New York — The U.N. secretary-general warned Sunday that the increase in social and economic pressures brought on by the coronavirus pandemic has led to a global increase in violence against women and girls.
Last week, Antonio Guterres called for a global cease-fire so that the international community could focus all of its attention on stopping the virus and helping those who have contracted it.
“But violence is not confined to the battlefield,” he said in a statement Sunday evening. “For many women and girls, the threat looms largest where they should be safest – in their own homes. And so I make a new appeal today for peace at home — and in homes — around the world.”
Many countries have reported a surge in domestic violence incidents and calls to abuse hotlines since the pandemic started spreading globally earlier this year.
In France, domestic violence rates surged by a third in one week. In South Africa, authorities received nearly 90,000 reports of violence against women in the first week of its lockdown. Australia’s government says online searches for support on domestic violence have risen 75%, while in Turkey, activists are demanding greater protections after the killing of women rose sharply after a stay at home order was issued March 11.
Entire countries have called for quarantines and lockdowns to slow the spread of the respiratory virus that has sickened more than 1.25 million people worldwide and killed nearly 70,000.
These stay at home orders mean many women and girls are stuck in crowded homes with men who have lost their jobs or have no outlet for their frustrations, such as watching sports or meeting friends at a local bar, and are instead taking them on out on them.
At the same time, authorities, such as police, are overwhelmed with their coronavirus response, and civil society groups are struggling to maintain staff and resources. In some cities, domestic violence shelters have been commandeered as health centers.
“I urge all governments to make the prevention and redress of violence against women a key part of their national response plans for COVID-19,” Guterres said of the disease caused by the coronavirus.
He said that includes declaring shelters as essential services, setting up emergency warning systems in pharmacies and grocery stores, declaring shelters essential services, and creating safe ways for women to seek support, without alerting their abusers.