By Basma Al-Mutawa
As the world continues to ease COVID-19 restrictions – a pandemic that has destroyed and killed millions of people worldwide – the gendered impact of COVID-19 has been disastrous with consequences that will affect the livelihoods of women for generations to come. Domestic violence has become a serious health concern and an even more concerning human rights violation during the COVID-19 pandemic. In numerous studies, the data proves that over half of the women surveyed experienced a form of domestic violence. The World Health Organization recognizes that 1 in 3 women worldwide have experienced and been subjected to domestic violence or intimate partner violence. The reality is harsher for women in the Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) countries. The horrific increase in the MENA area can be explained by numerous factors.
Firstly, countries in the region have had partial or complete lockdowns. The United Nations Special Rapporteur Mary Lawlor has said “the new restrictions of movement mean it’s even harder for women to reach places of safety when threatened.” In Lebanon, advocates claim that the cases turning up are more violent and more dangerous than the cases that they saw during both the revolution and the financial crisis. A women’s inability to leave an abusive household due to COVID-19 restrictions has posed a serious threat to her safety and in some cases, her life.
Secondly, governments being overwhelmed by the pandemic can also explain the serious increase in domestic violence cases across the MENA region. The pressure on government to contain the coronavirus crisis with police resources being taken up to keep people from violating curfew rules and lockdowns, has been a double-edged sword. On one side, containing the pandemic is essential to protecting human life. And on the other side, women children and other vulnerable member of society are no longer receiving any attention. A consultant for Equality Now has said that in the MENA region governments have “completely forgotten the whole issue of the violence against women aspect of coronavirus”. It is vital that attention is brought to this dire increase in domestic violence in order to protect the rights of women and to preserve human life.