International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women reminds us that for tens of millions of women and children around the world, ‘home’ is a place of fear and violence.
Evidence suggests COVID-19 is making things worse. We cannot wait for the full picture. We must plan, invest and act now to increase services that support survivors.
In ‘ordinary’ times, 40 per cent of women in South-East Asia over one third (37%) of women in South Asia and more than two thirds of women in the Pacific experience violence at some time in their lives, at the hands of people who claim to love them.
Eleven months into this COVID-19 pandemic, early reports in Asia and the Pacific reveal rates are skyrocketing. Police reports in China indicate a 30 per cent increase in reported cases of violence during lockdown. Family violence hotlines are reporting surging numbers of calls, including increases of 137 per cent in Singapore, 150 per cent in Samoa, and 30 per cent in Melbourne.
It’s even more horrifying that these statistics are the tip of the iceberg. The majority of violence against women goes unreported and COVID-19 restrictions are forcing many women and children already in abusive situations into closer quarters with their abusers. Many support services are overwhelmed, not operating or harder to access.
Making matters worse, communities across Asia have been battered by a devastating string of disasters. Millions have been forced to live in temporary shelters with limited access to basic services, adding to the risk of violence.
There are more than 7.6 million Red Cross and Red Crescent volunteers in Asia and the Pacific and our teams are reporting increases in family violence, sexual abuse and violations of child rights.
It is critical that we collect more accurate data and rapidly adapt our approaches. We must provide accessible information and effectively support anyone needing help.
Trained community volunteers have unparalleled links with communities. They play a crucial role in understanding, monitoring and preventing increased risks of violence against women by identifying people who are most vulnerable, potential violations, and taking appropriate action to help people.
It’s our combined responsibility to prevent gender-based violence and respond effectively when it occurs. These efforts must be integrated at all levels by governments and humanitarian agencies into pandemic response plans and activities. We cannot let COVID-19 undermine our hard-won progress. Too many lives are at stake.
Jess Letch is the Manager for Emergency Operations Coordination for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in the Asia Pacific region.