The COVID-19 pandemic has worsened the effects of gender-based violence

The COVID-19 pandemic has worsened the effects of gender-based violence

Protesters in Gqeberha, South Africa demonstrate against gender-based violence. Credit: Shutterstock

Every November, the United Nations celebrates a 16-day campaign against gender-based violence. It begins on November 25, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, and ends on December 10, Human Rights Day. This year’s theme is “UNiTE! Activism to end violence against women and girls.”

This theme aims to highlight the impact of COVID-19 on gender-based violence, as well as inequalities in access to housing, services and resources.

During pandemic lockdowns, women victims of gender-based violence have found themselves in precarious and dangerous circumstances. Many abused women have faced the prospect of homelessness due to limited housing options.

Gender-Based Violence and COVID-19

COVID-19 related lockdowns have exacerbated the pre-existing problem of gender-based violence. Families who were already dealing with violence could no longer leave the house for work, school or social activities. This has left many women trapped with violent partners, leading to increased rates of violence against women.

Spaces such as religious gatherings, workplaces, community centers, support groups and community organizations where women could seek respite and support were also no longer easily accessible.

The pandemic has also highlighted a greater social divide and social inequalities in access to health care and housing, as well as poor working conditions. It had a more serious impact on the lowest paid, many of whom are women, who were often the first to lose their jobs. This led to women falling behind on rent and having to move in with their families.

These divisions come as no surprise to women and children fleeing violence. Research and the experiences of those working against gender-based violence have shown that women face multi-faceted challenges when accessing social services and supports.

Specifically, racialized women face unique vulnerabilities that increase their risk of violence and their access to services. These include restrictive immigration laws and racial profiling. Exploring the relationship between COVID-19 and gender-based violence is key to understanding women’s experiences. The experiences of survivors of gender-based violence must be understood through an intersectional approach.

The housing crisis

Due to financial dependency and an increasingly unaffordable housing market, women and children fleeing violence find themselves in dangerous situations. In many major cities, housing prices have skyrocketed. The average monthly rent in Canada is over $2,000 per month.

Many women face the difficult decision of staying with abusive partners or family members. One issue that many women struggling to support their children have expressed is having to choose between buying food and paying rent.

With increasingly unaffordable housing, women fleeing violence struggle to find a safe place to live. This puts women in danger and puts them at the mercy of their attackers.

Across Canada, women are staying longer in shelters. In Nova Scotia, for example, there is limited funding for second-stage housing that helps women transition from temporary shelter to permanent housing.

Survivors of abuse in Canada are prioritized on social housing waiting lists based on a special priority criteria. This criteria includes leaving an abusive relationship within 90 days and providing proof of cohabitation. But waiting times for social housing are long and these criteria do not apply to everyone.

Consequently, many women remain in unhealthy and violent households because they cannot afford to live elsewhere. Shelters for victims of domestic violence often turn away women and children due to lack of beds. Those who arrive in shelters in Canada stay longer.

Many survivors live in insecure temporary accommodation, but are considered safe because they no longer live with their abusers. Survivors choose temporary housing options to protect the life, stability and well-being of their children, meet basic needs and avoid child protection agencies. This tends to leave survivors homeless or at risk of returning to their attackers.

Survivors also struggle to ask for the help they need. The need for virtual meetings and application processes during the pandemic has raised new challenges for accessing social housing applications.

Due to limited access to the internet, computers, skills gaps and use of shared devices, some survivors cannot safely and privately seek help and complete applications at the House.

It is essential to explore the intersections between systemic oppression and women’s vulnerabilities. The 16 Days of Activism is a call for all levels of government to tackle housing and gender-based violence.

Building more affordable housing, improving access to subsidized housing, and increasing social assistance rates are some of the lasting solutions to the chronic cycle of homelessness faced by women fleeing violence.

Provided by The Conversation

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