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Family and Domestic Violence, Disasters and the COVID-19 Restrictions

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posted on 13.07.2020, 22:03 by Sandra WalklateSandra Walklate, Jane Richardson, Barry Godfrey
The end of January 2020 marked the beginning of widespread Government enforced social restrictions across the globe. These ranged from communities being placed under total lockdown to the introduction of ‘stay at home’ directives as coronavirus (Covid-19) travelled the world. Academic and media commentators have become increasingly focused on the unintended consequences of these required changes in social behaviour, within which the potential for increases in violence(s) against women and children has become an issue of focal concern.

It is well documented that disasters, from tsunamis, to earthquakes and bushfires, have the capacity to add significantly to the toll paid by women and children at the hands of primarily male perpetrators. Work in India (Rao, 2016), the Philippines and Vietnam (Nguyen, 2018), Iran, (Sohrabizadeh, 2016) and Japan (Yoshihama et al, 2019), all point to the increase in stresses placed on family life as a result of disasters. These events frequently take their toll on the poorest members of a community on a wide range of dimensions including economic abuse and violence(s). The consequences are gendered (True, 2013). Lauve-Moon and Ferreira (2017) and Parkinson (2019) have pointed to the ways in which, when disasters happen, the vulnerabilities of those living with violence in their lives become compounded and their needs more complex. This finding is reiterated in recent reports by Pfitzner et al (2020a, 2020b) for women living under lockdown in Australia. In addition, evidence from other epidemics (like Ebola and Zika) pointedly indicates that access to health care as well as social protection, education, and justice becomes problematically compounded for women and children (Fraser 2020). Parkinson (2019) also observed that when disasters occur, in which the imperative is for everyone to pull together, violence against women and children can become invisible.

From the global to the local, concerns have been raised about the impact of the public policy embrace of ‘stay at home’ directives especially for women and children. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women, stated that confinement would foster tension and strain created by security, health and money worries increasing isolation for women with violent partners. She described the situation as “a perfect storm for controlling, violent behaviour behind closed doors,” naming the gendered consequences of Covid-19 isolation restrictions as ‘The Shadow Pandemic’ (UN Women 2020).


Publication Date

July 2020