Covid-19 and the Rise of Sexual & Gender-Based Violence

We are in the midst of a pandemic. One way to slow down the spread of coronavirus is to implement lockdown and quarantine measures, which means confining yourself to your home with your family. For some people, this includes an abuser. 

Pandemics often exacerbate existing inequalities for women and girls, who are often most vulnerable to violence and abuse in the home. Charities are already seeing a sharp rise in domestic violence reports since the outbreak of COVID-19. Pandemics also exacerbate discrimination of other marginalized groups, including LGBTQ+ people, people living with disabilities, older people, migrants, refugees and those in extreme poverty. 

Increased Violence 

In China, an anti-domestic violence charity in Hubei province reported that intimate partner violence have nearly doubled since cities had been put under lockdown. The same organization has reported that the police station in Jianli County registered three times more cases in February 2020 than in the same time in 2019. 

There have been huge increases in different forms of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV), including intimate partner violence, in many other countries including the UK, Brazil, Germany, Italy, Spain and the United States. In the UK, it is reported that there has been a 120% increase in incidents of domestic violence. 

Self-isolation for women in coercive or violent relationships means being trapped (often without the means of accessing support) with a perpetrator who may become more abusive when there is no other outlet. Lockdowns also mean medical services and support to people affected by sexual and gender-based violence may be cut off or considered lower priority in healthcare structures overburdened by responding to COVID-19 cases.

Lockdowns and lack of prioritization of SGBV response services mean many women will face forced pregnancies. In turn, restricted access to abortion care facilities or pharmacies that provide medical abortions (i.e. misoprostol pills that can be taken at home) if quarantine periods are extended may lead to unsafe abortions and increased mortality among SGBV survivors. 

Another fear is that SGBV survivors may also face difficulties accessing contraception for HIV and STI prevention. Lack of timely treatment can put their health and life at risk. 

Prevention Measures 

Realizing the real danger to women’s lives, some countries have put measures in place to help mitigate SGBV. 

In China, survivors, activists, and organizations have launched a set of actions using social media to raise awareness and support survivors. Some of the actions included creating networks, publishing online manuals on intimate partner violence, and starting a hashtag: #AntiDomesticViolenceDuringEpidemic

After seeing the increase of SGBV cases in China and similar issues in Italy, the Ministry of Equality in Spain launched a national plan that acknowledged the exponential risks of SGBV due to the lockdown mitigation strategy adopted by the national government. 

The plan recognizes the difficulties faced by SGBV survivors in seeking help in confinement. It adapts services to prevent, address, and reduce these risks under the current circumstances. The services include, among other measures, emergency centers for the reception of victims at risks, safe accommodation for survivors, a hotline for information, and an emergency line to send alert messages with geolocation that will be received by state security forces. It has also been announced that an instant chat-messaging system for containment and psychological assistance will be activated. 

Other initiatives of local governments in Spain have caught national attention and will be replicated in different regions across the country. Survivors of SGBV or women at risk can go to a pharmacy and ask for a “Mask-19”. This tells staff at the pharmacy to activate protection services.

What can be done? 

It is clear that IPPF Member Associations have an important role to play by adapting how they provide services and supporting health authorities to adapt theirs. 

It is essential that sexual and gender-based violence helplines are available and that there is an option for women to access support. This could be hrough text message, call centers, or more sophisticated web/app systems, if available. We also want to see increased access to emergency contraception or other contraceptive methods, and for medical abortions to be made available for all women to use at home. 

Finally, we want all governments to recognize the fundamental human right to access sexual and reproductive healthcare. It is a life-saving, essential service for all, especially the most vulnerable and marginalized. 

Subscribe to IPPF’s newsletter for more engaging content about sexual healthcare. 

Abuse & Violence Rates Rise Amid Global Lockdowns

Many countries around the world are in complete lockdown. Millions have been forced to stay at home, self-isolate or socially distance themselves to combat the ongoing threat of coronavirus (COVID-19).

The pandemic is creating an environment of high stress, anxiety and depression for millions of people. It’s taking an economic and social toll. It is also leading to increased rates of domestic violence. In times of crisis or natural disaster, children’s and women’s health and safety are the most severely compromised. In our current situation, this pattern is compounded by limited access to safe centers, shelters and health services.

National lockdowns have exposed many who experience abuse within their homes to danger on a daily basis.

In addition, strict quarantine measures have restricted people’s ability to report abuse. The majority of domestic violence victims are women. However, others such as LGBTQI individuals also face the risk of being abused or thrown out of their homes.

