The Covid-19 pandemic and the struggle to tackle gender-based violence

Meltem Ince Yenilmez (Department of Economics, Yaşar Üniversitesi, Izmir, Turkey)

The Journal of Adult Protection

ISSN: 1466-8203

Article publication date: 7 December 2020

Issue publication date: 7 December 2020

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this study is to look at the policies for the protection of women during pandemics while taking gender and feminist interests into crucial consideration. In perilous times like this, where many humans are living in fear and struggling to survive a world filled with diverse traumatizing events such as wars, universal pandemic, man-induced tragedies, natural destruction, overwhelming stress and stress-related illnesses abound. Currently, Covid-19 pandemic is rampaging in different areas of the world.

Design/methodology/approach

Studies are reviewed the major reasons of the violence against women during lockdown. A qualitative review of the literature is performed and analyzed. As there have been compulsory lockdowns in different parts of the world, Turkey included, the lockdown is ideal for preventing the spread of Covid-19.

Findings

There are issues this Covid-19 pandemic has caused, and one major issue is the stigma and trauma women face around the world, even in their homes. Domestic violence is a serious concern. It is, therefore, paramount for the government to intervene on this issue by declaring domestic violence as “essential services” and must set modalities in place for instant reliefs to women in such distress. It is even further envisaged that the term lockdowns have a diverse number of interpretations. One such prevailing argument is that humans are enslaved to their general imaginations, may continue in the pathways set aside by gender stereotypes or the same lockdowns, can be used as a means to set aside patriarchal notions and pursue a violence-free existence.

Originality/value

This research will increase the awareness in terms of preventing gender-based violence and try to address how this pandemic makes it worse for women. In addition, there are many studies focused on family violence and Covid-19 while few focus on gender.

Keywords

Citation

Ince Yenilmez, M. (2020), "The Covid-19 pandemic and the struggle to tackle gender-based violence", The Journal of Adult Protection, Vol. 22 No. 6, pp. 391-399. https://doi.org/10.1108/JAP-07-2020-0029

Publisher

:

Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2020, Emerald Publishing Limited


Introduction

It is has become a norm to see cases of violence against women. Out of every three women who have reached the age of reproducing, at most, have been violently abused or sexually harassed by a sexual partner in the course of her lifetime. Intimate partners are the most prominent instigators of more than a third of reported murders of women globally (WHO, 2013). As a result of the lockdown caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, there are disturbing spikes concerning family and domestic violence against women. Agencies handling domestic violence have stated that there has been a high rise in cases associated with domestic violence during this mandatory Covid-19 lockdown era because people have been placed under forced cohabitation, financial insecurities and high levels of mental stress related to the Covid-19 pandemic (Vieira et al., 2020). Evidence that has to do with domestic violence during this Covid-19 lockdown period is still early, and, therefore, inadequate. However, from international news and reports, there is a massive rise in domestic violence around the globe. Even in China, police report that there is a triple rise in domestic violence, during this Covid-19 epidemic period. As the compulsory quarantine was implemented in Spain, Italy, France and Turkey, there has been a severe increase in cases of domestic violence (ILO, 2020).

Only several weeks back, Bradbury-Jones writing in an editorial by Jackson et al. (2020), talked about the growing problems that lockdowns could increase the rate of domestic violence. There are no adequate rooms for compromises within these enacted lockdown measures. The government only advises that people generally stay at home and can go out to purchase food products or collect medication or personnel directly involved in the line of essential duties. Initially, it was doubted whether domestic violence could happen in this Covid-19 lockdown period. However, now all uncertainties are gone because domestic violence is on a fast rise.

Cases of child abuse, domestic violence, intimate partner violence and elder abuse are, for example, now prevalent in New Zealand following the considerable number of infected people officially reported across the country (NZFVC, 2020). This compulsory Covid-19 pandemic lockdown has made women who are already within abusive relationships more exposed to more danger. A current article, which was published in The Guardian (2020) reported that a significant increase in domestic violence cases is a repeated pattern. It even follows the fact that frequently, menial tasks are not equally shared at home. Therefore, women and children bear most of the burden, which reveals that the home environment is a firm ground where men exercise power and authority. Therefore, a man forced to remain at home, may not mean that he cooperates wonderfully well with the woman, and may even cause higher domestic tasks for the woman alongside the psychological, physical and financial abuse that may reign in such environments. The Isolations have only just made many such women’s trauma magnified because she is cut off from family and friends, which will further make her prone to suffer higher psychological depression (ILO, 2020). Therefore, with more men closer to a field, which was usually controlled by these women, the finances for the household may become stiffer and aggressive behaviors prevail. The control in the home, which has been a serious contributing factor to violence against women, is now further magnified by the current coronavirus pandemic.

