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How epidemics like COVID-19 increase violence against women and children

When crises hit, gender-roles can not only influence who gets care and when, but also who bears the brunt of violence during emergencies, argues this working paper from the Center for Global Development.

Resource details:

Publication title: Pandemics and Violence Against Women and Children

Author(s): Amber Peterman, Alina Potts, Megan O’Donnell, Kelly Thompson, Niyati Shah, Sabine Oertelt-Prigione, and Nicole van Gelder writing for the Center for Global Development.

Publication date: 1 April 2020

What the working paper is about:

The Center for Global Development (CGD) is a non-profit international development think tank.

The pandemics and violence against women and children working paper from the centre forms part of its gender and equality work. The document reviews both peer reviewed and grey literature such as media reports on past pandemics and health crises/emergencies to better understand how these intensify the violence women and children experience. The report identifies nine “pathways” outlining the links between pandemics and such violence as well as suggestions for how to mitigate this risk.

Key take-aways from the working paper:

  1. Economic insecurity compounds violence against women and children, particularly in times of crisis.  Poor coping strategies, such as substance abuse, coupled with economic pressures can lead to acute and chronic stress. Stress, the authors argue, can trigger increased violence against women and children. The reviewed evidence further suggests that people who are likely to be economically insecure also often live in areas with weaker access to health and legal services.
  2. Women and children face a higher risk of violence during quarantine because it increases their exposure to perpetrators of violence. The evidence reviewed by the authors suggests that, along with limiting privacy and mobility, quarantine measures could also increase food insecurity. 
  3. Crises can compromise infrastructure, such as access to healthcare and social services, that assist in the detection of violence against women and children as well as referrals.
  4. Increased mortality during pandemics such as COVID-19 could change family structures and dynamics of care. Extended families may take in orphaned children, for instance, and this can place increased strain on households and intensify exposure to exploitative relationships for women and children.  Evidence reviewed by the authors suggest that even those called upon to help, e.g. aid and health workers, may take advantage of women and children.   
  5. Abusers may use virus-specific misinformation and scare-tactics as a form of control and violence.
  6. Times of crisis limit women’s access to support systems that can help them temporarily escape abusive partners. For instance, emergency healthcare workers who might usually be the first to respond to incidents of domestic violence, may be  diverted to pandemic-specific calls
  7. Women make up the bulk of the global health workforce. Times of emergency heighten the abuse and harassment experienced by female health workers.

You can find and download the working paper here.

[Visit www.sacoronavirus.co.za for updates on South Africa’s coronavirus response.]

Gopolang Makou was the impact and engagement officer at Bhekisisa.