Fighting the Coronavirus and Gender-based Violence Pandemics

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COVID-19 is a global public health emergency. It has however triggered a generalized crisis of capitalism. Economic chaos and political uncertainty now constitute the order of the day. There is however a social aspect of the systemic crisis that is often under-analyzed. An important element of this, which got worsened during the lockdown period is the monster of gender-based violence.

Lai Brown, a trade unionist and National Secretary of the SWL takes a look at this critical issue and argues on the need for working-class people (particularly men and boys) to take a clear stand against all forms of domestic violence as part of the struggle at hand to defeat SARS-CoV-2 and upturn the system which engenders the sort of structural crisis which now holds the world in thrall. 

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There is rise in domestic violence on women and children in the last 3 months across the world. The sad reality is that the cases of Gender-based Violence in Africa particularly Nigeria will continue to rise as the COVID-19 cases rise and last in the continent if the status quo is maintained. It is important to note that before the Coronavirus pandemic, in Nigeria 1 in every 3 respondents according to a CLEEN survey admitting to be being victim of domestic violence. Also the survey shows that there’s Nationwide increase in domestic violence particularly an increase from 21% in 2011 to 30% in 2013.

It is no doubt the health crisis with a subsisting economy crisis will creates the conditions that will increase families’ vulnerability to domestic violence. This holds true for a country like Nigeria, where decades of socio-economic crises have had devastating impact on many working families, widening social inequality. The insensitivity of the Nigeria government by declaring a lockdown without commensurate social supports such as foods, drug, accommodation and water is another contributing factor.

Already we have seen manifestations of the failure of the Nigerian state with the rise of robbery cases and gang violence starting from the second week of April. Women have been victims of these gang attacks. There are reports of women raped in their houses and female food vendors robbed in broad daylight. In a video that was shared across social media particularly on WhatsApp a woman was seen been pursued half naked on the street, she calls out for help against an abusive husband.

In Osun State, Southwest Region Nigeria, a woman was physically assaulted by policemen. Mrs Halima AbdulAziz was stopped on her way to get medical help for her ailing daughter. She was beaten by police officers who refused to listen to her reasons or bother to take her to the court rather they took the law into their hands. The victim in a press statement where she demanded justice mentioned that, “This release is important as a call to the Inspector General (IG) of Police to stand against  gross violation of the rights of Nigeria citizens particularly the women and girls by unscrupulous officers, who claim to be officers of law. I do not consider this as an attack on a woman rather it is an attack on all Nigeria women, it is an attack on humanity, it is an attack on survivors of physical and sexual violence, it is an attack on women working to protect women, it is an attack on human’s rights, it is attack on armless citizens, it is an attack on justice and there must be consequences”.

A similar tragic attack on woman happened in River States, SouthSouth Region of Nigeria. On 23rd April, Policeman kills a female colleague during the violence enforcement of the restriction of movement order. It was gathered that the slained policewoman was trying to prevent the (police) taskforce team from destroying the properties and goods of the traders. It must be noted that 95% of the traders are women and food vendors particularly are among the “essential workers” allowed to be out despite the restriction of movement.

Patriarchal oppression and Gender-based Violence is a global social cause for concern. And a pattern of increasing domestic violence can be observed across the globe at this period. The National Women’s Shelters Network, a human right group in Mexico reported a 60% increase in calls for help by women for domestic abuse. The Coronavirus pandemic is not only a public health crisis. It is also economic, impacting global economy. And lockdown by governments have escalated already devastating domestic violence and gender oppression.

Mexico has a worrisome history of gender inequality and cases of violence against women. At least 10 women are killed daily in Mexico, but the rise in Gender-based Violence (GBV) during this period is not an isolated situation. Following the lockdown directives across the world there is rise in reported cases of domestic violence as billions of women are locked in with their abusers. Across European countries the cases of Women and Gender-based Violence have risen by 33 percent in the last two months.

