In late 2019 early 2020, COVID-19 came knocking at our doors, impacting the world in many ways. But as countries implemented lockdowns and movement restrictions, as people went into isolation, reports of all forms of violence, especially domestic violence against girls and women, began to rise.
The impact of gender-based violence to one’s mental health is very significant. The impacts can include post-traumatic stress disorder , depression, anxiety, substance misuse, self harm and suicidal behaviour. In addition a survivor may experience stigma from family and society and this may exacerbate the mental well-being of a survivor.
Gender-based violence against women is not something new. According to the United Nations, before the COVID-19 pandemic started, 243 million women and girls were abused by their intimate partners in 2019. Violence generally increases in the face of pandemics so it’s no surprise that with the COVID-19 pandemic, the violence against women and girls intensified, support services faltered and accessing help became harder.
It is up to every individual to play a part in ending violence against women.
Here are six ways you can make a difference in the life of a gender-based violence survivor:
1. Believe and listen to survivors
We must create an environment that is safe and supportive where a woman can speak up and be heard. A victim's sobriety, choice of dressing or sexuality is not relevant when discussing issues to deal with gender-based violence. Society has normalized throwing around the blame and questioning the victim; the perpetrator is the sole reason for the assault and is the only one to be held responsible. We need to normalize calling out victim-blaming and counter the notion that it is on women to avoid situations deemed "dangerous" by society.
2. Learn the signs of abuse and how you can help
Abuse comes in various forms, and all of them have a severe impact on an individual's physical and emotional well-being. Take the time to check in with a friend, a colleague or even a relative and learn ways to help them find safety and support. When your intuition tells you it's a sign of abuse, believe it and seek help as soon as possible so you are not overreacting or reading too much into something.
3. Understand consent
Consent is an agreement expressed outwardly through mutually understandable actions and words to engage in a given activity. Consent should be enthusiastic, voluntarily provided and can be withdrawn at any given point. A 'no' means no, and a 'yes' means yes it can never be anything in between. We need to educate ourselves on what consent means and stop using phrases like "boys will be boys" to blur the lines of sexual consent.
4. Educate the next generation
As a society, we influence how the younger generation thinks about gender, human rights and respect. Our responsibility is to facilitate conversations about gender roles and challenge society's norms about roles assigned to men and women. We also need to highlight stereotypes present in our society and those that children may encounter, ensuring that children know it is okay to be different from society's expectations. Boys and girls need to be empowered with information where we take as much time to teach both genders about consent and accountability.
5. Hold each other accountable
Violence takes many forms and occurs in different settings in the workplace, in public places and even learning institutions. When you observe such, take a stand by calling it out when you see it. Never stand by and watch someone make inappropriate sexual comments or sexist jokes. As much as you are not on the receiving end, it is still your responsibility to call it out. We need to create a conducive environment where we support each other and listen to one another. We also have to reflect on our actions and challenge each other to be better.
6. Provide support services for survivors
Services for survivors, such as shelters, hotline services and counselling services, need to be readily available and accessible to survivors at any given time, especially during the pandemics. That is why at Future Black Female, we have a virtual and in-person counselling program that is free of charge provided for young girls between the ages of 16-22 who have been affected by gender-based violence. Visit futureblackfemale.com to know more about the program. You can play a part in assisting with the delivery of such services by donating to local women's organizations that empower, support survivors and amplify their voices.
These suggestions are the start to many other ways we can support survivors and end gender-based violence. Let’s do our part to implement them along with others we find along the way.