Women’s rights must be protected during pandemic

“Violence against women and girls is unfortunately still prevalent in British society, and we cannot pay the issue any less attention during a global pandemic. In fact, it is imperative that we analyse this pandemic with a gendered perspective. It has made the gaps in our social security ever more clear.” Green Party Deputy Leader Amelia Womack highlights the gendered aspect of the coronavirus pandemic, such as potential for increased domestic violence, and calls for vigilance in the upholding of women’s rights during the crisis.

Amelia Womack
Amelia Womack
Amelia Womack

Just two weeks ago I wrote an article for Green World about ending domestic violence, in time for International Women’s Day and the Domestic Abuse Bill being reintroduced to Parliament. 

Though at the time fears around coronavirus were rising, few of us would’ve ever guessed at that time how quickly our lives would change.

Whilst most of us are taking as few risks with our own health and that of others as possible, there is nonetheless a tangible sense of fear amongst us. Fear for our job security. Fear for our own health or the health of loved ones. Fear of not knowing when life will regain a semblance of normality again. 

I feel incredibly lucky that I am isolating in a home I feel safe in, which isn’t true for many women and girls. For those suffering from and at risk of domestic abuse at home, a separate and altogether different fear exists – losing any freedom they had from their abuser.

Violence against women and girls is unfortunately still prevalent in British society, and we cannot pay the issue any less attention during a global pandemic. In fact, it is imperative that we analyse this pandemic with a gendered perspective. It has made the gaps in our social security ever more clear.

Women will be on the front line of this pandemic as they hold many of the roles in care, health and retail. Even in a developed country in 2020, the gender split in some crucial professions is staggering. For example, only 11 per cent of nurses in the UK are men. In Band 1 (the lowest pay band in the NHS) 74 per cent of staff are women. This is a pandemic where women are increasingly exposed to the virus at work, and at risk of abuse at home. 

Many other less obvious domestic violence risks are heightened in the time of this pandemic. Before the pubs closed, they reported that they lost almost all their business to supermarkets, with people clearly opting to drink at home rather than out and about. Increased alcohol and drug use at home correlates with increased domestic violence.

We need a rapid gender analysis of this pandemic (the Fawcett Society have called for this) as well as continuing the campaign to make misogyny a hate crime. 

It is more important than ever to remember that there is hope, even within this incredibly uncertain time. Support services are still running and the legal system still has a duty to take cases seriously. 

Many domestic abuse charities are adapting to the crisis, with charities such as Women's Aid and Refuge publishing Covid-19-specific advice on their homepages, and promoting their email services, live-chat services and phone lines. They also remind survivors that the Domestic Violence Protection Order is still in place, which can remove an abuser from their residence for up to 28 days.

Historically, we see rights of women abused during times of crisis. From the women who have been raped in emergency shelters in America to the abuse of women during war. During this emergency we must expose the risks to those women who are so often left unheard, and work to ensure emergency information and support for those experiencing abuse and harassment is available.