UNITED NATIONS, Apr 6 (APP): UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has warned that the increase in social and economic pressures brought on by the coronavirus pandemic has led to a global increase in violence against women and girls.
The secretary-general, who appealed on March 23 for an immediate cease-fire in conflicts around the world to tackle COVID-19, said in a statement Sunday night it is now time to appeal for an end to all violence everywhere.
“Violence is not confined to the battlefield,” he said. “For many women and girls, the threat looms largest where they should be safest – in their own homes. And so I make a new appeal today for peace at home and in homes around the world.”
Guterres said of the disease caused by the coronavirus. Many countries have reported a surge in domestic violence incidents and calls to abuse hotlines since the pandemic started spreading globally earlier this year.
The combination of economic and social stresses brought on by the pandemic, as well as restrictions on movement, have dramatically increased the numbers of women and girls facing abuse, in almost all countries, the UN chief said.
However, even before the global spread of the new coronavirus, statistics showed that a third of women around the world experienced some form of violence in their lives.
The issue affects both developed and poorer economies: nearly a quarter of female college students reported having experienced sexual assault or misconduct in the US, whilst in parts of sub-Saharan Africa, partner violence to be a reality for 65 percent of women.
“I urge all governments to make the prevention and redress of violence against women a key part of their national response plans for COVID-19,” Guterres said of the disease caused by the coronavirus.
He said that includes declaring shelters as essential services, setting up emergency warning systems in pharmacies and grocery stores, declaring shelters essential services, and creating safe ways for women to seek support, without alerting their abusers.
Research by the World Health Organization (WHO), details disturbing impacts of violence on women’s physical, sexual, reproductive and mental health: women who experience physical or sexual abuse are twice as likely to have an abortion, and the experience nearly doubles their likelihood of falling into depression. In some regions, they are 1.5 times more likely to acquire HIV, and evidence exists that sexually assaulted women are 2.3 times more likely to have alcohol disorders.
Over 87,000 women were intentionally killed in 2017, and more than half were killed by intimate partners or family members, it was pointed out. Violence against women is as serious a cause of death and incapacity among women of reproductive age as cancer, and a greater cause of ill-health than traffic accidents and malaria combined.
Since the pandemic, the UN is reporting that Lebanon and Malaysia, for example, have seen the number of calls to helplines double, compared with the same month last year; in China, they have tripled; and in Australia, search engines such as Google are seeing the highest magnitude of searches for domestic violence help in the past five years.
These numbers give some indication of the scale of the problem, but only cover countries where reporting systems are in place: as the virus spreads in countries with already weak institutions, less information and data will be available, but it is expected that the vulnerability of women and girls will be higher.
Responding to the rise in violence is further complicated by the fact the institutions are already under a huge strain from the demands of dealing with the pandemic, it was pointed out. “Healthcare providers and police are overwhelmed and understaffed”, said the UN chief, “local support groups are paralyzed or short of funds. Some domestic violence shelters are closed; others are full.”
Reasons for the shortage of shelters include their conversion into health facilities, or new measures barring new victims for fear of further spreading COVID-19. As for the police, they and other members of security forces are, in many instances, less willing to arrest perpetrators of violence, limiting direct engagement, or are overwhelmed by policing lockdowns.
The UN chief urged all governments to make the prevention and redress of violence against women a key part of their national response plans for COVID-19 and outlined several actions that can be taken to improve the situation.
“Together”, concluded the secretary-general, “we can and must prevent violence everywhere, from war zones to people’s homes, as we work to beat COVID-19.”