Current statistics show a worldwide surge in the number of reported gender-based violence (GBV) cases. There are increased incidences of domestic abuse and violence being reported from Brazil to China to Germany to the United States. Like the virus itself, this is a global issue.

The South African Police Minister has announced that nearly 90 000 cases of GBV were reported within the first week of the country’s lockdown. Crimes of intimate partner violence, sexual abuse and molestation have been seen to rise in record numbers.

Some countries are coming up with measures to protect and safeguard those in vulnerable circumstances.

In France, some women are being housed in hotels. Pop-up centers have been set up in malls across the country. People can use these centres to report GBV when they go out to buy medication or groceries.

In other countries, helplines have been set up for women to use during this difficult time. In Spain, lockdown conditions have been lifted to allow people experiencing abuse to seek help without being fined. Shelters and safe havens are being created in many other countries as well.

The UN Secretary- General, António Guterres, made an appeal to governments worldwide. He implored them to take the matter of abuse during COVID-19 seriously and to implement structures to support women and vulnerable groups.

During this time, we can all play a role by creating more awareness.

We can reach out to municipalities, governments and NGOs to ask for support and safety measures to be applied in our communities. By doing so, we can better protect those at risk of abuse and violence.

Not Just a Woman’s Issue: Men in Uganda Tackle Violence

In Uganda, gender-based violence is largely considered a private matter and stigma prevents many victims from reporting. As a result, data are difficult to gather. However, we know that millions of girls and young women face violence across the country and around the world.

The 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence campaign gives Uganda the chance to evaluate our efforts towards ending all forms of gender-based violence. These efforts must consist of unique interventions and strategies to position men and women as equals in society.

In 2018, Peer to Peer Uganda wrote about the importance of empowering male champions for gender equality. This year, we are asking two questions. First, what challenges remain in 2019? And second, how are men and boys contributing to the fight against gender-based violence in Uganda?

We believe that men must be oriented regularly to outgrow the social norms that leave women on the periphery of social benefits and opportunities. But as well as social values, discriminatory laws and policies continue to prevent progress.

Ineffective laws pose a major challenge in the fight against gender-based violence.

Many of Uganda’s laws do not address key aspects of violence against women. None criminalise marital rape, for instance. The 2010 Domestic Violence Act does not protect those in cohabiting partnerships. A 2004 amendment to the Land Act of 1998 fails to recognise coownership of land between spouses.

The Land Act also fails to permit women to act as coowners or managers of land, and creates weak protections for widows who seek to inherit their husband’s land. Another example is the 2006 Employment Act. This legislation restricts punitive action against an employer in workplace sexual harassment cases. It doesn’t even acknowledge the potential for abuse by coworkers.

Poor funding for violence against women and girls programmes also remains a huge challenge.

The budgets of sectors mandated to address GBV are worrying. While activities are listed in the budgets, there are no monetary allocations. Most of the work on gender-based violence in Uganda is donor funded and concentrated in project areas. Greater efforts to identify domestic funding sources are urgently required.

Rates of gender-based violence continue to increase despite the presence of laws and policies to protect victims and survivors.

For me, the situation became impossible to ignore the day I saw a man attack his wife when she delayed to serve him dinner.

That very day, I decided to start an Annual Youth Mentorship Program through Peer To Peer Uganda. The program targets boys and girls 14 – 25 years of age. Now in its second year of implementation, it has facilitated mentorship training to over 176 young women and men from across Uganda – targeting both rural and urban communities. Young people are supported to provide psychosocial and moral support and assistance to survivors of violence.

We have also created a network of male volunteers. These men and boys raise awareness of the need to end violence and act as role models in their communities.

“As a male champion, I have learnt how to intervene and support my female peers by not feeling threatened by their ambitions but instead feeling inspired to forge a partnership with them.” – Peer to Peer Youth Mentorship Residential Camp mentee

There are also collaborative awareness-raising sessions for male and female peer mentees. These sessions, along with community outreach, have played a significant role in contributing to the realization of a gender equal, violence-free country.

Girls’ Globe Reading List: Gender-Based Violence

Gender-based violence (GBV) remains one of the most pervasive and persistent human rights violations in the world. It reaches into every country, every community and every corner of our planet.

25 November is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women and the first day of the annual 16 Days campaign. We’ve compiled a reading list as a starting point for anyone looking to learn more about what gender-based violence is, why it happens, and how it affects women and girls around the world.

