With the outbreak of COVID-19 came a host of changes, its threat to people’s health resulted in the death of millions, although its impacts were felt beyond the health sector. Changes were evident in the numerous economies that witnessed widespread unemployment and the urgent need to shift modes of working and learning to online platforms.
The Shadow Pandemic
Alongside the spread of COVID-19, however, was another crisis: the Shadow Pandemic. As people spent more time at home and behind closed doors, the issue of domestic violence became less prioritized. In recent years, research has shown the gendered impact of COVID-19 on women. There has been an alarming increase in domestic violence across the world. For instance, almost 1 in 2 women have either been subjected to violence since the onset of the pandemic or know someone who has. Moreover, hotlines dedicated to addressing domestic violence saw a surge in calls ranging from a 34% increase in Thailand to a staggering 775% in Kenya.
Domestic violence, unfortunately, was not the only concern to arise from prolonged periods of lockdown. Reports by UN Women have also highlighted the increase in unpaid domestic duties that women have had to disproportionately bear since the pandemic began. For example, almost a third of women handled “more childcare per week” than their male counterparts alongside dealing with an increased need to prepare more meals for their household. This burden is exacerbated by the impact of COVID-19 on women’s employment rates. Even though women are the minority in the workforce, they made up 54% of the “overall job losses.” This could be due to the fact that more women are employed in industries that were most affected by the pandemic. For instance, women occupy more than half of the jobs in the food and accommodations industries which were significantly affected by the pandemic. This places 47 million women, as well as girls, in a more vulnerable position as estimates predict that they will face “extreme poverty,” ultimately worsening current gender inequalities.
Barriers to Addressing the Impact of COVID-19 on Women
In Thailand, raising awareness and addressing cases of domestic violence remain complicated. These issues are often deemed a private matter by authorities who then turn women away from seeking help. The number of helpline call centers allocated to domestic violence calls has also been reduced to only one in Bangkok rather than one in each province. This hotline was rerouted to accept calls regarding “any social problem” as well, preventing authorities from tackling domestic violence cases immediately. Furthermore, the fear of getting infected whilst seeking help at shelters may have deterred women from doing so.
Gender equality is far from being attained and the pandemic has only highlighted another way in which inequalities persist. More resources should be devoted to researching the intricacies of gender-based violence in times of crisis, particularly how to aid women in abusive households without compromising their security. There should also be more hotline call centers dedicated specifically to handling these matters rather than lumping them with other social issues. Moreover, it is crucial to raise awareness of domestic violence to help individuals identify signs that it might be occurring, along with providing tactics on how to help. As the world slowly returns to normal, it is essential to acknowledge and alleviate the gendered impacts that the pandemic had, and continues to have, on women.
– Isabelle Amurao
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