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Tue, 11 August 2020

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By Nus Ghani MP and Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner
By PoliticsHome staff
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As coronavirus spreads, a shadow pandemic of domestic violence is looming for women and girls

As coronavirus spreads, a shadow pandemic of domestic violence is looming for women and girls

The UN estimates that 15 million people will suffer from gender-based violence (GBV) for every three months that the lockdown goes on, says Sarah Champion and Pauline Latham | Credit: PA Images

Sarah Champion MP and Pauline Latham MP

4 min read

As with our own lockdown, the Covid-19 quarantine brings with it an unseen shadow pandemic of violence towards women and girls who are trapped in their homes, unable to escape their abusers.

It has been over three months since the World Health Organisation declared Covid-19 a global pandemic, and the UK is beginning to feel a little more normal. Yet in many places in the Global South the pandemic is still in full force.

As with our own lockdown, the Covid-19 quarantine brings with it an unseen shadow pandemic of violence towards women and girls who are trapped in their homes, unable to escape their abusers.

The UN estimates that 15 million people will suffer from gender-based violence (GBV) for every three months that the lockdown goes on. 

Imagine what it must be like in the refugee camps of Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, where half a million Rohingya women and girls don’t even live in proper homes – they’re trapped in tiny makeshift shelters, already in recovery from the trauma of forced displacement and violence at the hands of the Myanmar military.

In a new report, the International Rescue Committee found that even prior to Covid-19, at least a quarter of Rohingya women and girls were survivors of gender-based violence (GBV). Over 80% of the cases were in domestic settings. 

This was before lockdown. 

As the virus spreads among the refugee community, as in the UK, levels of violence against women and girls will inevitably rise significantly. 

Without access to quality information, in part due to the ban on internet in the camps, rumours and misinformation circulate unchecked. According to the IRC’s research, some refugees believe they will be screened for COVID-19 and placed under quarantine while accessing health and protection services – meaning for many women and girls, safe spaces, suddenly feel anything but safe.

We understand that it can seem counter-intuitive to keep community programmes open during an outbreak and the Government of Bangladesh should be commended for the significant progress they have made in reducing violence against women and girls in the Rohingya camps. 

But we should not forget the lessons from the Ebola outbreak in DRC, that for many people, especially women, the disease is not the primary concern. They understand the risks, yet many women and girls are more concerned about the threat to their life and livelihood from their abusers than from the virus..

Covid-19 is a test of our true commitment to gender equality around the world. We cannot fail that test.

Yet UN data shows that just 3.9% of the funds needed to tackle GBV in Cox’s Bazar has been delivered. Even where programmes have secured funding, including those that target men and boys and help prevent violence in the first place, many have been deemed non-essential during COVID-19 and closed their doors.

The UK has rightly been a leader in supporting women and girls internationally. But as examples of these enormous dangers emerge at home and around the world, we worry that this leadership could be diluted or lost completely as DFID is subsumed into the Foreign and Commonwealth Office just as swinging cuts are made to the aid budget.

Two years ago, the aid community was rocked by the revelations of abuse of women and girls by aid workers. It was encouraging to see the Department for International Development (DFID) take the lead in driving the response, both at home and within the global humanitarian system. A vital component of this work, as identified by the International Development Committee, was the introduction of better systems to safeguard vulnerable women and girls and to enable better reporting of sexual harassment, abuse, and exploitation at the hands of men in positions of power. DFID’s vital work in this area must be protected from the impact of Covid-19 and through the merger.

We must also ensure that the vital programmes that focus on women and girls are not delayed unnecessarily during the prioritisation process but given the green light to start their important work.

It also means energetic diplomacy with host countries to ensure programmes are not seen as a nice to have during lockdown and that they are funded to adapt to the new circumstances.

Over the longer term it means committing to DFID’s Strategic Vision for Gender Equality, embedding women and girls into all future work and protected funding for ensuring the safety and empowerment of women and girls. 

Covid-19 is a test of our true commitment to gender equality around the world. We cannot fail that test. The time to act is now. 

 

Sarah Champion MP is Labour MP for Rotherham and Pauline Latham MP is Conservative MP for Mid-Derbyshire. They are both members of the International Development Select Committee

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