While COVID-19 takes the world by storm, occupying centre stage on TV channels night after night, another pernicious pandemic rages on that somehow doesn’t make the daily 9 PM news. This pandemic is one that we all know about, one that we’ve grown up hearing stories of from our mothers and our grandmothers. Despite being around for centuries longer than COVID-19, this pandemic somehow doesn’t capture the same sense of urgency.
Violence against women and girls is systemic – meaning, it occurs not in scattered and isolated cases by aberrant violent people, rather it is threaded into the very structures that make up our families, societies and cultures. This happens because across the world, societies are shaped by patriarchal norms that give men more power than women.
As COVID-19 rages on, there has been a marked global spike in cases of violence against women and girls. With lockdowns and social distancing becoming a worldwide reality, many women have been forced to quarantine with their abusers at home, with limited opportunities to escape or seek help. The COVID-19 pandemic then, has had a far more devastating impact on women worldwide. It is more urgent than ever to come together as a global community and create safe spaces that respond to the different circumstances of the different women that are facing abuse and violence.
The core purpose of the #WeekWithoutViolence campaign is to highlight the different forms of violence meted out on women and girls, and most importantly, to push for creation of safe spaces. Here is a list of concerns that individuals, organizations and governments must pay heed to.
- Violence against women and girls is not a private matter but a global concern. We must be more vocal about violence against women, and families must stop shielding perpetrators.
- Organizations must embrace a multi-sectoral approach. It is evident that violence against women is not a linear problem. There is an urgent need for inter-institutional and multi-disciplinary interventions to accelerate the process of eliminating VAW.
- The private sector and the media must address violence against women and girls through marketing and communications to influence positive norms and attitudes within communities. It is time we relook at the language, tone and depiction of VAW in our messaging.
- Governments and donor institutions must go beyond the numbers and aim for a more comprehensive approach to address violence against women and girls, and fund programmes that support the creation of safe spaces, both physical and virtual, focusing on digital safety.
- Governments must address bottlenecks in justice pathways that continue to persist and are barriers to women seeking and accessing justice.
Violence against women and girls does not happen in a vacuum. It is happening in our families, streets, places of worship, workplaces and online in the digital world too. It is everywhere.
YWCA was the first organisation in the world to create safe spaces for women. In times like this, we feel it is more important than ever to ensure that the concept of ‘safety’ moves beyond physical domains and reaches women, young women and girls everywhere, using tools that the internet provides.
As the oldest and largest global women’s movement, World YWCA calls for collective action towards the creation of safe spaces across all domains for women, young women and girls across age, faiths, beliefs, backgrounds and cultures to act as full and equal participants, in all their diversity.
The lockdown may end, but violence against women will not end so easily. We need spaces for women – to share, to be empowered, to be accepted, to find healing and community, to be safe.
 Online or offline places that seek to provide an environment where all people feel safe, comfortable, and can share their experiences, opinions, and views without fear or threat of political, economic or personal harm. (World YWCA Movement Glossary and Definition, Page 17. https://www.worldywca.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/1.World-YWCA-Movement-Glossary-and-Definitions-1-3.pdf)