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Gender-Based Violence in the COVID-19 Pandemic

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Gender-based violence has been shown to increase during global emergencies. In a newly published paper, Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health researchers write that early evidence suggests the same for the COVID-19 pandemic. The findings are online in the journal Bioethics.

Early results from China suggest that domestic violence has dramatically increased. For example, a police station in China’s Hubei Province recorded a tripling of domestic violence reports in February 2020 during the COVID‐19 quarantine. Other reports suggest that police have been reluctant to intervene and detain perpetrators due to COVID‐19 outbreaks in prisons.

“Gender norms and roles relegating women to the realm of care work puts them on the frontlines in times of crisis, resulting in greater risk of exposure while excluding them from developing the response,” says Terry McGovern, chair of the Heilbrunn Department of Population and Family Health at Columbia Mailman School, director of the Program on Global Health Justice and Governance, and senior author of the study.

According to the article, women around the world perform three‐quarters of unpaid care work, including household disease prevention and care for sick relatives, and there is not a country in the world where men provide an equal share of unpaid care work. In China’s Hubei province 90 percent of frontline healthcare workers are women.

“Recognizing, valuing, supporting women’s roles and giving them a voice in global health governance can go a long way in avoiding unintended consequences, building resilient healthcare systems, and reducing intersectional inequalities and vulnerabilities across gender, race, class, and geography,” writes study first author Neetu John, assistant professor of population and family health, and her co-authors.

The researchers argue that it is not too late to include the voices of women in tackling COVID-19. Among their recommendations:

  • Governments can incorporate gender considerations into their response.

  • Technology can be leveraged to ensure women continue to receive essential services when they need them most. For example, emergency services and victim support can be maintained via text, phone, and online services.

  • Telemedicine should be considered an alternative and secure way to provide women and girls access to contraceptives and abortion medication.

Co-authors are Sara Casey, Columbia Mailman School; and Giselle Carino, International Planned Parenthood Federation.