Statement

In COVID-19 pandemic, we need to protect our women and girls from violence

11 July 2020

Kaori Ishikawa is Head of Office in UNFPA Mongolia Country Office.

 

Tsetsegmaa, the chief social worker and administrator at Darhan-Uul One Stop Service Center (OSSC) noticed that the incoming clients almost doubled this year. OSSCs provide survivors of gender-based violence (GBV), especially domestic violence, with services to help them leave and recover from violent situations. “We have more clients than usual,” Tsetsegmaa said. “There are also more cases of violence against children.”

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The COVID-19 crisis is relentlessly causing harm to women and girls, their families, communities and economies worldwide, with impacts felt beyond physical health as the pandemic and the measures to contain it have highlighted and even deepened social inequities, including gender inequality. As we have seen all over the world, vulnerable groups are affected more severely because of factors such as unequal access to healthcare, lifetime experiences that make these groups even more susceptible to the virus, as well as more fragile economic positions.

Among the disproportionately affected are women and girls. Nearly 60% of women in the world work in the informal economy and thus have a greater risk of falling into poverty during this global recession. Contraceptives become harder to find and the possibility of unintended pregnancies rises. Women and girls are also at a higher risk for GBV, and may find it even more difficult to access services that can help them escape their situations.

UN Women declared that domestic violence is already one of the greatest human rights violations, and emergency and humanitarian situations like this pandemic only worsen the situation. While Mongolia prevented local transmissions of the COVID-19 virus so far, the country has witnessed a sharp increase of GBV. In the first quarter of 2020 when the restrictions were at their strictest, OSSCs saw an 87% increase in the number of clients compared to the same period in 2019. The COVID-19 pandemic and precautionary measures have led to a rise in psychological and financial stress among families, which creates tension in relationships that could escalate to abuse.

And the children are particularly vulnerable too.

Educational institutions have been shut down since late January as part of the precautionary measures implemented by Government of Mongolia. Children are also prohibited to be in public places. Compounded with the fear of the pandemic, the stringent restrictions led to adverse effects on mental health and wellbeing of children as well as their caregivers, sometimes abuse.

The children clients of OSSC increased by 32.2% in first three months of 2020 compared to the same period last year.  The reports on physical abuse, emotional abuse, and neglects increased as well.  We know from the international experience that cases are usually under-reported than the actual number of cases.

In short, we are seeing that the COVID-19 pandemic is reverting hard-fought gains on protecting women and girls from harmful practices.

UNFPA, the United Nations sexual and reproductive health agency, expects up to 31 million additional cases of gender-based violence for every 6 months of movement restriction measures globally.

This is just the current snapshot; the future of what we call the “shadow pandemic” could be much worse.

Today on World Population Day, we are raising awareness on the vulnerabilities of women and girls and how we need to work together to protect their health and wellbeing.

We need to reach out to the most vulnerable.

We need to ensure adequate and timely services women and girls in need.

But we cannot do this alone. UNFPA calls on governments and partners to prioritize the health of women and girls and respond urgently to their needs, especially in humanitarian situations. We are currently working on:

  • Building capacity of duty bearers to continue to provide services even when local transmissions or an outbreak, and consequential stricter measures, happen – through special trainings, guidelines, and provision of personal protective equipment in OSSCs;
  • Training COVID-19 frontline workers such as police, border patrol, and health service providers to detect and properly refer GBV survivors for help;
  • Ensuring that the dignity and rights of those in institutional quarantine are protected by providing essential items and letting them know where to ask for help;
  • Preventing GBV through the dissemination of mental health resources;
  • Addressing larger issues such as loss of income and the rise of poverty which have been identified as triggers of GBV.

On World Population Day, it’s time to reaffirm and act on our collective commitments to secure health and rights for all.