Mexico’s Glitter Protests are a Movement Against Violence

“Like many other women across the country, we were part of the glitter protests. Bita marched in the city of Aguascalientes and Mariana marched in Mexico City. We both agreed that at a time like this, being among women was where we felt the safest.”
– Mariana Lizarraga & Bita Aranda




Sweden Deports Victims of Child Marriage and Torture to Afghanistan

“If Sweden deports girls (and boys) who have been victims of child marriage in Afghanistan, we are not acknowledging the human rights violation that affects 35% of girls. We are ignoring the fact that these refugees lack the support networks they need to avoid abuse and violence.”
– Julia Wiklander



Cyntoia Brown: 15 Years On – Free at Last?

“The case raised an enormous number of questions and issues – why was a young girl so scared for her life that she shot a man dead? Why was she tried as an adult when she was only 16? And most uncomfortable of all – would this sort of sentencing have happened to a 16-year-old white girl?”
– Lucy Small



Speaking the Unspeakable to Advance Human Rights

“The girl was 13 and forced to marry a man in his 30s. She was suffering from malnutrition. I could have wrapped my pinkie around her wrist. Although poor, they had a farm that produced fresh milk, eggs and vegetables. But she was starving because she was not permitted to eat.”
– Ashley Lackovich-Van Gorp



Eradicating Violence in Rural Zimbabwe

Eradicating Violence in Rural Zimbabwe

“It’s how we’re tackling gender-based violence in my community that makes us unique. By circulating information through word of mouth everyone has the opportunity to learn – even those who can’t read or write or access the internet – and so the possibility of leaving anyone behind is reduced.”
– Yunah Bvumbwe



What Does an Abusive Relationship Look Like?

“Relationship education needs to be prioritised in all schools. No young person should have to experience an abusive relationship – or watch a friend experience one – as a way to figure out what is and isn’t an acceptable way to be treated by another person.”
– Eleanor Gall




The Pattern of Domestic Violence

“It becomes almost impossible to have courage if you don’t have a voice. Sometimes, even those who do are stifled by the fear of humiliation and social stigma. Not everyone has a loving family or friends to fall back on. Not everyone can simply wake up one day, decide they have had enough, and leave.”
– Iram Rizvi



Denis Mukwege & Sexual Violence in Conflict

“I recently had the honor of attending a speech by Dr. Denis Mukwege, who has devoted his life to the rights and health of women in the DRC. For more than two decades conflict has been tearing the country apart, and rape and sexual violence used extensively as weapons of war.”
– Fatima Bashir Abdalrahim




An Open Letter to my Abuser

“I am not an excuse for your incapability to control your emotions. I am not the cause of your outbursts. I am not your rage or your hate. I am not your false pride or fragile ego. I am not the weakness you always claimed to see in me. I am not the names you called me.”
– Preeti Shakya



Justice for Evelyn in Landmark El Savador Abortion Trial

“What better way to restrict women’s power and agency than to lock them into child bearing. And if they appear to resist, what better way to punish them than to simply lock them up. Evelyn Hernandez’s release is a welcome reminder that activism works.”
– Eleanor Gall




Yes, Child Marriage is a Problem in Latin America

“I believe that child marriage is still not being fully recognised as a major problem in Latin America and the Caribbean. The rates of child marriage in the region are alarming – Latin America is the only region that hasn’t seen a decline in child marriage in the last 30 years.”
– Maria Rendo




Remembering Marielle Franco: #MariellePresente

“She was a black woman from one of Rio de Janeiro’s most dangerous slums. She was gay, a feminist, and a mother. She fought for human rights and spoke out about police violence in Rio’s slums. She was 38 years-old. She was Marielle Franco. And on March 14 2018, she was murdered.”
– Gabrielle Rocha Rios



New articles will be be published on girlsglobe.org throughout the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence 2019. We invite everyone to subscribe, follow on Instagram, Twitter & Facebook and take action with Girls’ Globe. Together, we can eliminate violence and create a safer, fairer, more equal world.

Motherhood in Conflict: Colleen’s Story

In northern Uganda, many mothers have lived through armed conflict. Some gave birth in a time when murder, abduction, mutilation and rape were common practices. It was a time when child soldiers were forced to kill loved ones. What would it be like to become and be a mother in this context?

Colleen* is one of the women I grew very close to during my time volunteering in a counselling centre in Northern Uganda. Like Achola, she told me about her experiences of motherhood during and after the war.

Becoming a Mother in a Conflict Zone

I visited Colleen at her home in rural Ngetta, close to the city of Lira in the northern part of Uganda. The region has been badly affected by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) insurgency. There were great consequences for all, and especially for pregnant women and mothers.

