The Covid-19 pandemic has worsened the incidence of violence against women and girls, according to a UN Women report released to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.
“The Covid-19 pandemic, with all its isolation and distancing, has enabled unseen violence: a second, shadow pandemic of violence against women and girls, where they often found themselves in lockdown with their abusers. In all corners of the world, helplines for violence against women saw an increase in reports,” said a statement by the United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women, Sima Sami Bahous.
She added that according to statistics, more than 70 per cent of women have experienced gender-based violence in some crisis setting. And in countries, both rich and poor, gender prejudice has fuelled acts of violence toward women and girls.
Describing gender-based violence as “a global crisis”, Bahous added: “In all of our own neighbourhoods, there are women and girls living in danger. Around the world, conflict, climate-related natural disasters, food insecurity and human rights violations are exacerbating violence against women.”
She was speaking during a virtual event to mark the day which is commemorated annually on November 25. It also marks the beginning of the 16 days of Activism against Gender-based Violence campaign, which will conclude with the International Human Rights Day, marked on December 10. The theme of this year’s campaign is “Orange the world: End violence against women now!”
However, Bahous said there is hope and new opportunities, citing the Action Coalition on Gender-based Violence launched by the Generation Equality Forum. It is part of a $40 billion commitment to the women and girls of the world and is meant to drive investment and deliver results.
“There will be concrete financial and policy commitments, and scaled-up initiatives in critical areas: survivor support services, legal frameworks and more resources for grassroots organisations,” the UN Women head said.
Speaking at the same event, UN Secretary-General António Guterres lamented that violence against women and girls, which he termed “…an abhorrent crime and a public health emergency, with far-reaching consequences …” continues to be a pervasive and pressing human rights issue in the world.
“Violence in any part of society affects us all. From the scars on the next generation to the weakening of the social fabric,” he said.
However, Guterres was firm that violence against women is not inevitable because the right policies and programmes in the form of comprehensive, long-term strategies that tackle its root causes, protect the rights of women and girls, and promote strong and autonomous women’s rights movements can bring about desired results.
He cited the example of the Spotlight Initiative, the model the United Nations has built through its partnership with the European Union.
He said that last year, partner countries saw a 22 per cent increase in prosecution of perpetrators; 84 laws and policies were passed or strengthened; and more than 650,000 women and girls were able to access gender-based violence services, despite restrictions related to the pandemic.
“Change is possible. Now is the time to redouble our efforts so that together, we can eliminate violence against women and girls by 2030,” the UN boss said.
According to the Global 16 Days Campaign website, the initiative was started by the Centre for Women’s Global Leadership at its inaugural Women’s Global Leadership Institute 30 years ago and has been used worldwide to call for the elimination of gender-based violence (GBV). The campaign said that this year it will focus on domestic violence in the world of work, and an additional special theme on femicide.
The UN Secretary-General’s UNiTE by 2030 to End Violence against Women campaign (UNiTE Campaign), which is managed by UN Women, said that in a recent study conducted by the UN, nearly 1 in 3 women aged 15 years and older around the world have been subjected to physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner, non-partner or both, at least once in their lifetime.
In addition to the impact of Covid-19, the UNiTE campaign said there is an increase in violence against women and girls globally due to crises caused by natural disasters, such as the earthquake in Haiti, as well as manmade disasters such as conflicts and war, as seen in Afghanistan.
The campaign announced that this year it will focus on “the interconnections between crises-related, rapidly changing contexts and the rise of violence against women and girls in all forms and manifestations” under the 2021 theme of “Orange the world: End violence against women now!”
During the 16 Days of Activism campaign, human rights organisations will focus on and create awareness on gender based violence. In support of empowering women, the UN has taken measures to involve them in key areas and resolutions. The Security Council adopted resolution 1325 on women and peace and security on October 31, 2000. The resolution reaffirms the important role of women in the prevention and resolution of conflicts, peace negotiations, peace-building, peacekeeping, humanitarian response, and in post-conflict reconstruction, and stresses the importance of their equal participation and full involvement in all efforts for the maintenance and promotion of peace and security.
The Nigeria section of the Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA) has reiterated the call to institutions and communities to be proactive and develop policies that prevent and deal with every form of abuse against women and girls. Speaking at a press briefing in Abuja, Nigeria, during the commemoration of the 16 Days of Activism campaign, FIDA Country Vice-President/National President Rhoda Prevail Tyoden said Covid-19 showed more than ever that women are the most disadvantaged in society, as the pandemic fuelled an exponential increase in
violence against the female gender through domestic and physical abuse, rape, psychological abuse, FGM, and early marriage.
She said the gendered impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on women and girls in West African Commonwealth countries should be addressed urgently, and called on legislators and executive members of governments to act fast to end the violence in the region.
UN Women Kenya invited women’s rights groups, state actors, and gender-based violence survivors to the Kenyatta International Conference Centre in Nairobi to celebrate the start of the 16 Days of Activism campaign. The centre was illuminated in bold orange colours to mark the occasion. The national building shall remain lit during the 16 days of the campaign.
Beatrice Elachi, the Gender and Public Service Cabinet Administrative Secretary, said Kenya was accelerating efforts to establish the first-ever government-run safe house for GBV survivors.
Elsewhere, a joint statement by the Mayer Daak and Odhikar organisations highlighted the struggles of women in Bangladesh both in their private and public lives.
The two organisations, which advocate human rights, said the repressive nature of the authoritarian government in Bangladesh has caused the victimisation of many women and girls by law enforcement agencies and pro-government political agents.
A dysfunctional criminal justice system has made it harder for women to get justice, they said, adding that Covid-19 has exacerbated the abuse of women and child marriages, which saw a 13 per cent increase after schools closed for 18 months.
“Rape, sexual harassment, dowry-related violence, domestic violence, and overall discrimination against women have been pervasive in Bangladesh even before the pandemic. During the pandemic, the situation worsened,” Mayer Daak and Odhikar stated.
They proposed a democratic system of government and an independent and strong criminal justice system to ensure justice for women and girls. Their other recommendations included making gender equality a part of the education curriculum; creating a social safety net for vulnerable families who experience poverty and violence; and revising and withdrawing some laws to ensure that women’s rights are protected.