Story at a glance

  • The UN chief said the number of women calling support services has doubled in some countries, as health care providers and police are overwhelmed and understaffed.
  • He called on governments to make the prevention of domestic violence a part of their coronavirus response plans.
  • The stay-at-home restrictions implemented to prevent the spread of COVID-19 exacerbate domestic violence.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is calling on nations around the world to make the prevention of violence against women a part of their response to the coronavirus outbreak, citing a rise in domestic violence amid widespread lockdowns. 

“We know lockdowns and quarantines are essential to suppressing COVID-19, but they can trap women with abusive partners,” Guterres said via Twitter Sunday

“Over the past weeks as economic and social pressures and fear have grown we have seen a horrifying global surge in domestic violence. In some countries, the number of women calling support services has doubled [while] some domestic violence shelters are closed; others are full,” Guterres said. 

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The UN official urged governments to increase investment in online services and civil society organizations, and to make sure judicial systems continue to prosecute abusers. He recommended nations declare shelters as essential services, and to create safe ways for women to seek support without alerting their abusers. 

“Women’s rights and freedoms are essential to strong, resilient societies,” Guterres said. “Together, we can and must prevent violence everywhere, from war zones to people’s homes, as we work to beat COVID-19.”

The combination of economic and social stressors brought on by the pandemic have dramatically increased the numbers of women and girls facing abuse in almost all countries, according to the UN

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The UN reports that since the pandemic, countries like Lebanon and Malaysia have seen the number of calls to helplines double, and in China they have tripled. In countries such as Australia, search engines are seeing the highest magnitude of searches for domestic violence help in the past five years. 

The New York Times reports in Spain, the emergency number for domestic violence received 18 percent more calls in the first two weeks of lockdown than the same period a month prior. In France, police reported a nationwide increase of about 30 percent in domestic violence.


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Published on Apr 06, 2020