06.04.2020 Europe

Covid-19: Women trapped between a deadly virus and a deadly partner

By Zeenat Hansrod - RFI
© AFP/Loic Venance
LISTEN APR 6, 2020
© AFP/Loic Venance

France has deployed more resources to address domestic violence, which has worsened under the forced cohabitation of the coronavirus lockdown. UN chief Antonio Guterres has urged governments to put women's safety first as they respond to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“I will not allow the lockdown to be associated with impunity,” said French Interior minister, Christophe Castaner, referring to a surge of 36 percent in cases of domestic violence reported over the last three weeks.

Trapped at home with an abusive partner or father, women and children are in greater danger, during the coronavirus lockdown period, as they can no longer access support services, according to women's rights groups. The lack of privacy and the restrictions on movement make it even harder for them to reach out.

A toll-free text messaging service, 114, is available since last Wednesday. It puts callers in touch with the French security forces. Castaner said that a few dozen “alarming” text messages have already been investigated.

“If you don't have access to internet, you can just send a simple sms, like a cry for help,” he said.

The French government has put in place an array of means for vulnerable women and children to report domestic violence; they can call, text, use internet platforms but can also report abuse in pharmacies and shopping malls.

Castaner added that more accommodation has been set up to provide shelter for battered women and children. “We need to be able to respond with immediate solutions as soon as they are in our care,” he said.

Horrifying surge of domestic violence

France is not the only country where domestic abuse is on the rise because of enforced lockdown to contain the spread of Covid-19. In India, the National Commission for Women reported double the usual number of domestic abuse cases in the first week of nationwide movement restrictions.

In South Africa, authorities said there were nearly 2,300 reports of violence against women in the first week of lockdown.

The United Nations says calls to helplines in China have tripled.

Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary General, called on governments around the world “to put women's safety first as they respond to the pandemic”.

“For many women and girls, the threat looms largest where they should be safest: in their own homes,” Guterres declared on Sunday.

An adequate response to the rise in domestic abuse is more complicated these days because all resources are concentrated on containing the pandemic.

“Healthcare providers and police are overwhelmed and understaffed," said Guterres.

“Together, we can and must prevent violence everywhere, from war zones to people's homes, as we work to beat Covid-19.”

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