No lockdown for violence against women: what measures are being taken?

COVID19 Newsletter, Women’s rights and gender justice

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The current lockdown worsens domestic violence: as women’s rights organisations warned, the United Nations Fund for Population Activities estimated that for every three months the lockdown continues, 15 million additional gender-based violence cases can be expected to occur. In addition to economic uncertainties and cramped living conditions, the worrying context created by the COVID-19 can lead to increased abuse from already violent partners. In these particular conditions, the window of opportunity for women to call for help is significantly reduced.

Thus, governments and organisations in the Euro-Mediterranean region have had to turn towards new technologies for a solution. In Turkey, the Women’s Support System (KADES) set up a phone app while in Spain, women victims of violence can use a WhatsApp national helpline with enabled geolocation for immediate intervention. Grassroot methods are also promoted. In Spain for instance, women can use the code “Mascarilla 19” in pharmacies to signal danger.

The current crisis has forced governments to act quickly on decisions long called for by women’s rights organisations. Tunisia for instance has recently opened a 24/7 psychological helpline (“1809”). Governments are also collaborating with the private sector. Pop-up counselling centres are now present in French supermarkets. In Spain again, a law now allows tourist accommodations to be turned into emergency shelters. Similar measures have been taken in Tunisia where 10 housing units are receiving women victims of violence.

The role of women’s rights organisations in preventing and protecting victims in these times is essential. A fact recognised by some governments who have increased their subventions in that aim.

While some measures are – slowly – being taken in some countries, we can only regret that others have not made any efforts in this regard. In Morocco for instance, civil society organisations regret the inexplicably poor response of the state. In Egypt, the Parliament appears to be more worried about women’s use of online platforms than about the risks of gender-based violence.

In the future, governments in the region should adopt a gender perspective so that the “tyranny of the urgent” ceases to rule over women’s safety.