Colleen told me that she was abducted by rebels from the LRA when she was only 15. She escaped them by hiding in the open stem of a bush. Colleen told me that she became a mother at the same time as losing both of her parents, who were killed by the rebels. She spoke about how hard it was to flee from the rebels night after night, while ensuring the safety of her siblings and her baby.

Colleen’s experiences of the war have been debilitating, and she is still recovering. Though the war ended more than a decade ago, Colleen continues to be in emotional and physical pain. She tells me:

“When I was with my baby hiding in the bush, somebody stepped on my waist. It affected my waist so much up to date. Whenever I laugh, I could just fall unconscious for some minutes. It is still painful.”

What is very striking about Colleen’s story is that it demonstrates that life after war can still be filled with terror. For Colleen, the days of violence are not over.

‘Post-Conflict’ Motherhood

Just after Colleen had been abducted by the rebels, she was married at 16 to her current husband. The day I spoke with her, he was out working on nearby land. Colleen leaned towards me and whispered in my ear:

“I never wanted to marry him, my brothers forced me to marry him cause they needed money and animals [bride price] so that they can marry their wives.”

The practice of bride price is one of many practices that highlight the negative effects of poverty and patriarchy on women’s wellbeing.

The women I worked with told me that in their communities, girls are usually seen as a commodity by both their natal family and their new husband. As soon as a girl is born, she is a source of income for her family. This puts girls and young women at great risk of being forced into early or childhood marriage. This is exactly what happened to Colleen.

Colleen is now in an unhappy and abusive marriage. The years of grabbing her children and running into the bush have not been forgotten. These days, however, when she runs with her children it is not to escape the rebels, but the violence of her husband.

For Colleen, instead of a safe place, her home is a place of terror.

The end of the conflict with the Lord’s Resistance Army was supposedly meant to be time of peace. For many women, however, peace-time violence continues to disrupt and negatively influence their well-being.

Colleen’s Way Forward

Though Colleen’s daily life is characterized by the violent relationship with her husband, it does not define her. Colleen experiences a lot of joy in the relationship with her children, and with her female friends who she meets in her neighbourhood and in the local counselling centre. The women often sing and dance together:

“During the rebel time there was no music, now there is music and we can dance and feel better. I dance! … I always dance and listen [to music] because it is telling me about peace, if it is gospel it is counselling me also. There are songs which you listen to and it teaches you about peace.”

Community groups, the church, gospel songs and the local counselling centre are all crucial for Colleen’s recovery. We need to acknowledge the importance of creativity and body work in psycho-social and mental health support. For Colleen, dancing and singing is not only simply enjoyable, it also offers a way of healing.  

*Colleen is a pseudonym. The image accompanying this article does not depict the woman who told this story.

The Pattern of Domestic Violence

Like every tsunami, it starts small. A slap here, a hit there. Nothing to worry about. He apologizes, says it will never happen again.

But it does.

It happens again. Harder this time, perhaps a punch or two. It becomes a pattern.

Beat, repent, repeat.

The physical abuse.

The pattern.

OR

It is completely inconspicuous. Almost invisible to the outside world and sometimes, to the victim, too. Charming dominance turns into irrational jealousy and possessiveness. Endearing neediness becomes suffocating. You find yourself trying to stay out for as long as you can. You know it’s coming.

The emotional abuse.

The pattern.

According to the World Health Organization, almost one third of women who have been in a relationship report that they have experienced some form of physical and/or sexual violence by their intimate partner in their lifetime.

Not everyone has the courage to fight back against abuse and violence. It’s not simply about being ‘brave’ – it becomes almost impossible to have courage if you don’t have a voice. Sometimes, even those who do are stifled by the fear of humiliation and social stigma surrounding gender-based violence.

Not everyone has a loving family or friends to fall back on. Not everyone can simply wake up one day, decide they have had enough, and leave. It’s not that easy, oh how I wish it was, but it isn’t.

Although, it’s also not impossible.

You might wonder, why must they stay? Is it the children? Or the familiarity? Or worst of all, the tainted love? It’s generally an amalgamation of all of these reasons along with many more. Of course, none of them can ever justify the destruction of lives, hearts, and a place that now detestably resembles home but is far, far from it.

The more you take, the less you can give to yourself or those you love. You deserve a safe environment. Children deserve a safe environment.

Make a safety plan. You can break the pattern and protect yourself and others. It will be hard, but it will be worth it.

“Break the pattern before it breaks you.” – Colleen Hoover, It Ends With Us

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