In a year that’s seen violence against women escalate dramatically due to the COVID-19 pandemic, observing International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women has never been more urgent.
This year’s theme, ‘Orange the World: Fund, Prevent, Respond, Collect!’ is tied in with 16 Days of Activism, where groups across the world will demonstrate concrete action against gender-based violence.
Below we list some of the core reasons we all need to keep our lens focused and place this issue at the forefront of global conversation and policy.
1. The COVID-19 pandemic
This year has seen women and girls disproportionately affected by the social and economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic and this has included the higher risk of and incidence of violence. Intimate partner violence increased as women were trapped inside their homes with their abusers during lockdown.
The associated lockdowns have highlighted the constrained and dangerous conditions of living with an abusive partner faced by many women. They have compounded existing gender issues and affected marginalised and vulnerable populations.
Phone calls made to domestic violence hotlines increased up to five-fold in some countries during the first weeks of the coronavirus outbreak. The latest study by the United Nations Population Fund indicate a worldwide increase of 20 percent of intimate partner violence cases.
Additionally, there are many specific challenges faced by women with disabilities. The uncertainties surrounding our lives in health, security, and the economy has caused rising tensions within households, leading to women shouldering much of the burden.
Quarantine measures may “have likely hindered victims to seek help, report the abuse, and/or escape their perpetrators due to the suspension of public transportation, strict orders to stay home, and limited issuance of quarantine passes,” as the Philippine Commission on Women noted.
As Bhagyashri Dengle from Plan International & Hassan Noor from Save the Children International wrote in Women’s Agenda in July, the Coronavirus in Asia has exposed millions of girls to the risk of violence, abuse and exploitation and extended periods of movement restrictions.
2. Humanitarian crises exacerbate violence
Women and girls are disproportionately affected by humanitarian crises. In 2020, there were several crises that saw women continue to suffer at the hands of their male partners.
In Yemen, more than 1.2 million people face severe food insecurity and roughly 68 percent lack access to healthcare. Last year saw the devastating outbreak of cholera spread throughout the country of almost 30 million people. The outbreak eventually killed more than 3,700 people, pushing many vulnerable women into continued stated of compromise and danger. In a country where parents choose marriage over education for their daughters, women and girls continue to be affected by rape, kidnapping and domestic violence at an exceedingly high rate.
Syria is home to the largest displacement crisis in the world. Since the start of its war five years ago, 65 percent of the population have required aid, and the estimated the death toll is more than half a million.
The conflict has exacerbated women and girls’ vulnerability to the cycle of abuse at the hands of men. The use of rape in the country has become a widespread strategy to punish women and discourage dissent. In refugee camps, women are at risk of being victims of domestic violence and sexual exploitation in exchange for essential goods and service.
3. Child Marriage
Each year, 12 million girls are married before the age of 18. That is roughly 23 girls every minute, of every day.
The practice is a human rights violation known to exacerbate several other harms; child brides are more likely to drop out of school, diminishing their future prospects. They are more likely to endure adolescent pregnancies, risking their health and lives.
Child brides are also highly vulnerable to domestic violence, and less able to advocate for their needs. In some Southeast Asia countries, including Vietnam, the Phillipines, Cambodia and Malaysia, child marriages and teenage pregnancies continue to rise. In Indonesia, 14 percent of girls are married before 18. In Lao 35 percent are married before they turn 18. In Vietnam, 11 percent of girls are married before they turn 18.
The pandemic has caused child marriage to increase in large parts of the world, including India, where 1.5 million girls under 18 are married. According to the UN, almost 16 per cent adolescent girls aged 15-19 are married.
4. Forty-five women have been killed by violence this year in Australia. Elsewhere, the numbers are just as dire
“Each year, somewhere between 50 to 70 women are killed by the hands of someone who says they love them,” Jenna Price, journalist and one of the co-founders of the feminist action group, Destroy the Joint, said of women in Australia.
According to the UN, 1 in 3 women and girls experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime, most frequently by an intimate partner. In 2017, one in 2 women killed worldwide were killed by their partners or family.
The World Health Organization estimates that almost 30 percent around the world have experienced either physical or sexual abuse from an intimate partner. They also report that many as 38 per cent of all murders of women are committed by intimate partners.
In the UK, a Femicide Census revealed that on average, one woman was murdered every three days by a man in the UK, with the final tally standing at 1,425 victims, between 2009 – 2015.
In the first half of this year in Pakistan recorded 3,148 cases of violence against women and children including a girl who was murdered by her cousin and uncle for speaking to a male friend on her phone, a woman waiting for a bus after work and a teenager who took her own life after being blackmailed by the men who raped her and videotaped the assault.
5. Children of domestic violence suffer long term consequences
Research indicates children suffer long term impacts from witnessing domestic violence. Everyday around the world, thousands of children are exposed to gender-based violence.
Australian statistics show that one in six women and one in 16 men have experienced physical or sexual violence from a partner, and that more than 60 per cent of physical attacks on their mothers have been witnessed by children.
A recent survey from the Australian Personal Safety Survey (PSS) found that one in ten men and one in eight women witnessed violence towards their mothers by a partner before the age of 15 years.
Dr Fiona Buchanan from the the University of South Australia said in a statement, “With the right messages and support, children exposed to domestic violence may have increased resilience later in life, and if we can identify these supports, we can help prevent the devastating transmission of abuse.”
This year, the UN’s Women Executive Director, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka remarked that “violence against women is also a pandemic.”
“[It| pre-dates the virus and will outlive it,” she said. “ As we face Covid-19’s devastation, there has never been a more important moment to resolve to put our combined resources and commitment behind the biggest issues, and to end violence against women and girls, for good.”
6. Women’s Community Shelters
Women’s Community Shelters continue to support hundreds of women and children through its seven shelters across New South Wales.
CEO of Women’s Community Shelters Annabelle Daniel told Women’s Agenda in September, the charity organisation has seen significant numbers of their potential fundraising events cancelled for the foreseeable future due to the pandemic.
The shelters help women find affordable housing after their stay. They also help to educate the wider public about domestic and family violence at schools, businesses, clubs and community groups.
If you or someone you know if in immediate danger, call 000. If you need help and advice call 1800Respect on 1800 737 732, Men’s Referral Service on 1300 766 491 or Lifeline on 13 11 14.