COVID-19 has accentuated pre-existing social, political, and economic inequalities. In particular, women have been disproportionately affected. The pandemic’s immediate effects on gender inequality are present in multiple spheres, ranging from health and education to unpaid care work and gender-based violence. This places several of the past decade’s advances in gender equality at risk.
Although social distancing measures, stay-at-home restrictions, and other provisions limiting people’s free movement are necessary to prevent the spread of COVID-19, some women are at risk of violence in their own homes. This contributes to the increase in gender-based violence. Many women’s lives are at risk when they have no alternative but to remain with their abuser, and survivors of gender-based violence are unable to access support services. These women may also be affected by crowded homes, substance abuse, and limited access to services.
In several countries across the world, women are facing increasing violence. Although it is still early to obtain complete data, some reports have already shown an alarming 25% increase in violence against women worldwide. In some countries, the United Nations says, double the cases of gender-based violence have been reported.
Latin America has been one of the most affected areas. According to the United Nations, every day in Latin America, 12 more women are killed due to their gender. Even taking into account that the vast majority of femicides are not prosecuted, most of the countries with the highest rates of femicide are located in Latin America.
Argentina is one of these countries, and the rising number of femicides as a consequence of confinement are worrying. Almost half of the femicides registered since the beginning of the year occurred during the quarantine. Gender specialists have expressed concern about how difficult it is for women to ask for help if they are cohabitating with their abusers.
In emergency contexts, violence against women, particularly domestic violence, increases due to tensions and conflicts at home. An example is the case of Ecuador. According to the National Council for Gender Equality, of the 65% of Ecuadorian women who have experienced gender-based violence, 45% have been direct victims of their partners or ex-partners. Furthermore, the probability of suffering violence increases by 28% when the partner is at home or unemployed. More than a dozen cases of femicide have already been registered during this quarantine. The Galapagos registered its first femicide this year after quarantine started.
Newspapers like The Guardian have published reports showing that governments are not taking violence against women seriously. According to the Global Citizen, for example, Mexico approved a budget cut of 75% to funds for the promotion of gender equality in the country. Scaling back resources to gender equality contributes to an increase in gender-based violence during the pandemic.
The United States too is a country where the pandemic has heightened reports of domestic violence and demands for emergency shelters. Black, indigenous, and Hispanic minorities are especially at risk. These populations are experiencing a marked inequality in the percentage of infected people, hospitalizations, and deaths. COVID-19 is not racist, but the systemic racism people of color already face intensifies the pandemic’s consequences. This puts women of color at greater risk.
Psychologists, activists, and police agree that compulsory confinement causes more stress for couples. In both rural and urban areas, complaints of gender-based violence have multiplied. Structural inequalities, the imbalance of powers, and social norms cause women and girls to face additional risks compared to the rest of the population. This reality is troubling. Governments must focus their response to this crisis by prioritizing support for women, implementing measures that have proven to be effective, and integrating prevention efforts and services to respond effectively to gender-based violence.
The world is facing not only the COVID-19 pandemic, but also the pandemic of gender-based violence. Women have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic, and pre-existing social, political, and economic inequalities have alarmingly increased.
If you or someone you know is a victim of gender-based violence, it is important to know what your rights are. Raise your voice! Do not be afraid! There are support networks where you can seek help, and you are not alone. Together, we can prevent gender-based violence.