Solving the Shadow Pandemic: 5 actions needed now to end gender-based violence

On the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, CARE International Secretary General, Sofia Sprechmann Sineiro outlines 5 critical steps governments and policy makers must take now to condemn gender-based violence to history.

Violence against women and girls or gender-based violence (GBV), whether it takes place in the home, in the workplace, in public spaces, schools or communities is one of the most widespread human rights abuses around the world. On average, 1 in 3 women globally experiences physical or sexual violence in their lifetime, usually from an intimate partner.  In addition to devastating impacts on the dignity, security and wellbeing of survivors, violence against women also has broad social and economic costs across societies, including costs on public services, lost income and productivity.

As a longstanding concern that is rooted in gender inequality and which no society or community is immune to, violence against women in all its forms increases during crises and the current COVID-19 pandemic is no exception.  The social and economic strains of the pandemic, compounded by movement restrictions, have led to a surge in reports of domestic violence, in country after country. With households losing income and schools remaining closed in many contexts, girls are at particular risk of sexual exploitation and abuse, teenage pregnancy, early and forced marriage and other harmful practices.

According to UN projections, every three months lockdown measures continue, an additional 15 million cases of gender-based violence could be expected globally. In countries such as Argentina, Cyprus and Singapore emergency calls for domestic violence cases increased by 25-30 per cent during the first wave of lockdowns, while in South Africa, more than 2,000 complaints of GBV were made to the South African Police Service in the first 7 days of that country’s lockdown.

In my home, Ecuador, GBV hotlines actually saw a decrease in calls at the start of the pandemic because many women were trapped in small one-room homes with their aggressors, and did not feel safe to call. Our partner organization Federación de Mujeres de Sucumbíos developed a simple but effective mobile phone emoji system to help counter this, so that women could reach out with coded emojis when they felt in danger.

Today marks the start of the global 16 Days of Activism campaign with the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. While the COVID-19 pandemic has shown the extent of the problem, is also offers a critical opportunity for civil society, governments and businesses to ‘build forward’ and take stronger action to address what is increasingly referred to as a ‘shadow pandemic.’

We surveyed colleagues and gender experts from 50 countries in the CARE network to offer concrete solutions.  This is what they said were the main priorities for action:

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