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.
There is evidence that COVID-19 is making the situation worse. We can’t wait for the full picture. We must plan, invest and act now to improve the services that support survivors.
In “normal” times, 40 percent of women in Southeast Asia, more than a third (37%) of women in South Asia, and more than two-thirds of women in the Pacific experience violence at some point in their lives from people who claim to love them.
Eleven months after this COVID-19 pandemic, early reports in Asia and the Pacific show rates are skyrocketing. According to police reports in China, the number of reported incidents of violence during the lockdown has increased by 30 percent. Domestic violence hotlines are reporting increasing numbers of calls, including increases of 137 percent in Singapore, 150 percent in Samoa and 30 percent in Melbourne.
What’s even more terrible is 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 to develop closer relationships with their abusers. Many support services are overwhelmed, inoperable or difficult to access.
Communities across Asia have been hit by a devastating series of disasters. Millions have been forced to live in shelters with limited access to basic services, increasing the risk of violence.
There are more than 7.6 million Red Cross and Red Crescent volunteers in Asia and the Pacific. Our teams report an increase in domestic violence, sexual abuse and violations of children’s rights.
It is important that we collect more accurate data and adapt our approaches quickly. We need to provide accessible information and provide effective support to anyone who needs help.
Trained community volunteers have unparalleled connections with communities. They play a crucial role in understanding, monitoring and preventing an increased risk of violence against women by identifying the people most at risk and potential violators, and taking appropriate action to help people.
It is our shared responsibility to prevent gender-based violence and to respond effectively when it occurs. These efforts need to be integrated into pandemic response plans and activities at all levels of government and humanitarian organizations. We cannot allow COVID-19 to undermine our hard-won progress. Too many lives are at stake.
Jess Letch is the Emergency Operations Coordination Manager for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in the Asia Pacific Region.