Gender-Based Violence: Unintended Consequences of Social Distancing


Across the globe, governments are enacting measures to combat the spread of the new coronavirus, COVID-19. They are closing borders, shuttering businesses, and ordering people to stay in their homes. However critical these lockdowns and curfews are for public safety and health, women’s rights activists are concerned about their potential unintended consequences for women. They fear that the government guidelines may lead to another public health crisis—a rise in violence against women in the home. Isolation, financial worries, and constant anxiety can contribute to violence in the home, and most often the victims of this type of violence are women in the family.

AWAM shared a social media graphic on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to notify their followers about their hotline services. 

WLP’s partners around the world are aware of the escalation in violence towards women, and are mobilizing to respond. Women’s Learning Partnership’s partner in Malaysia, All Women’s Action Society (AWAM), said in a recent statement to the Malaysian newspaper, The Star, "It is in these times that gender-based violence occurs more frequently, especially with survivors of domestic violence trapped in close quarters with their perpetrators.”

In Jordan, WLP partner Solidarity is Global Institute-Jordan (SIGI-J) also warned of an expected increase in cases of domestic violence.  SIGI’s Executive Director, Asma Khader, said, “People are afraid of the unknown, and believe that it is okay for them to continue abuse against one of their family members.” 

SIGI-J shared a graphic on their social media platforms with the numbers of organizations that provide services for people experiencing violence. 

Both AWAM and SIGI-J are operating support and service hotlines that are being accessed by women in precarious situations as a result of the COVID-19 restrictions. AWAM has moved their free legal information and counseling services to phones, allowing for easier access for those forced to shelter in unstable homes. 

On March 20, one day before Jordan entered lockdown due to COVID-19, an 18-year-old Jordanian woman appealed for help on Facebook live. The woman feared violence from male family members and did not think that the Jordanian officials would be able to protect her. According to the Jordanian Council for Women, the young woman is now in a safe place and receiving help. SIGI-J offered the woman their full assistance and told the Jordan Times, “This should sound a major alarm that we might see more cases in the near future because of the frustrating and tense situation people are facing because of the COVID-19 problem.”

SIGI-J has reported an increase in calls to their hotline, over 285 calls since entering the lockdown. In the Jordan Times article, Khader explained, “We received various complaints, including threats to kick women out of the house following domestic disputes. Some women are being oppressed by their frustrated husbands, who used to work and earn money on a daily basis and are now stuck at home.” In addition to calls about domestic violence, many women are also reporting food and financial insecurity.  A large number of the calls to SIGI-J’s hotline are from women seeking resources to feed and sustain their families. Many women in Jordan work in the informal labor market and the lockdown has meant that their only source of income has suddenly stopped. SIGI-J is working swiftly to connect these callers to the proper agencies and aid organizations.

In Mauritania, WLP partner Association of Female Heads of Households (AFCF) is also addressing the new challenges facing women in the pandemic.  It recently provided cars for transporting victims of violence, equipping the drivers with face masks to reduce their potential exposure to COVID-19.

As the COVID-19 crisis demonstrates, there are often unintended consequences of policies such as mandatory stay at home orders that put an undue burden on women. For this reason, it is essential that we amplify the voices of leaders who are speaking plainly about the costs and risks to women and well as the solutions during this unprecedented global health crisis. 

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