Gender-Based Violence Reports Increase Under Measures to Contain COVID-19

Throughout history, global pandemics and disease outbreaks have posed wide-ranging threats to the health and overall well-being of women, girls, and other vulnerable populations. As countries around the world combat the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s not surprising that these populations are once again experiencing poor outcomes, including increased gender-based violence (GBV). Due to gender inequalities, women and girls carry out the majority of unpaid caregiving and domestic work, limiting their education and economic opportunities, especially during a health crisis. The COVID-19 health crisis has exacerbated gender inequalities, including women’s and girls’ existing economic vulnerabilities, leaving many at heightened risk of poor reproductive health outcomes and GBV.

Gender-Based Violence Reports Increase Under Measures to Contain COVID-19

Government-imposed lockdowns and restrictions on movement to contain the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19, combined with the health, economic, and social stressors of the pandemic, increase the risk of GBV and make it harder for those in need to access GBV response services. For example, people may be trapped at home with their abusers with no way to access help. Additionally, the availability of GBV prevention and response services—already insufficient in many places—may decrease further as resources are diverted to the COVID-19 response.

GBV has long been a global problem, even without the presence of other crises. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, one in three women worldwide reported experiencing physical and/or sexual violence in her lifetime. And new data suggest that the pandemic is exacerbating the situation everywhere. The recently launched GBV Tracker documents the increasing GBV cases resulting from lockdowns during the COVID-19 pandemic and encourages organizations working with GBV survivors to share their data to help maintain an updated count of cases around the world. For example:

  • Within the first seven days of lockdown in South Africa, more than 2,000 complaints of GBV were made to the South African Police Service and 148 people were arrested and charged with GBV crimes.
  • A Vancouver-based domestic violence crisis line experienced a 300% increase in calls during the first three weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown. Survivors of GBV have also increased their utilization of internet-based resources: A United Kingdom-based website saw a 150% surge in traffic after government-issued lockdowns, and a state-run hotline website in Spain saw a 270% increase.
  • In the city of Jingzhou, China, police officers received three times as many domestic violence calls in February 2020 as they did during this same time in 2019.
  • A women’s rights organization in Nairobi saw an increase in the average number of calls received to report cases of violence against women, and the National Council on Administration of Justice reported a surge in sexual offenses between March 16 and April 1, 2020.
  • According to UN Women, reports of domestic violence in France increased 30% following the country’s lockdown, and help lines in Cyprus and Singapore have received 30% and 33% more calls, respectively.
  • In Brazil, where the federal government has not issued lockdown orders, a state-run drop-in center has seen a 40% to 50% rise in demand. In Argentina, emergency calls for domestic violence cases have increased by 25% since its lockdown started.
  • The United Nations estimates that due to COVID-19 disrupting efforts to end child marriage and prevent female genital mutilation (FGM), an additional 13 million child marriages and 2 million FGM cases might occur over the next decade that otherwise would have been avoided.

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