Mwanahamisi Singano

How to stop Coronavirus Lockdown Leading to an Upsurge in Violence Against Women

Guest post from Mwanahamisi Singano, a feminist activist  Member of FEMNET

The world is witnessing an unprecedent health pandemic.  With more than 440,318 confirmed cases of COVID19 across the world, and almost 20,000 deaths (at the time of publication), the world is shutting down. Everyone is being asked to stay home and be safe, but one thing that everyone has forgotten is that homes are not safe for women.

The 2017 report of United Nation office on Drugs and Crime finds that almost 6 out of 10 women intentionally killed are murdered by an intimate partner or family member. Oceania leads with 75% followed by Africa 68%, then Asia 59%, America 44% and Europe 43%.  137 women are killed every day by the people they know.  A WHO report of 2013, on violence against women concluded that almost 1 in 3 women globally have been physically or sexually abused in their lifetime. 

Table 1. Lifetime prevalence of physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence among ever-partnered women by WHO region

WHO region Prevalence, % 95% CI, %
Africa36.632.7 to 40.5 
Americas29.825.8 to 33.9 
Eastern Mediterranean37.030.9 to 43.1 
Europe25.420.9 to 30.0 
South-East Asia37.732.8 to 42.6 
Western Pacific24.620.1 to 29.0 
High income23.220.2 to 26.2 

CI = confidence interval.

“Governments are making huge assumptions that homes are safe. I have to disappoint them: homes are not safe for women; we know the facts.”

The State of African Women Report 2018 paints an even more gloomy picture: “One study from Zambia indicated that, among female sexual assault survivors, 49% were younger than 14 and85% younger than 19. Violence makes an early appearance in women’s intimate and sexual relationships. A report by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) indicates that over 50% of ever-married girls have experienced IPV, with the highest rates in Equatorial Guinea, DRC, Gabon, Zimbabwe and Cameroon”.

The report went further, capturing the intersectional oppression experienced by people with disability, older women, sexual minorities etc. in both public and private spaces. 

Why I am bringing this up in the middle of coronavirus pandemic? Well, because for so long we have been fighting and calling on governments and communities to make ‘homes’ safer for women, children, people with disabilities and minorities. Too often, decision-makers and perpetrators told us, ‘those are private matter, which should be dealt with privately’. So it is supremely ironic now, to see that a global health pandemic is being managed by asking the public to isolate themselves in precisely those ‘private spaces’. 

In doing so, governments are making huge assumptions that homes are safe. I have to disappoint them: homes are not safe for women; we know the facts. 

To be clear, I am not suggesting that we abandon social distancing (how I hate that name! I wish we could call it “physical distancing”). Coming from Africa where social capital is all you have to manage a crisis like this, I do feel that as countries go into lockdown, we all need more humanity, more emotional connection, support, more hope and inspiration. And technology today allows us to offer ‘social support’ and stay socially connected with less physical contact.  “Physical distancing’ should also address physical violence, which women and girls have been experiencing in their private spaces.

“We need to urgently provide needed support to millions of people who might now be experiencing harassment, abuse and violence in their home as they manage the spread of the virus.”

Importantly, we urgently need to clearly communicate and make resources available to report, control and manage gender-based violence. Otherwise, with everyone locked down, gender-based violence could rise to unprecedented levels. Women, children, people with disability and minority groups need to know that lock down does not mean that they should tolerate violence, that they should not report abuse or that they should keep on living with their abusers. We need to urgently provide needed support to millions of people who might now be experiencing harassment, abuse and violence in their home as they manage the spread of the virus. 

Neither, for all of us in Africa, should lockdown become an excuse to subject women to an unbearable burden of unpaid care work. If anything, coronavirus should be an opportunity for both men and women, boys and girls to share household work and nurture a more equal society. 

However, this we will not happen automatically: resources and messaging need to be clear. For example, the ongoing media campaign educating the global community about the virus needs to strongly and categorically promote a fairer sharing of care work and safer homes, free of gender-based violence. 

Governments across the world need to establish and/or inform communities on reporting processes, hotline numbers and support systems available to deal with a wide range of violence.  It is dangerous and wrong to treat ‘lock down’ or ‘stay home’ as gender neutral. We know that our homes are gendered, they are the core of the ‘unequal gender relations’ and they are not safe


Editor’s note: for updated statistics on confirmed COVID-19 cases and deaths, please see Worldometer’s statistics.

Featured image: Huub Zeeman, CC licensed

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Comments

14 Responses to “How to stop Coronavirus Lockdown Leading to an Upsurge in Violence Against Women”
  1. I just love this, Mwanahamisi. Particularly the concluding recommendation: “Governments across the world need to establish and/or inform communities on reporting processes, hotline numbers and support systems available to deal with a wide range of violence.” Let us pray that Governments will put appropriate mechanisms in place!

  2. Rebecca M

    Thank you for the very helpful article highlighting this extremely important issue. Could I ask you to double check the initial statistic quoted on coronavirus deaths – I have seen much lower figures than 80,000 globally for today and think it’s good in these times to make sure we don’t pass on misleading data accidentally.

  3. gawain

    this is so important and timely. Thank you Mishy for writing it. We need a more developed action/policy agenda around this issue. Canada included $50m to support women’s shelters in their covid response package. Other governments should do this as well. If home is too dangerous, women and children need someplace to run to.

  4. Intimate partner violence is real. Thank you Mishy for bringing this whole issue of stay home hipocrisy, as we know it will lead to more problems to people we love most. As always as ever you have nailed it to the core!

  5. Mnwele

    Great analysis Mwanahamis and would like to real recommend this as it stirs up conversation for both implementers and policy makers as well. Well articulated and will call this as an eye bird styled article amidst an obsession of intervention that look at saving life in an holistic but not in a complete set.
    Would agree with the observation put forward and timely calls made thereof. Speaking in the social context that I understand most, ways of living to most African sets especially Tanzania may as well find the lockdown (which have in very good reasons not yet put in place) abridging gender imbalances and promote social cohesion, networks, fabrics and love within family. Men would probably have more time to delibarate as they stand at the centre of what that ought to be doing in the time of peace!
    Nevertheless though, COVID-19 digs up number of perspectives from each angle that one wishes to binoculate social facts!

  6. Thanks Mwanahamisi for this! I work in a funding agency and brought up the idea that unconditional cash transfers/basic income grants for poor communities could be a good idea to make use of our funds. As most of the organisations we support will now stop their operations (no farmer trainings, no kids club in shanty towns, no self-help group meetings, …), there is a question how ‘the people/beneficiaries’ could be supported best. The answer was: no, only the men will grab the money, buy alcohol, … I found that to be a bit oversimplified simplistic but I do agree that we have to consider that. What’s your take on this? Do you know any good resources to these questions: is basic income a good idea in this situation and what about gendered consequences?

  7. Mathew Senga

    Nice article Mishy. Concentration should also be done on aspect of shifting social norms and values that support violence not only against women but also against children. Though norms and values change normally take time but can help to achieve long-term benefit

  8. Christine Nankubuge

    Thank you Mwanahamisi for this analysis which is an eye opener and reminder that actually home are not safe especially when it comes to gender based violence. And it’s also important to know that the lockdown is not gender neutral thus the need to delicately integrate gender in all interventions geared towards prevention and Management of COVID 19.

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