Part of: Violence against women
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OPINION: How can we protect women from violence during pandemics?

by Laurie Adams | @LaurelAnnAdams | Women for Women International
Monday, 4 May 2020 14:22 GMT

Tania Robledo Banda, lawyer and head of the APIS Centre Foundation for Equity, looks through the door of the headquarters where she and her team receive women at risk and victims of domestic violence, amidst the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Mexico City, Mexico April 23, 2020. Picture taken April 23, 2020. REUTERS/Mahe Elipe

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

With global orders to stay at home, the problems women face with coronavirus aren’t just virulent: It’s violent

Laurie Adams is the chief executive officer of Women for Women International


With global orders to stay at home, the problems women face with coronavirus aren’t just virulent: It’s violent.

In the US alone resources to support survivors of domestic violence have seen a big surge, with COVID-19 cited as a facet of abuse.

For the women I work with living at the specific intersection of conflict, poverty, and gender discrimination, the pressures they endure during crises compound and place women at an even higher risk of gender-based violence.

We can take actions that reduce these pressures:

Constant contact is a lifeline

Isolation is dangerous for women. Less than 40 percent of women who experience violence tend to seek help, and if they do, tend to turn to family and friends.

Through our daily communication with women in our programs in Iraq and Nigeria, our team was informed of five cases of violence against women, most at the hands of their husbands. This contact opened an opportunity for our team to respond to those cases. 

Keeping connected with women and supporting their connection with each other is key. Through cellphone groups and phone trees, women can stay in contact with each other and needed services despite lockdowns. By checking on each other, they know they have people they can trust and share with should things get really bad.

Women pay the price

Lockdowns put economic strain and stress on families living in poverty. As with many crises, the unfortunate and too often true reality is that stress gets taken out on women through domestic violence.

Women feel pressure to make risky decisions to keep their family fed. For example, ultra-poor women in Nigeria continue going to markets to sell goods for emergency funds, exposing them to risk of infection and dangerous roads.

Rebel groups or people with power willing to abuse it may exert harm on women during government crack downs. Aid workers are part of this group, with a risk that some may coerce women to exchange sexual acts in return for necessary food or aid.

Organizations delivering aid should be extra vigilant in terms of a gender-focus and reinforce safeguarding policies and procedures during this time of crisis.

An economic investment to meet basic needs

Helping women meet basic needs can help lower stress within the household and pressures to take risks. Regular cash transfers are one potential solution to help ease economic anxiety.

Knowledge about savings, managing finances, and connecting to groups such as village and savings loan associations allow women to weave a safety net for crises.

Organizations should consider how to support women in both the short-term and the long-term as they rebuild their savings, assets and businesses after the pandemic. This could include pairing cash transfers with future start-up capital for women microentrepreneurs to re-launch businesses post-lockdowns.


Provide health resources and information

One of the biggest threats aiding the spread of coronavirus is the spread of misinformation. Abusers may weaponize misinformation and restrict access to important health and hygiene resources.

Providing women hygiene kits that include soap, hand sanitizer etc. can help protect them.

Organizations can help dispel myths and share accurate information through women’s networks on social media, and cellphone trees and groups.

But for the most marginalized women, literacy and technological proficiency are barriers. Cellphones aren’t a foolproof solution when they’re unaffordable or there’s little reception. We need to think creatively about what communication channels work best within local contexts. For example, local radio programs and religious leaders can be mobilized to become champions for accurate information.

Collective calling 

This pandemic is shining a light on the structural inequalities in our societies, especially gender inequality. We must keep pushing to prevent violence by addressing the deep-rooted social norms that perpetuate gender inequality.

Addressing gender-based violence requires many actors working in collaboration. On-the-ground coalitions and networks are critical to help fill gaps in services and communicate widely to ensure that women know where to go for different resources.

Most of all, we must bring marginalized women to the decision-making table, during this crisis and when the time comes to recover and rebuild our world. Women living in the most vulnerable communities are experts on what communities need to rebuild with more resilience.