This article has been written by Nikita Shewandas.
Gender-based violence is rooted in gender inequality. Gender inequality continues to be exacerbated by social norms and gender stereotypes.
Across the globe, 35 per cent of women have experienced gender-based violence. That is 1 in 3 women. Gender-based violence includes physical, sexual, emotional, and psychological abuse, where the majority is enacted by an intimate partner.
As scary as these statistics are, let’s put it into perspective in the world that we live in today.
The COVID-19 pandemic has turned all of our lives around – the rare glimpses of sunshine from being in lockdown, selective trips to the supermarket, non-stop working from home, and leisure activities put to a halt. Some were more significantly impacted with interruptions to work or study, job loss and other changes to income, and changes to childcare arrangements. The global pandemic has brought increased stress levels due to financial worries, movement restrictions and social isolation resulting in extreme close confinement in homes.
And as experts anticipated, occurrences of gender-based violence have increased tremendously. Data has indicated a surge of distressed calls during the months of lockdown. In Australia, there has been 11 per cent increase in calls to 1800RESPECT, the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service. Google also reported a 75 per cent spike in searches for help with domestic violence.
UN Women has named the violence against women and girls in these circumstances as the shadow pandemic. Women have been forced to be in literal lockdown at home with their abusers, and many lack the available support systems due to social restrictions. Unfortunately, for these women, ‘stay home’ does not mean ‘stay safe’.
Furthermore, gender-based violence continues to have dangerous consequences on not only women but their families too. This can include immediate and long-term negative impacts on physical and mental health, well-being and economic security. Gender-based violence can ongoingly perpetuate these issues.
As I write this piece, I am overwhelmed with feelings of sadness, frustration, and anger. I continue to be appalled that this is the world we live in – a world where women continue to feel and are unsafe, not just on the streets, but in their homes too.
2020 has been an exceptionally tough year. Emerging from the global pandemic, we need to consider the disproportionate effects that women have experienced and are still facing. The 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence highlights the need for prevention and elimination of violence against women and girls. There is a drastic need to raise awareness and break the power of silence.
Protecting society from COVID-19 should also mean protecting them from gender-based violence. Policymakers need to rethink their response moving forward from the pandemic, and implement gender-based budgeting when planning funding for essential crisis and prevention services. Prevention can focus on supporting survivors of violence and addressing the factors and causes associated with gender-based violence.
As we come to the end of the 16 Days of Activism, I urge you to consider and reflect on the experiences felt by victim-survivors of gender-based violence. Consider the stigma and unwarranted shame put upon them by their perpetrators. Consider the distress and anxiety they continue to feel in their own homes. Consider how we, as a society, can better support victim-survivors and reduce the risk of gender-based violence.
Violence against women and girls is not just an extreme public health issue; it is a human rights violation.
Tomorrow, December 10, is the final day of the 16 Days of Activism, is Human Rights Day. I ask you to reflect on this injustice. There is never an excuse for gender-based violence. It is not okay. It needs to end.
Nikita Shewandas is an empathic and purpose-driven individual and has just completed the Master of Development Studies at the University of Melbourne.
She grew up in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia where she completed high school before moving to England to pursue a degree in Mathematics and Finance at the University of York.
Her experience includes roles in project management, consulting, and research across various sectors. She is driven by opportunities that provide improved outcomes and equal opportunities for all. As a strong advocate for social and economic inclusion, Nikita aspires to pursue a career centred around research, consulting, and policy development.