Furthermore, as the world enjoins women to perform acts of charity such as the production of facemasks and other essentials, it is necessary to put them on stipends, which will not only encourage them but also give them a source of income throughout the pandemic period including programs that aid victims of gender-based violence and integrating such programs as parts of a disaster relief program permanently will go a long way in curbing the pandemic induced surge in violence against women. This means that community programs should include options for shelter and psychological support in cases of disease outbreak and natural disasters for abuse victims internationally.

As the world is thrown into chaos and waiting for its healing, we must go back to the drawing board and re-strategize on our crisis management techniques. This can only happen if we see this viral outbreak for the exposé to an underlying problem rather than just a disease. Thus, ensuring that women and children are better protected in the future.

Tackling violence

All over the globe, people are making efforts to tackle the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic. The act to save people from dying from the virus is good, though, women in abusive relationships are suffering and prone to more danger. The Guardian (2020) also reported that the rise of domestic violence in Brazil rose from 40%-50%, in an area in Spain rose to 20% just in fees days of the lockdown. However, it equally rose to 30% in Cyprus. In the UK, a few days after the commencement of the lockdown, they got a rise of 25% regarding domestic violence (The Telegraph, 2020). All over the world, governments are putting in place measures to make sure that the virus does not spread. The Turkish government also emphasizes that people should stay at home, protect the Ministry of Health and to save lives. In a house where there is a perpetrator of domestic violence, it will be extremely unsafe for women and children to stay in that home because most sexual, physical and psychological abuses happen at home. It is easier for domestic violence to happen more at home because the perpetrator of domestic violence feels an enormous control in such positions and are not being monitored or criticized by any “outsider.” Therefore, as the Covid-19 outcries “stay at home,” it only leads to severe complications for particular individuals whose homes are already scenes of torments. Thus, the obligatory lockdowns only serve to cut these individuals from escaping or having access to coping environments.

Undoubtedly, the stringent measures could also find ways to the hands of perpetrators who violate via controlling tactics, surveillance and compulsion. Events that happen in the homes of people, within their family and intimate relationship mostly occur behind jammed doors, keeping the rest of the world in a state of oblivion and not knowing. The compulsory lockdown due to Covid-19 has unconsciously given free license to perpetrators of domestic violence, to operate without anyone checking them. It could also be difficult for people suffering domestic violence to speak up or report, due to social norms and attitudes that have given a false picture of a family being a place of solace and great joy. The fear of the stigma and shame they will face outside their home will not allow them to run away from the abusive home or person (Schalatek, 2020).

As a result of this compulsory lockdown caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, it has become paramount for rational thinking process concerning the idealized pictures of a home and family and to put avenues in place through which people can discuss what is going on in their families and ways urgent actions can be taken against perpetrators of dominating and abusive family life. An excellent way to start is to directly and regularly ask people if they feel safe at home. However, this task could be challenging, so professionals providing support must have the time, patience and emotional resources to listen attentively and to react to those indirect and subtle ways that people were suffering domestic violence show or tell that they are scared and unsafe. To save lives, it is vital to note that one of the significant causes of domestic homicides is domestic violence and abuse (Karakas, 2020).

As the lockdown caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, at least two deaths of women who might have been killed by the present or ex-partner, are recorded every week in the UK. There has also been an enormous increase in domestic homicides in many countries affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. In March 2020, Spain, which was affected severely by the Covid-19 epidemic, recorded their first domestic violence case just five days after they started the lockdown. A man mother his wife right before the eyes of their children, in Valencia.

