Unequal impact: the gendered implications of Covid-19
For many survivors, social distancing has meant living under uniquely distressing circumstances, writes Alexandra Ming. | PA Images
Dods Monitoring's Alexandra Ming explores how Covid-19 is effecting the ability for women and girls to access abortion and pregnancy services; and the somber consequences of domestic abuse.
As the UK creeps into its sixth week of lockdown, it is becoming increasingly evident that the repercussions of social distancing have had a differential effect across the British population. Despite frequent reminders that no person is invulnerable to the virus – whether Prince or Prime Minister, isolating in a palace or at No 10 – certain vulnerabilities in society have been exacerbated by the pandemic.
Beyond the direct health implications of covid-19, many women and girls have faced challenges due to the nature of social distancing measures. Two such being their ability to access abortion and pregnancy services; and the somber consequences of domestic abuse.
Abortion and pregnancy services
On 23 March, the Department of Health and Social Care issued guidance stating that at-home early medical abortions would be temporarily allowed. This change had been deemed necessary as it would prevent women and girls from choosing between their own safety in attending clinics and continuing unwanted pregnancies.
A number of hours later this guidance was wordlessly removed from Government websites, and when questioned in the Houses, MPs and Peers said that no such changes would be coming into place. This caused great alarm for groups like The British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), whom said the retraction would negatively impact the freedoms and health of women.
This temporary allowance was reintroduced by the Government on 30 March, with measures in Scotland and Wales soon to follow suit. In Northern Ireland however, although abortion was technically legalised on 31 March, women have remained unable to access abortion services due to social distancing measures. This means that women and girls who would have previously been able to at least travel to England if they sought an abortion, have been left with next-to-no alternatives. As a response, Amnesty International have launched a campaign to help women and girls access at home abortion during this period, and BPAS have launched their own telemedical abortion service in Northern Ireland.
Since the outset of the pandemic, there have been serious concerns regarding how stay-at-home measures would lead to an increase in domestic abuse. For many survivors, social distancing has meant living under uniquely distressing circumstances. Beyond additional financial strains, and the greater likelihood of there being children at home, some women have reported their abusers using the coronavirus itself as a means of manipulative control. One woman, for example, told Women’s Aid that she had been reliant on her abuser for food and medical supplies whilst shielding, and this had been used against her.
Domestic Abuse charities have reported huge upsurges in demand for their helplines since the beginning of lockdown. Women’s Aid have seen usage of their online chat services increase by 44 percent, and the National Domestic Abuse helpline, which is run by Refuge, has seen an increase of 49 percent. These services have been severely overburdened as a result of factors beyond the increases of domestic abuse cases, such as financial difficulties leading to local charity closures, and survivors being unable to access informal channels of support.
On 11 April, Home Secretary Priti Patel launched ‘#YouAreNotAlone’, a campaign seeking to raise awareness of avenues through which survivors can find help; and make clear that men, women or children at risk of harm, do not need to stay at home. The Home Office have also committed £2m of additional funding to support helpline services, which will sit alongside the £750m announced by the Treasury to bolster frontline charities during the coronavirus outbreak.
On Tuesday 28 April, the Second Reading of the Domestic Abuse Bill made its way through the House of Lords. As only the second Bill put to the House via hybrid proceedings, it is clear the Government are taking seriously this sharp rise of incidences.
The Domestic Abuse Bill will legislate a number of key changes that will impact the prosecution of perpetrators, and the experience of survivors. It will include a new statutory definition of domestic abuse, so that it encompasses non-physical aspects of harm such as emotional, coercive, and economic control. A new Domestic Abuse Protection Notice and Order will be established, enabling more thorough protective measures for survivors. There will be alternations to the nature of court proceedings so that perpetrators are disallowed from cross-examining their victims in courts. And significantly, Local Authorities will have a duty to provide safe accommodation for survivors and their children.
The Violence Against Women and Girls sector have made a series of pressing demands over the course of the coronavirus pandemic. Many of these have chimed with recommendations from the Bill Committee, including changes to the delivery of Universal Credit payments; and greater safeguards for migrant survivors whom are unable to access domestic abuse services as a result of having no access to public funds. Perhaps moving forward, the desperate circumstances of the lock-down period will give additional weight to such calls and prove to strengthen protections against domestic abuse.
To download the complementary report lookahead click HERE.