New ActionAid report shows a huge spike in gender-based violence during Covid-19

  • Date: 25/06/2020
  • Author: Julianne Flynn

Photo: local women lead ActionAid’s Covid-19 response. Photo credit: Etinosa Yvone/ActionAid

Global lockdowns and coronavirus restrictions have unleashed a shocking surge in gender-based violence (GBV) in countries across Europe, Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Latin America, as women’s shelters are shut down and countries divert funding to battle the pandemic.

New research by ActionAid, based on surveys of local support services and women’s movements worldwide, also found that domestic violence survivors with live legal cases were increasingly being forced to settle out of court, due to Covid-related court closures. This is increasing community tensions and damaging survivors’ ability to rebuild their lives.

Key findings from the report, Surviving Covid-19: A Women-Led Response, show that:

Bangladesh: ActionAid’s network of support services, including in the Rohingya refugee camps, found a tenfold (983%) increase in sexual and domestic violence this April to May, compared to the same period last year.

Brazil: 143 women were killed across 12 states in March and April this year and had a 22% increase in femicide compared to last year, according to data from security agencies. In the Northern State, Acre, femicide is up 300%.

Uganda: ActionAid was forced to temporarily shut down 10 of its shelters due to lockdown restrictions, even though the caseloads doubled in March and April 2020 during the outbreak, compared to the prior year.

Gaza strip: an ActionAid partner organisation reports supporting 700% more survivors of GBV through its counselling services this April-May, than in 2019.

Italy: a review of more than 228 shelters saw the number of women who asked for support through the government’s anti-violence hotline increase by 59%.

Nigeria: government has declared a state of emergency following a sharp spike in cases of femicide and rape. One women’s shelter reported a 700% increase in cases of violence since lockdown. ActionAid is calling for a ban on bail and out of court settlements for these brutal cases, following 253 harrowing attacks documented since lockdown.

The persistent, yet predictable increased rape and murder of women, which happens in any emergency, remains the most ignored and underfunded part of the UN’s Global Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP) for Covid-19. Less than 0.3% of the funding needed to protect women from violence has been committed.

Four years ago, at the inaugural World Humanitarian Summit, the world promised that 25% of humanitarian funding would go directly to local organisations, such as the women’s shelters featured in ActionAid’s new report. But the UN’s global plan for Covid-19 is way off track, with just 0.1% of funding going to local organisations.

Julia Sánchez, Secretary General of ActionAid International, said:

“Covid-19 is a health and economic crisis which has also unleashed a horrifying surge in femicide, rape and violence against women and girls. Our research shows this is a worldwide phenomenon, played out with shocking regularity and predictability, and is clearly under-reported.

“Governments, charities and donors worldwide must respond urgently, to scale up the pitiful levels of funding for women’s protection services and local organisations working on the frontline of the Covid –19 pandemic and indeed in all humanitarian crises and disasters.

“Two thirds of the world’s health workers are women, yet only a quarter of decision-making bodies for the pandemic are female .This explains why health research doesn’t monitor women’s specific needs and decisions are being made without women in mind, despite women bearing the brunt of the fallout.”

Today (25th June) governments, NGOs and donors meet to review the ‘Grand Bargain’ deal struck at this year’s World Humanitarian Summit, ActionAid’s report warns that the world is ‘sleepwalking into the shadow pandemic of global femicide’.

ActionAid is calling for GBV services like women’s shelters and referral pathways to be classified as essential in all countries.

ActionAid is responding to the Covid-19 crisis in 40 countries around the world. Our frontline, women-led services have all reported increases in violence against women and girls since the start of the pandemic.

More than 60% of our humanitarian funding goes to local organisations, the majority to women’s organisations.

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