victims, Rape Prevention and Education Program, and unemployment insurance for the survivors. However, challenges remain while enforcing these laws and providing women and girls with access to safety and support.
There are still several countries, such as the UAE, Egypt, Qatar, Morocco, Iran, and Iraq, to name just a few, that do not have adequate laws acknowledging the suffering of domestic abuse victims, nor laws that punish domestic abusers.
The Istanbul Convention, signed by 45 countries and those in the European Union, requires governments to adopt legislation prosecuting domestic violence and similar abuse. Yet, only 34 countries ratified the treaty that would effectively tackle violence and support victims internationally.
What can we do?
Violence has a significant impact and long-term consequences on a woman’s health and well-being throughout her life. It can lead to unplanned pregnancy, depression, post-traumatic stress, and other mental and physical health disorders. It is clear that the effects are jarring, and no country is free from violence against women. So, what are the possible solutions? What can each of us do to pave the way forward?
Firstly, progress starts with education: teaching young girls and boys how to think about gender respect and human rights. Such education is essential to challenge gender stereotypes and encourage acceptance on a global scale.
“To address violence against women, there’s an urgent need to reduce stigma around this issue, train health professionals to interview survivors with compassion, and dismantle the foundations of gender inequality,” says Garcia-Moreno. “Interventions with adolescents and young people to foster gender equality and gender-equitable attitudes are also vital.”
The talk about consent is equally important. Sexual abuse is often shrugged off by phrases such as “boys will be boys” or “she was dressed too provocatively.” We need to remind each other that “no means no” and hold each other accountable for dismissing that.
We need to keep the conversation going. If we are to end the ‘shadow pandemic’ of gender-based violence, we need to put in time, effort, and resources. Support your local NGOs, women’s organizations, like codeHER, and show your solidarity on social media or live marches.
Gender-based violence affects so many people around the world, yet it can easily stay invisible behind a shut door. If you or someone you know needs help and support, remember you are not alone.
See these resources for more information and help related to gender-based violence.