Opinion: Violence against women is as contagious as and deadlier than COVID-19

Opinion: Violence against women is as contagious as and deadlier than COVID-19

By George T. Georgiou *

The COVID-19 crisis highlights the situation around gender inequality in the most intense and harsh way. In all its shapes and forms. Especially when it comes to women and girls. But also children.

State-imposed lockdown due to the pandemic has sharply led to an increase in domestic violence incidences against female victims. The numbers of complaints and reports of domestic violence, as well as of homicides that have been reported across the EU are on the rise. In Cyprus alone, from the day the first confirmed case was announced in Cyprus until 31 March, there was a dramatic increase in cases of domestic or even intimate partner violence by 47%.

However, there are no adequate programs for the immediate and effective protection and distancing of female victims from their perpetrator, while the Istanbul Convention has not yet been implemented nor has national legislation been amended to comply with the requirements of the Convention. Violence against women, however, is not limited to physical, verbal, psychological or sexual abuse within the family. Unemployment also constitutes a problem in the form of layoffs, underpaid employment, wage cuts, women’s job insecurity.

OECD figures reveal that 70% of the workforce in the health sector are women; much of the unpaid care is also provided by women.

What does this mean?

It means that, while women are being abused and undervalued, while single or unmarried mothers, widows or divorced persons are supporting the increased burden of caring for their families (just imagine the situation now that schools are closed), in the days of “quarantine”, those exact women are literally at the forefront of the pandemic.

In this context, I submitted four questions to the European Commission today, calling on the Commission to provide me with answers regarding the measures and actions it intends to proceed with in order to secure financial support or otherwise how it will:

Strengthen single-parent families that are a predominantly “vulnerable” population groups, since they face strong pressure on two fronts: family responsibilities and working life. Admittedly, in times of crisis the situation of these families worsens even more.

Strengthen (a) the conversation/cooperation/support of independent women’s organizations that organize actions to counter violence against women and (b) collecting/processing data on the impact of COVID-19 on a gender basis, as this data is the key to important public policy solutions.

Strengthen national legal aid systems for victims of domestic/gender-based violence from the stage of receiving legal advice, reporting to the investigating authorities for the criminal prosecution of the perpetrator until the filing of civil actions against the perpetrator or state authorities for omission of protection.

Strengthen national social structures/services to tackle domestic/gender-based violence, ratify and fully implement the Istanbul Convention, and proceed with measures and programs to support and remove victims of violence from the environment as provided by the Convention.

Strengthen the IT infrastructure of national justice systems by introducing new digital technologies that allow free online legal services (guidance, filing complaints and monitoring victims’ cases) and (b) confirmation that free healthcare and protection services to women at risk are available, well updated and with sufficient resources.

Review national legal frameworks in the light of the Istanbul Convention and the obligations it creates to effectively prevent, address and stop violence against women as well as (b) to highlight the importance and the need for the immediate implementation of these laws during of the pandemic.

Strengthen national policies to create safe shelters for victims of violence and re-integrate victims into society/economy and (b) relax the criteria of the European Stability Pact to allow Member States to invest in public services that meet women’s economic needs and fight unemployment that affects women.

Throughout time, pandemics have always aggravated existing inequalities in our societies with an additional layer.

The current pandemic is not just testing our limits. It also tests our will to get to the other side of it in solidarity and renewed.

This will only happen if we finally address the problem of violence against women as an issue with transparency and determination. Recognizing that every national action plan, every EU policy to combat violence against women must be structured based on data deriving directly from women’s experiences of violence. The EU and Member States need to promote and fund research in a coordinated effort to uncover the extent and nature of violence experienced by women.

Only then can we start talking about real change. /ibna

* George Georgiou is a Member of the European Parliament from Cyprus with the Progressive Party of Working People (AKEL)