(May 14, 2020) In early April, UN Secretary-General António Guterres called for measures to address a “horrifying global surge in domestic violence” directed towards women and girls. The surge has been linked to lockdowns imposed by governments worldwide in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Responding to the rise in violence is further complicated by the fact the institutions are already under a huge strain from the demands of dealing with the pandemic, he added.
Healthcare providers and police are overwhelmed and understaffed. Local support groups are paralyzed or short of funds. Some domestic violence shelters are closed; others are full.”
All countries in the world are affected, including Canada.
Battered Women Support Services in Vancouver has reported a 300 per cent increase in calls, leading to a new online awareness campaign.
“We’re experiencing a 400 per cent increase in requests for shelter space,” Yvonne Harding, manager of resource development at Assaulted Women’s Helpline in Toronto told CTVNews.ca in mid-April.
“Because of social distancing, many shelters bed counts’ went down,” Carol Latchford, executive director of Red Door Family Shelter in Toronto told The Charity Report last week.
”Usually when women are talking to the Assaulted Women’s Helpline, there is time for developing what’s called a ‘safety plan’, a process of going through with women what they need to take with them in terms of official documents, about scheduling a time to leave when their partner is out or even scheduling a time when a shelter will send a cab to pick the woman up. None of that is happening now. Women are calling saying that are riding around on the TTC with nowhere to go. There’s a much greater sense of urgency.”
In order to help with the issue of capacity, and to manage or prevent an COVID outbreak in their facilities, the government of Canada responded by providing up to $50 million to women’s shelters and sexual assault centres.
As of April 15, the following funds had been distributed:
- $10 million was provided to Indigenous Services Canada’s (ISC) existing network of 46 emergency shelters on reserve and in Yukon to support Indigenous women and children fleeing violence.
- $20.54 million went to Women’s Shelters Canada to distribute to over 420 violence against women shelters across the country
- $3 million to the Canadian Women’s Foundation to distribute the funding to approximately 90 sexual assault centres across the country
- A further $6.46 million to women’s shelters and sexual assault centres in Québec
Developments since then underscore the need for attention.
On May 12th the Globe and Mail reported “at least nine women and girls across Canada have been killed in what are believed to be domestic homicides in just over a month during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
“These killings, which occurred between April 1 and May 4, span the country, from Hammonds Plains, N.S., to Sundre, Alta. The ages of the women also range. A 24-year-old in Calgary. A 33-year-old expectant mother in Brockville, Ont. A 55-year-old woman and her teenage daughter in Strathcona County, Alta. At least three of the men who killed these women also then killed themselves,” Molly Hayes wrote in the paper.
Confinement is a breeding ground for domestic abuse,” said France’s Secretary of Equality Marlene Schiappa. By the end of March, the number of reported domestic abuse cases increased by 36 percent in France.”
Violence against women continues to be an obstacle to achieving equality, development, and peace. The United Nations’ mandate to fulfill the human rights of girls and women worldwide is far from complete.
“Together,” concluded the UN Secretary-General, “we can and must prevent violence everywhere, from war zones to people’s homes, as we work to beat COVID-19.”