Accompanying the COVID-19 crises was the spike in reported instances of domestic violence mostly targeted at women and girls. This was one of the observations made by UN Secretary- General, António Guterres in a report dubbed Shared Responsibility, Global Solidarity: Responding to the socio-economic impacts of COVID-19. Whereas it is true that violence is not only against women and girls, fact remains that the cases of violence are still disproportionately higher than violence against men and boys.
According to the Orange the World: Fund, Respond, Prevent, Collect Concept Note for Engagement on the 16 Days of Activism against Gender Based Violence (25th November-10th December 2020), the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated key risk factors for VAWG, such as food shortages, unemployment, economic insecurity, school closures, massive migration flows and the threat of civil unrest. There has been an alarming increase in multiple forms of violence against women and girls, especially physical, psychological, sexual and economic forms of domestic violence fueled by household economic and food insecurity and confined living conditions due to lockdown and social isolation measures. School closures, financial and food insecurity have heightened the risk of violence for girls including sexual exploitation, harassment, and child marriage. There are also reports of increased sexual abuse and harassment, both online and offline, and in some settings, an increase in femicides. Certain harmful practices, such as female genital mutilation (FGM) and forced marriages, have been pushed further underground during the pandemic.
Globally, 243 million women and girls are reported to have been abused by an intimate partner in the past year alone. Meanwhile, less than 40 per cent of women who experienced this violence reported it or sought help.
Additionally, and most unfortunate is the fact that violence against women is not only meted out in homes but in work spaces as well. This can be in the form of psychological torture, sexual harassment, emotional and verbal abuse.
This impacts on the overall cost to the economy is approximated to be US$8 trillion, according to a 2019 report on assessing the health and economic costs of violence against women and girls (VAWG). Further to this, VAWG has an inherent cost to social relationships and productivity for individuals, their families and communities.
Whereas Private Sector (beyond health) may not directly be in a capacity to address the issues raised above, it can contribute to the goals set to end VAWG/ GBV by 2030. This can be done through effecting policies that create safe work spaces that clearly outline and guide an organization’s culture as well as clear reporting frameworks that protect and dignify victims of abuse/ harassment. Beyond safer work place policies, companies should consider engaging/ partnering with mental health experts through negotiated insurance packages that benefit staff members.