How can a pandemic cause a rise in violence against women and girls?

Reading Time: 4 minutes
Reading Time: 4 minutes

How can a pandemic cause a rise in violence against women and girls?

This question has a complex answer that involves understanding the conditions that contribute to violence as well as the reasons why women and girls are most often the victims of violence at home.

It’s been a year since COVID-19 changed our world forever. All of us have been impacted by the pandemic and are looking forward to the day when we will no longer have to worry about the virus and its effects.

But for girls and women, especially those living in developing countries, the pandemic has exacerbated already existing gender inequalities and increased incidences of gender-based violence (GBV).

Today, more girls and women around the world are at risk of experiencing GBV as a direct result of the COVID-19 crisis. This secondary impact of the pandemic will have long-lasting and devastating consequences for many years to come:

These numbers highlight a troubling reality – violence against women and girls is happening as you read this, and these are the main reasons why.  

3 reasons why a pandemic can cause a rise in violence

Gender inequality

The unequal position of women and girls in a relationship and within a specific society can lead to GBV. For example, in patriarchal societies, the dominant ideology is that men and boys are superior to women and girls – this belief fuels notions of male sexual entitlement, normalizes sexual harassment, promotes low social value and power of women and girls, as well as harmful ideas of manhood that condone violence in order to control and discipline women and girls.

Gender roles also play a critical role in contributing to violence as women and girls are supposed to be submissive i.e. obey the men in their lives and work hard to serve others. Men, on the other hand, are expected to exercise power and control over their families and relationships. Due to prevailing gender roles, women and girls in many countries report actually agreeing that domestic abuse is sometimes acceptable.

Stress and social isolation

For women and girls who were experiencing abuse and violence prior to the start of COVID-19, stay-at-home orders and forced social isolation has trapped them inside with their abusers and cut off their connection to others who might be able to help.  

In addition, research has continuously shown that increased financial stress raises the risk for violence.  Disaster and emergency related research also shows that violence against women and girls tends to increase during times of crisis.

Due to COVID-19, job loss, economic uncertainty, household tensions, worries about health and a lack of social support systems all contribute to the risk factors that could cause a violent outburst.

Protective services are limited

In countries where girl’s rights abuses like rape, child marriage and Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) are prevalent, social isolation keeps girls locked behind closed doors where they cannot access wider community support or protective services.

For example, schools and youth groups in many communities with high rates of child marriage and FGM help protect girls by providing a safe outlet where girls can not only learn about their rights over their own bodies and lives, but also, they can easily access social support and counselling. In addition, girls or their peers can discreetly flag abuse or suspected abuse.

From our research during this pandemic, GBV service providers on the ground spoke about the challenges in supporting people to come forward and a loss of depth of the service due to not meeting face to face. They also mentioned that girls and women were afraid to call hotlines or leave the house to seek help since their husbands and other potential abusers were constantly present.

GBV service providers also lamented that often adolescent girls and some women do not have private access to their own mobile phone, particularly in refugee camps. Women and girls using their own phones may find that their partners or families regard them with suspicion, especially if they password protect the phone.

Time is running out for girls at risk of gbv

The impacts of COVID-19 are exacerbating the existing inequalities that girls were already experiencing due to their gender. It’s also impeding girls from getting an education, pursuing opportunities for economic empowerment, accessing basic sanitation and vital healthcare, as well as putting girls and women at greater risk of all forms of violence and abuse.

In the next minute alone:

  • 20 girls will be forced into child marriage
  • 7 girls will go through FGM

In order protect girls in crisis, Plan International is promoting action against gender based violence (GBV), distributing information on GBV and how to get support alongside COVID-19 materials, and training front line responders on how to ensure children’s, particularly girls’ safety from violence, sexual exploitation, abuse, separation and distress.

If you would like to learn more about how you can support girl’s rights during crisis then we invite you to learn more about stopping the setback.