According to Smith (2020), evidence has been emanating concerning substantial domestic violence homicides in the UK, as the compulsory Covid-19 lockdown began. Initial stages of the Covid-19 pandemic make it challenging to say whether the considerable rise in the reports of deaths is caused by domestic violence or it is just the media trying to drag attention. Though it is vital to note that the domestic violence reported cases are only a little percentage of the real incidents happening. The emanating number of deaths caused by domestic violence shows the severity of the overwhelming and unconscious causes of the Covid-19 pandemic for victim-survivors of domestic abuse. Everyone is struggling with the many and disturbing effects of this new Covid-19 pandemic rampaging the world. Trying to curb the spread, protect the health care system and mostly safeguard those with underlying health challenges who are heavily at risk to life-ending illness, it became paramount to put up the social distancing measures and for the government to severely limit the way they interfere into the private lives and behaviors of people. Dragging the attention of the government toward the experiences and needs of victims of domestic violence is not a way to oppose the government but to show the government, some of the shortcomings of the social distancing and isolation measures that have been put in place.

The voices of people suffering from domestic violence are mostly not heard or have been neglected in some areas of the media and the policy and administrative agencies. Therefore, these issues are raised so that modalities can be put in place to salvage or reduce the additional dangers that emerge with the Covid-19 pandemic, and the grievous effect it might have on people suffering from domestic violence (Bradbury-Jones and Isham, 2020). For instance, federal and regional organizations can set up modalities such as surviving and protecting agencies that can give crisis and curative assistance to people suffering from domestic violence.

Therefore, it is significant that the government and people be aware of the fact that there are people who are suffering from domestic violence and also give a helping hand to these affected victims by assisting them personally or professionally (OECD, 2020). The Covid-19 pandemic has raised a severe contradiction that staying at home is safe. So, attention must be given to these paramount contradictions. As most governments all over the world have made the stay at home and the lockdown rules, which was caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, compulsory, to ensure they fight the epidemic and curb its spread (WHO, 2020), it is also necessary to look at how this affects most women and children who might be locked down in a house with a violent and abusive man.

Nevertheless, already the international cases of family violence witnessed show that violence is an expected occurrence as a consequence of national catastrophes (NZFVC, 2020). Even more, as earlier stated in this article, the reports of unequal and higher levels of domestic tasks, as reported by The Guardian (2020), is an issue of concern. However, it is not as prominent as the risks posed by the higher prevalence of violence within the home. Nevertheless, it cannot be overemphasized that there is a need to provide a supportive environment and that these supportive environments bear in mind the physical, social and mental trauma faced by these women within these trying times. Therefore, making provisions of protective measures and resources is necessary to can diminish the prevalence of environments where the men have considerably higher abusive power to ensure that the risks of violent-related horrors and deaths are averted.

Multi-faceted catastrophes

History has shown that natural catastrophes can spike up the prevalence of domestic violence, especially within the months after such disasters (Straus and Sweet, 1992). An excellent example of such events occurred in the US and Canada following the months after the Mount St. Helen Volcanic Eruption in Washington. Several months after these natural disasters, the family violence hotlines were called at alarming levels until 12 months after the explosion (Enarson, 2012). According to Adams and Adams, 46% are the rates of violence witnessed months after such disasters. For example, Hurricane Katrina in the USA led to an increase in violence against women by psychological means up to about 35% around Mississippi state (Schumacher et al., 2010). There is no doubt the Covid-19 pandemic parallels with those historical disasters. However, even as those catastrophes sparred up closeness and unity for a long time, the coronavirus worsens the incidents of violence by placing limitations on movements and encouraging isolations for a long time. Therefore, the higher number of violence-related cases against women can only be the result as the present pandemic creates an atmosphere that encourages abusers to do more harm (Campbell, 2020; Smith et al., 2014; Weitzman and Behrman, 2016). Therefore, it is crucial that all skilled personnel dedicated to providing support for abused individuals be aware that the pandemic may cause a higher number of casualties as long as the crisis continues and long after the end of these trying times (Campbell, 2020).

