Violence against women, girls intensified since COVID-19 began: UN official

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Violence against women and girls has intensified since the COVID-19 outbreak began as many were confined in the same houses as abusers, U.N. Women’s Turkey country director has said.

Emerging data show that violence against women and girls has intensified since the outbreak of COVID-19 started, Asya Varbanova told Hürriyet Daily News in an interview.

Globally and in Turkey men have a higher fatality rate and women and girls are especially hurt by the resulting economic and social fallout, she added.

Violent partners may use confinement to further exercise power and control, she said, noting that at the same time, less income, fewer opportunities for social contact, and difficulties in accessing services and community support have caused many women to remain trapped with their abusers at home, with little support or exit options.

“Evidence is also emerging that girls are at an increased risk of child marriage as a negative coping mechanism of COVID-19, associated with economic fallout and school closures,” Varbanova said.

The increased use of technology during COVID-19 has facilitated online violence against women and girls such as stalking, zoom bombing, and sexual harassment, she added.

In April 2020, U.N. Women conducted the Rapid Gender Assessment of COVID-19 to measure the immediate economic and social impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on women and men in Turkey.

The assessment shows that both women’s and men’s domestic and care responsibilities at home have increased significantly since the pandemic started, the U.N. official stated, however, the burden has been disproportionately placed on women, who expressed an increase to a larger degree across all categories of unpaid care work in comparison with men and before the COVID-19 outbreak.

Impacts of the pandemic on women and girls have worsened across the board, from losing their jobs and incomes, to being at higher risk to domestic violence and cyberviolence, to increased stress levels due to the significant rise in the domestic and care work they perform at home due to distance learning and the increased needs of older and sick people, Varbanova said.

In Turkey, 54 percent of female respondents and 49 percent of male respondents stated that they have started experiencing increased stress and anxiety with the outbreak of the pandemic.

The U.N. official pointed at the fact that social distancing measures, school closures and overburdened health systems have put an increased demand on women and girls to cater to the basic survival needs of the family and care for the sick and the elderly in Turkey, while home schooling and existing gender norms have put the increased demand for unpaid childcare and domestic work on women.

In terms of women’s economic participation, some of the sectors affected most severely by the pandemic are feminized sectors characterized by low pay and poor working conditions, including a lack of basic worker protections like paid sick and family leave, she stated, noting the accommodation and food service sectors, for example, have been devastated by job losses.

“Our rapid gender assessment shows that both women and men report negative economic consequences in terms of reduced hours of paid work, loss of jobs, and financial worries. However, while paid hours’ reduction affected men more [57 percent of men and 46 percent of women stated that the working hours devoted to paid work have been decreased], women lost their jobs to a higher extent [19 percent] than men [14 percent],”she said.

Globally, women make up 69 percent of health professionals and 88 percent of personal care workers, while in Turkey, about 50 percent of doctors, 70 percent of nurses and 100 percent of midwives are women, she said. “This exposes them to the risk of infections to a significant extent.”

The U.N. official put an emphasis on the necessity of including women’s perspectives and leadership in decision-making about global and national health policies and emergency response.

On the other hand, the rapid gender assessment carried out by U.N. Women Turkey revealed also some positive developments, the official said. Women have reported an increase in the engagement of men in sharing responsibilities of domestic and care work within the household after COVID-19.

Hurriyet Daily News

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