If the world can unite to beat coronavirus, it should apply the same energy to rooting out abuse
Reprinted from the Guardian 2020-05-30. By Graça Machel.
The pandemic is gifting us an unprecedented opportunity to take innovative action and comprehensively confront the scourge of violence against women.
We have a unique window in which, as a human family, we are able to boldly address the social ills Covid-19 is unearthing, and redesign and rebuild our social fabric.
In this process of self-examination, we must work to root out the global epidemic of gender-based violence as aggressively as we are tackling the pandemic itself.
The lockdowns expose what many of us have always known – our most intimate spaces, our homes, are not always safe places. Research by the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) predicts that there will be at least 15 million more cases of domestic violence around the world in 2020 for every three months that lockdowns are extended.
A “pandemic within a pandemic” has been exposed and we are confronted with the horrific reality that millions of women and children – in every country – are fighting for their survival not from Covid-19 but from the brutalities of abusers in the prisons of their homes.
Studies indicate domestic violence has increased by upwards of 25% in numerous countries as a result of shelter-in-place measures.
Abuse survivors are facing limited access to protective services during periods of quarantine. It is no secret that pandemic restrictions have negative ramifications for adults and children already living with someone who is abusive or controlling, and access to support services are significantly constrained.
Most unfortunate is while the need for survivor support is increasing, justice is proving hard to access. Resources are being diverted away from judicial systems towards more immediate public health measures. In every country, hotlines, crisis centres, shelters, as well as critical legal aid and social services, are being scaled back due to infection control measures. Many courts have closed their doors.
“Necessity is the mother of invention,” the saying goes. And Covid-19 just may be the midwife we need to help birth a flattening of the gender-based violence curve. We have an opportunity here for criminal justice systems to be completely overhauled to fight gender-based violence.
Countries need to fund innovations promoting remote judicial services, invest in specialised protection services, work with the private sector and create more channels for accessing justice, such as by collaborating with community-based paralegals and non-lawyer legal assistance initiatives. The time is ripe to address the lack of sensitivity in police and court proceedings as well as rehabilitative support for offenders and survivors. We need to support justice leaders by creating a virtual forum for ministers to share best practice and highlight urgency.
There are many impressive practical initiatives taking steps to lessen the dangers women face at the hands of their abusers. Countries such as Spain and France have created emergency warning systems in supermarkets and pharmacies to offer counselling and help with reporting. Canada is keeping shelters open and earmarking resources in its relief bill, categorising them as essential services. Out of a necessity for more shelters, 20,000 hotel rooms for survivors will be paid for in France. Police in Odisha, India, have implemented a phone-up programme, where officers check up on women who previously filed reports of domestic violence before the lockdown. These innovative approaches need to go beyond the confines of borders, be adapted for local contexts and replicated at scale globally.
The innovation and resilience of grassroots justice groups continues to give me hope in these dark times. They too are on the frontlines, leading rights awareness campaigns, adapting to deliver legal advice remotely and ensuring disadvantaged groups are not overlooked.
Social media is another powerful weapon at our disposal. Bold advocacy and awareness campaigns should become a common feature on our TV and phone screens.
We have been presented with the opportunity to reimagine and redesign our societies to be safe, vibrant and equitable. We are proving that we can come together as a united human family to holistically tackle Covid-19; let us apply an equally comprehensive, vigorous and unrelenting focus to eradicating gender-based violence as well.
- Graça Machel is the deputy chair of global human rights organisation The Elders, founder of the Graça Machel Trust, and an international advocate for women’s and children’s rights
Don’t suffer in silence
SD Law is a firm of family lawyers deeply committed to the fight against gender-based / domestic violence. If you are affected by these issues, either directly or indirectly, contact Simon on 086 099 5146 or email firstname.lastname@example.org today. We can assist with a protection order and help remove you to a place of safety. We now offer online consultations. We’ll call you back, to schedule a meeting at a time that suits you, on the platform of your choosing.
Important contact numbers:
GBV Command Centre: 0800 428 428 / *120*7867# from any cell phone
Persons with disabilities, SMS ‘help’ to 31531
Women Abuse Helpline: 0800 150 150
Childline: 0800 055 555
SAPS Crime Stop: 0860 10111 / SMS Crime Line: 32211
GBVF-related service complaints (SAPS): 0800 333 177/
National AIDS Helpline: 0800 012 322
National Human Trafficking Helpline: 0800 222 777
Suicide Helpline: 0800 567 567
Coronavirus Hotline: 0800 029 999
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