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‘Shadow pandemic’ coined by UN report

SIXTEEN days from November 25 to December 10, are marked for activism against gender-based violence by UN Women as findings from a new report reveal violence against women exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Measuring the Shadow Pandemic: violence against women during COVID-19 confirms the deadly outbreak has given rise to a shadow pandemic of gender-based struggle. 

UN Women’s executive director Sima Bahou, who coined the term ‘shadow pandemic,’ said the COVID-19 pandemic has necessitated isolation and social distancing, enabling a second, shadow pandemic of violence against women and girls.

“…Our new data underlines the urgency of concentrated efforts to end this.”

Ms Bahous said violence against women is a global crisis that thrives on other crises. 

Whilst lockdowns stop the spread of COVID-19, victimised women become encaged with their domestic abusers. 

The UN report identified this threat in a collection of survey data from 12 countries across all regions. 

One in two women said they or a woman they know, experienced violence since the COVID-19 pandemic, and the highest proportion of victims were aged 18 to 49 years. 

One in four women perceive the home as a place of danger and 56 per cent feel unsafe in their place of residence since COVID-19. 

Whilst vaccines will not resolve the shadow-pandemic, long-term strategies to support women and their safety is a promising first step according to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. 

“Violence against women is not inevitable,” he said. 

“The right policies and programmes bring results…

“That means comprehensive, long-term strategies that tackle the root cause of violence, protect the rights of girls, and promote strong and autonomous women’s rights movements.” 

Tackling gender-based violence can be difficult when victims are unlikely to report their circumstances to the police. 

The UN report found only one in ten women survivors seek help from police globally. 

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare released a snapshot of family, domestic and sexual violence on September 16, 2021, indicating similar findings to UN Women’s report. 

The snapshot revealed over one in three women who experienced violence or coercive control did not seek help, while three in five women who experienced both from a current partner also did not seek aid from external resources. 

In response to these damning statistics, UN Women has adopted an editorial series Believe survivors. Act now on their website to encourage women to seek legitimate justice pathways.

Survivors of domestic violence share their positive experiences with law enforcement agencies as part of the 16-day campaign against gender brutality.  

Layla Bennani* a Moroccan survivor of domestic violence shares her story in the feature concatenation. 

She was initially sceptical of trusting the police with her domestic abuse story, fearing she would be considered a liar. 

However, the receptiveness and forwardness of the policewoman on her case allayed her fear. 

“The first thing she told me was there is no solution to everything,” Ms Bennani said. 

“Her words encouraged me to tell my whole story.

“Meeting her made me feel like I could get my life back.”

Ms Bennani’s experience with the police transformed her outlook on life and facilitated her recovery from a traumatic past. 

This outcome is one that UN Women hope more victims of domestic violence can achieve. 

UN Women have listed a set of five recommendations which include placing women at the forefront of policy change, solutions, and recovery. 

Whilst no official policy changes have been made, the organisation has incited a call to action in the hope that policymakers, service providers and advocates can put its report findings to good use and put an end to violence against women. 

*Name changed to protect the identity

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Tia Haralabakos

Tia Haralabakos is a Media Communications student at Monash University specialising in Journalism and human rights. She is interested in the multi-faceted landscape of digital media, particularly addressing challenges to online reporting like diversity and content moderation. Tia’s journalistic interests include human rights and social affairs.

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