As stated by the World Health Organization, the current global pandemic of COVID-19, has affected the lives of all people regardless of borders. The Coronavirus constitutes a life-threatening illness that has already caused thousands of deaths and has left many people vulnerable, especially in conflict-affected areas. The pandemic has created multiple challenges and these issues do not only concern health conditions. As countries continue to encourage self-isolation, the tourism industry is collapsing, oil prices continue to drop, thousands have lost their job, economic disparity has increased, mental health challenges have appeared, and domestic violence has worsened dangerously.
As the virus has spread rapidly throughout the world, it has been possible to verify that its impact on women and youth is different and disproportionate, among others. As a result of self-isolation in homes, women and youth are not only at an increased risk of partner violence but are also increasing in numbers as front-line providers. Many women and youth are expected to provide relief services, while simultaneously obliged to fulfill household responsibilities such as childcare. This has amplified the impact of the virus on women and youth, especially in conflict-affected areas, including those that are displaced and those living with different kinds of disabilities.
Millions of people around the world must remain confined to their homes to combat the Coronavirus outbreak. However, for many people their own home is not a safe place. In this sense, it is possible to establish that the COVID-19 constitutes a huge concern for victims of gender-based violence since many women must be in quarantine with their aggressor.
The United Nations (UN), specifically UN Women, have explained that measures to stop the spread of COVID-19 have had a social impact that has affected women severely. UN Women warned, “In this emergency context, the risks of violence against women and girls, especially domestic violence, increases due to the tension [and isolation of women] at home. Survivors of violence may face additional obstacles to flee violent situations or access life-saving protection orders and essential services due to factors such as movement restrictions or quarantine.” For this reason, many governments are taking measures to reinforce available telephonic lines for women who may find themselves in a situation concerning domestic violence. One of the most applauded initiatives was launched by the government of the Canary Islands, in Spain. In this Spanish region, women in distress may go to the pharmacy and ask for a “Mask-19” to alert staff that they need help. However, in most cases, women cannot safely go out or call authorities over the phone about their situation. For this reason, some countries are taking other types of measures, such as strengthening online or WhatsApp platforms.
The UN has said that the Coronavirus hits women three times: for health, for domestic violence and for taking care of others. Restrictive measures taken worldwide to combat COVID-19 intensify the risk of domestic violence and increases the workload at home. In addition, those who are pregnant fear for their health when attending check-ups or are left without services. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) warned, “The Coronavirus pandemic, COVID-19, has severely disrupted access to sexual and reproductive health services and hampered the authorities’ ability to respond to gender-based violence, at a time when women and girls need these services the most.” Ms. Dubravka Šimonovic,the United Nations Special Rapporteur on violence against women, expressed that all states must make significant efforts to address the threat of COVID-19, but must not leave behind women and children victims of domestic violence, as this could lead to an increase in violence, including femicides between intimate couples.
In addition, it is very important to remark that women and youth peace-builders throughout the world have continued to respond to the crisis despite the challenges they face. In Kherson, Ukraine, women and youth are working to provide emotional support to those in need by using their existing networks to target vulnerable women. Also, in Armenia, women are delivering food for the elderly and they are coordinating actions to provide vulnerable families with food packages. At the same time, they provide necessary assistance to those in the capital city, and they try to ensure that conflict-affected areas get the required attention they need.
It is important to take into account that other outbreaks, such as Ebola and the Zika virus, left the experience that despite the burden women face in distinct matters, diseases like these divert resources from the essential services they need (like contraception and pre and postnatal care). UN Women warn that this problem could happen again with the COVID-19 pandemic. Action needs to be taken, governments cannot abandon women and youth in the middle of an emergency like this one. Solidarity, resolution and selflessness are absolutely required.
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