By Kathleen O’Brien
This is a summary of an article titled “Framework in Ending Violence Against women and Girls with the advent of the COVID 19 from an African Perspective” which was published on April 14, 2020 (1). The authors of this article are Alain Ndedi and Jennet Kem.
COVID-19 is an infectious disease that has negatives effects extending far beyond the confines of the human body. These effects are economic, social, and political in nature, and unfortunately, they are experienced disproportionately by women and girls all over the world. The disparity in bearing the burden of this disease is further magnified for women from countries in Africa, including Uganda, Kenya, and South Africa.
Raising awareness regarding how the global pandemic has led to a striking increase in violence against women in Africa, one of the last parts of the world to be hit by COVID-19, is critical. The authors of this article highlight several reasons for the surge. Firstly, services catered to women facing violence, such as shelters and crisis lines, are currently working over-capacity and on razor-thin budgets while having had to reduce their working hours. The result is that already scarce resources are being made even less accessible to women who need them most at this time. Secondly, women facing violence might be cut off from the few confidantes who have knowledge of their suffering due to strict social distancing rules. They now have no one to turn to for comfort and support. Lastly, loss of employment for an abusive partner might escalate violence at home, as financial burden sets the stage for more tension in an already strained relationship. To this point, even a decrease in calls to women’s crisis lines may indicate the lack of means for women experiencing violence to make the call, especially as isolation with an abusive partner makes access to a cellphone or a quiet space away from the perpetrator exceedingly difficult. In essence, individual factors, interpersonal relationships, and support offered by the community all play an important and intersecting role in the experience of violence during this pandemic.
The downstream consequences of COVID-19 are far-reaching for the general public, but especially so for women experiencing violence. Notably, the existing inequalities in employment opportunities may be exacerbated as the world recovers from the economic repercussions of being in lockdown. Women are more likely to fill informal positions that have lower wages, unstable working hours, and no benefits, and are therefore likely to be harder hit by the recession. This could mean that women who were working towards financial independence prior to the pandemic may now have to depend on their perpetrator for shelter and financial security. Moving restrictions set forth by governments have increased demand from those seeking online child abuse material. This has led to greater risk of sexual exploitation of young women and girls involved in this trade. Finally, while healthcare workers are trying their best to keep the threat of COVID-19 under control, these resources have been diverted from initiatives that primarily affect the well-being of women, such as clinical management of sexual violence, access to birth control, and access to abortions.
To address the barriers created by the COVID-19 pandemic, the authors suggest various frameworks aimed at mitigating violence towards women both during the pandemic and ideally, in the post-COVID world. Notably, they call for greater support towards grassroots advocacy initiatives and women’s organizations, including their involvement in post-pandemic recovery plans. Emphasis is also placed on the importance of positive masculinity and the treatment of services for women as essential. Most importantly, however, they ask for the collection of sex-disaggregated data on the incidence of violence to better understand and document the effect of COVID-19 on women. After all, some women’s experiences of the pandemic are indeed very different.
(1) Kem, J., 2020. Framework in Ending Violence Against women and Girls with the Advent of the COVID 19 from an African Perspective. Available at SSRN 3575288.