With over half the world still in lockdown, four billion people are now sheltering at home from the global contagion of COVID-19. It’s a protective measure, but it brings with it another deadly danger—domestic violence against women.
Even before COVID-19 existed, domestic violence was already one of the greatest human rights violations. In the previous 12 months, 243 million women and girls (aged 15-49) across the world have been subjected to sexual or physical violence by an intimate partner. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, this number is likely to grow with multiple impacts on women’s wellbeing, their sexual and reproductive health, their mental health, and their ability to participate and lead in the recovery of our societies and economy.
Wide under-reporting of domestic and other forms of violence has previously made response and data gathering a challenge, with less than 40 percent of women who experience violence seeking help of any sort or reporting the crime. Less than 10 percent of those women seeking help go to the police.
“Government data shows that the number of cases of GBV and abuse reported to authorities declined during the first month and a half of COVID-19 lockdown measures,” said Danna Aduna of of Lunas Collective, a feminist, inclusive chat service where people seeking support related to gender-based violence (GBV) and reproductive health can expect to be heard. “While these figures could mean a reduced prevalence of violence and abuse, it more likely points to something more worrisome–that victims are simply unable to report abuse, partly due to the quarantine measures themselves but also possibly due to their home setup. What this means is that it’s highly likely that the quarantine breeds situations that makes it more difficult, if not impossible, for a victim-survivor to report crimes done against them.”
In the Philippines, the National Demographic Health Survey 2017 released by the Philippine Statistics Authority revealed that one in four Filipino women, has experienced physical, emotional, or sexual violence from their husband or partner.
In the same survey, the top three perpetrators as reported by women who experienced/were experiencing GBV were revealed to be the victim’s current husband/partner (40%); former husband/partner (27%); or other relative (8.9%). Additionally, an average of eight people a day have fallen victim to sexual assault in the country during the community quarantine according to data from the Philippine National Police.
It is this problematic situation where stay-at-home measures to reduce transmission of COVID-19 are potentially leading to unreported cases of GBV that has prompted the creation of FamiLigtas—a campaign that seeks to build awareness among women, children, gender non-conforming, and non-binary individuals, as well as the public, about GBV in the home.
Keeping families safe from violence
At its core, FamiLigtas seeks to educate and spread awareness about the reality of GBV within the family and the home. FamiLigtas works closely with Lunas Collective, offering psycho-social support and appropriate information for authorities and health facilities. Lunas understands that the pandemic has caused stress for a lot of Filipino families, and that this has exacerbated GBV situations for many others who are stuck at home, but Aduna was quick to point out the importance of disabusing GBV victim-survivors. “Any stressful situation is not an excuse for any kind of violence,” she said.
For FamiLigtas, the concept of family extends beyond the home. This is why a big thrust of the campaign is to go beyond awareness and encourage help-seeking behavior by promoting other support systems in place within their local communities.
“Gender-based violence starts at home, which is why protection should also start at home,” said Karen Davila, Filipino journalist and staunch advocate for women’s rights.