In Kyrgzstan there is a rise in reports of domestic abuse. But considering that the women are indoor 24/7 with their abusers due to the lockdown it is very likely that domestic violence has risena more than 30% as reported in Europe and above 60% in the Mexico. Many are too afraid to call the police or help centres, says Tolkun Tulekova, acting director of the Association for Crises Centres, as “their abusers are at home 24 hours a day, controlling their every step. 1

It was reported that in the Philippines, clerics and religious leaders claimed that genderqueer and LGBTQIA+ are responsible for the Coronavirus pandemic. Such erroneous and absurd claim shares similarity with some messages shared on social media that Coronavirus pandemic is some God’s way of punishing us for the sin of homosexuality. Those kinds of narratives are not just incorrect and illogical but also dangerous as they reinforce gender oppression and violence against women.

Also, in the global South where we have seen governments arrogating absolute powers to themselves and issuing undemocratic lockdown directives without commensurate social stimulus to cushion the impact of the pandemic, women and children are at the receiving end. Generally, in the global South particularly Africa as the SARS-CoV-2 virus is chasing poor masses out of the street, hunger “virus” attacks indoors. But for many women, particularly poor working-class women, it is a case of triple attack. There is the viral offensive outside and they also have to contend with hunger and domestic abuse in their homes.

Away from the homes, women make up to 75% of the health workers on the front line of the fight against the Coronavirus pandemic globally. The over 3 decades of neoliberal structural changes have impacted public health terribly and women health workers particularly are the worse for it. The failure of capitalism and years of decadence brought upon the public health is getting exposed but so also the impact is getting deepened in this period of global health crisis. Health workers have complained of lack of facilities such as health personal protective equipment (PPEs) to adequately combat the pandemic. In addition, thousands of health workers have been infected and over a thousand health workers casualties have been reported due to avoidable but systemic failure of capitalism.

Similarly, it is estimated that over 215 million workers will lose their jobs. Women will be disproportionately affected, because they work more in the affected economic sectors such as hospitality, educational, health services and financial services women. Already in the United States about 17 million workers filed for unemployment benefits in the last 3 weeks. The Department of Labor reported more than 701,000 jobs have been lost over the past two months due to the COVID-19 pandemic. According to an analysis conducted by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, about 60% of those losses were experienced by women. 2 COVID-19 enhances the oppressive patriarchal culture and gender inequality crisis in all its forms and contents. This might get worse post-coronavirus if concrete actions are not taken.

The spike in violence on women and domestic abuse despite the ravaging global health crisis calls for conscious and collective actions to combat not only the Coronavirus pandemic but also the social “pandemic” of Gender-based Violence. Wendy Figueroa of National Women’s Shelters Network in an interview by Aljazeera expressed that “There’s a pandemic here apart from COVID-19. A pandemic that we’ve had for years and that hasn’t been attended to. The state’s neglected it. And the women who have been murdered are mothers, daughters, friends, Mexican citizens that the state has failed.”

As we have earlier posited that collective action is needed to combat the COVID-19 health pandemic, so also collective action is needed to combat the GBV social pandemic. In the immediate instance governments across the globe must put in place measures that will ensure victims of domestic violence can contact state agencies easily. Also, women and all victims of Gender-based Violence should be isolated from their aggressors and be resettled in secured and comfortable accommodation without charges. The workers and caregivers on the frontline of the battle against COVID-19 who are largely women must be provided with Personal Protective Equipment to protect these courageous fighters against exposure. The state has to ensure that caregivers with kids have their children taken care of during the period they are at work. And billions of working people that are out of job due to the lockdown directives should be placed on social benefits that will cushion the impact of the crisis.

Lastly, we as poor working-class people need ourselves more now than ever, in as much as we have to ensure physical distance to stop the spread of the virus we have to equally ensure social solidarity to combat the structural crises of capitalism. We have to take a stand against domestic violence in our communities and protect those that are vulnerable. And as we fight these pandemics, we must organise to fight for a new society built on democracy from below and equality which will provide the objective condition to put an end to all forms of oppression including gender inequality.

1- Women Risk Domestic Violence During Kyrgyzstan’s Lockdown at ((https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/04/08/women-risk-domestic-violence-during-kyrgyzstans-lockdown)

2-  Nearly 60% of people who have lost their jobs due to the coronavirus pandemic are women, according to report at  (https://www.businessinsider.com/coronavirus-unemployment-women-60-percent-2020-4)

Note: An abridged version of the article was earlier published on the Review of African Political Economy [RoAPE] blog here.

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