The COVID-19 pandemic brought an unexpected shift in our lives. Not only did the pandemic change how we work and plunge us into a new normal of Zoom meetings and homeschooling, in fortunate circumstances online classes. The pandemic also created a shift in family and societal dynamics, it weakened community and institutional protection mechanisms for women experiencing gender-based violence (GBV). With limited access to justice and health care services due to lockdowns, families are experiencing separation, unemployment, and isolation. These factors contribute to the increased rates of gender-based violence.
In Southern Africa, homes have become a dangerous place for women, and girls who are trapped with nowhere to report or escape the danger of violence. This is due to existing problems such as poverty, inequality, crime, and failures in the justice system which are magnified by the pandemic. These problems contribute to the rising tensions in homes resulting in high levels of stress and conflict. The breakdown of community protection mechanisms also allows inequality to thrive as women are subjected to stereotypical norms and expected to conform to gender roles. Lockdown measures mean that women are unable to escape abuse or leave their homes to seek protection.
Economically, this also means that women are at the receiving end of the stresses caused by a cut to the family’s income. In Canada rates of gender-based violence have always been high even before the pandemic, on average, every six days a woman is killed by their intimate partner. Due to the COVID-19 health measures, one in ten women has become extremely concerned with the possibility of experiencing violence in the home. Service providers also express concerns over the inaccessibility and unavailability of protection mechanisms for women experiencing gender-based violence. The usual things that women and girls do to resist the violence such as going to a friend’s house, and going to work and or school, are not available to them. And, in the event that they need to escape danger, it has become even more difficult to do so with their abuser always being home.
Research has shown that crises always result in an increase in the rates of gender-based violence. In times where the usual means of survival may be broken down by an emergency, women and girls become susceptible to the pressures brought on by these events. This may lead to them having to take extreme measures such as engaging in transactional sex so as to get by and maintain an income for survival. However, due to the breakdown of the stable environment within the community, when abused they have no one to turn to. Crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic also result in less access to information and essential services and an increased dependency on male family members making women and girls even more vulnerable to the imminent danger of experiencing violence. In most cases, GBV services are not seen as essential, and organizations that once provided safe spaces for women and girls are not able to do so during the pandemic.
However, humanitarian efforts have been poured in immensely across the world to address the shadow pandemic that is gender-based violence. Social media campaigns are being run across the world to raise awareness of gender-based violence and promote positive masculinity in the home. Virtual channels are also being used to engage survivors virtually and maintain a community where women can find support. Although these services may depend on the access to technology that may be in the control of the abusers, there have also been efforts to reach at-risk women through frontline workers within the community.
As Future Black Female we introduced our COVID-19 Response Program which aims to offer support to Black female youth aged 16-22 who are at risk of gender-based violence, homelessness, and unemployment. The program focuses on self-care, mental health, and community resilience. In partnership with the Family Counselling Centre of Niagara, we also offer therapeutic and developmental counseling sessions. The program is not only aimed at dealing with COVID-19 related stressors but also reinforces and strengthens the skills and knowledge required to succeed. Find out more about the program and how you can be a part of it here.
It is essential for all of us to keep women and girls safe from the shadow pandemic that is gender-based violence through raising awareness and offering community support to those experiencing it near us.