The public sphere has historically provided women with an escape from certain acts of violence, particularly those at home. However, the lockdowns and economic downturns countries are facing during the COVID-19 pandemic are pushing violence beyond the walls of the home, with 4-in10 women now reporting they feel more unsafe in public spaces than before, according to a recently published report by the United Nations.
The report, entitled “Violence Against Women During COVID-19,” was conducted by UN Women, a U.N. entity working for gender equality. The organization surveyed women in 13 countries — Albania, Bangladesh, Cameroon, Colombia, Côte d’Ivoire, Jordan, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Morocco, Nigeria, Paraguay, Thailand and Ukraine. The study’s authors said they chose the countries due to their “regional diversity, with priority given to low-middle income countries implementing related UN Women programmes.”
Conducted in two separate two-month-long phases, beginning first in April and later in August of this year, the report assessed 16,154 women’s opinions and experiences or knowledge of violence against women in their communities.
Kathryn Travers, a U.N. specialist in ending violence against women, stresses the need to shift the narrative away from placing the responsibility and blame for the recent uptick in violence on individual women.
“Culturally, when women report experiences of sexual harassment, the first questions are: Where was she? At what time? What was she wearing? Was she alone? All of this puts a responsibility on the individual woman for her safety, when really, these are broader social issues that need to change.”
What the report has called a “shadow pandemic” of violence has taken a particular toll on women in more precarious situations, such as the unemployed and students, deepening both economic and health disparities, notably among populations of women considered essential workers.
During the past two years, much of the world’s population stayed at home, but for many women — particularly essential workers and those in the informal sector — remaining indoors wasn’t an option.
“We consider these women essential, but then, they’re even more exposed in different ways as well because they have to be outside of the house,” Travers says. “Well, now there’s less people who are around to be active bystanders (to instances of harassment or violence).”
Though sexual harassment on the street predates the pandemic, 62% of women in rural areas say that it has worsened during the past year compared to 55% of their urban counterparts. Of the approximately 40% of women surveyed who expressed more discomfort in public, 11% said that they hadn’t left their homes unchaperoned in the past month, further limiting their participation in public life.
The report expands on earlier studies that raised the alarm on rising instances of domestic violence in the U.S. and across the globe during the pandemic. It also comes amid the Center for Women’s Global Leadership’s 16-day campaign against gender-based violence, which is celebrating its 30th year of advocacy, as well as the U.N.’s own UNiTE
While these initiatives mark progress made since the U.N. first recognized VAW as an “obstacle to the achievement of equality, development and peace,” Travers says that there is much more work to be done throughout the rest of the pandemic and beyond:
“Women make up less than a quarter of COVID-19 task force members,” she says. Because the consequences of COVID-19 have been so multifaceted, they require a multifaceted approach, which includes elements that look at gender inequality and violence against women and girls… If women aren’t at the table, then their points of view aren’t going to be reflected in the endpoint, which then brings us back to a cycle of exclusion.”
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?Shadow Pandemic? of Violence Against Women Flows Into the Streets originally appeared on usnews.com