CAPE TOWN – The United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres has urged governments to put the safety of women and children first as they respond to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The call follows a “horrifying global surge in domestic violence” linked to lockdowns imposed to fight the spread of Covid-19.
In a reference to his repeated appeals for a ceasefire in conflicts around the world, to focus on the shared struggle to overcome the virus, Guterres said that violence is not confined to the battlefield, and that “for many women and girls, the threat looms largest where they should be safest, in their own homes”.
“Peace is not just the absence of war. Many women under lockdown for Covid-19 face violence where they should be safest in their own homes. Today I appeal for peace in homes around the world. I urge all governments to put women’s safety first as they respond to the pandemic,” he said.
The combination of economic and social stresses brought on by the pandemic, as well as restrictions on movement, have dramatically increased the numbers of women and girls facing abuse, in almost all countries, according to the UN.
However, even before the global spread of the new coronavirus, statistics showed that a third of women around the world experienced some form of violence in their lives.
The issue affects both developed and poorer economies, nearly a quarter of female college students reported having experienced sexual assault or misconduct in the US, while in parts of sub-Saharan Africa, partner violence to be a reality for 65 percent of women.
Research by the World Health Organisation (WHO), has detailed disturbing impacts of violence on women’s physical, sexual, reproductive and mental health.
It said women who experience physical or sexual abuse are twice as likely to have an abortion, and the experience nearly doubles their likelihood of falling into depression.
About 87,000 women were intentionally killed in 2017 and more than half were killed by intimate partners or family members.
Since the pandemic, Lebanon and Malaysia, have seen the number of calls to helplines double, compared with the same month last year, in China they have tripled and in Australia, search engines such as Google are seeing the highest magnitude of searches for domestic violence help in the past five years, according to the UN.
These numbers give some indication of the scale of the problem, but only cover countries where reporting systems are in place, as the virus spreads in countries with already weak institutions, less information and data will be available, but it is expected that the vulnerability of women and girls will be higher, the UN said.