Although the coronavirus continues to rage and devastate lives across the world, causing a widespread incident of social-economic insecurities and severe rises in the number of deaths, some countries are even facing other kinds of crises alongside. For instance, Zagreb, Croatia’s capital, witnessed an earthquake with a magnitude of 5.3, which disrupted the orders on restricted movements and threw the city into jeopardy. This further led to the increase in infectious cases, as has been postulated in literature, that such earthquakes causing more people to share tinier spaces creates avenues for the virus to spread (Attanayake et al., 2020). Subsequently, Bangladesh and India have suffered one of the most disastrous cyclones they have seen in the past 20 years, leading to over 100 deaths, thousands of lost properties and displaced families. In June, the West Coast of India equally suffered the cyclone Nisarga. Southwest Asia saw large swarms of desert locust as spring began and Assam, in India, witnessed enormous floods in June (UN-ESCAP, 2020). Many other catastrophes have occurred alongside the coronavirus pandemic in many countries across the world, making it challenging for the said restrictions on movement and social distancing orders to be enacted, thereby causing more infectious outbreaks and untold hardship (Attanayake et al., 2020). The Covid-19 crisis is further heightened by the prevalence of these climate-related calamities, causing convergence and intersections in complicated and disparaging ways. Many governments have no concrete measures in place to fight such complex arrays of catastrophes. For many of these countries, the already placed lockdown measures, closures of businesses and schools were the only plans made to fight the pandemic, but when these countries equally faced calamities that disrupted the same rules, the resulting jeopardy and lack of apparent means to fight them will be felt for many months or even years to come.

Inadequate policy provisions

Although the editorials of Bradbury-Jones alongside other notable works provided adequate warnings about the emerging issues of higher domestic violence rates as direct ripples of the restrictions, there were no valid policies enacted to make provisions for these situations (Jackson et al., 2020). Although those publications were written as speculations at the time, they were only repeating history’s lessons. Therefore, as expected, there have been higher rates of domestic violence, and those numbers are rising alarmingly with each passing day. All around the globe, numbers of violent scenarios ranging from sexual violence to elder abuse, child abuse and Intimate partner violence are reported in large scales (NZFVC, 2020; WHO, 2020). Turkey and every other country in the world are facing higher rates of violence against women. With the lack of access to support services, these are indeed dangerous ties. Even so, the fear of equally contracting the virus has further led these victims to endure the hardships and cruelty dealt them to avoid becoming victims of the virus.

Although Turkey’s rates of domestic violence have not correctly shared with the public, the surprising events of May, when 81 women were reportedly killed according to police data, shows that the horrors of the present times are indeed disturbing. However, it is equally interesting to note that the Turkish Ministry of Interior states that Turkey has witnessed a lesser number of reported cases of violence within these times when compared to other countries around the world. Nevertheless, the official records stating over 88.491 cases of domestic abuse (Karakas, 2020) and other associated situations just within the first quarter of the year shows that there is a need to take proactive steps to combat these violent rates.

Most women abused by their family members or partners have never been able to find a haven in their homes. Now, they are forced to stay within the same perilous homes, thereby making them even more vulnerable than ever before. The global restrictions have only worsened there already miserable living conditions (UN, 2020). Even so, the Turkish state provides no access to protective and preventive policies, which equally creates opportunities for abuse. Furthermore, the Turkish government has never prioritized providing support for these vulnerable women. Hence, in conditions such as this, the situation is far worse. Still, there is no doubt that the Turkish legal framework provides some sort of guidelines concerning helping these victims of abuse. However, the lack of pathways for implementation only stunts the reach of the law. For instance, even as these vulnerable women can ask for investigations through the family court of justice via a prosecutor or on their own, these legislations have no sufficient execution strategies, and therefore, is in-effective in helping these women whose lives are threatened with each passing day.

The situations were further worsened when in March, the Turkish Council of Judges and Prosecutors implemented policies that removed the little protections these women could have sought out during these pandemics. According to the council, there was a need to evaluate the Law No. 6284 to “protect family and prevent violence against women” in such a way that posed no threats to the health of perpetrators. Additionally, the council enacted stay-away and vacate orders, which further opposed the established legislative measures. These policies opposed Article 52 (Emergency Barring Orders), under the Istanbul Convention and ratified by Turkey in 2011 (Logar and Niemi, 2017), which stated that vulnerable individuals or victims should be prioritized. Therefore, under the legislative frameworks, the council made verdicts contrary to the rule of law.

Misuse, misinterpreted, maligned protective policies

By law, every municipality is expected to create a women’s shelter. However, in October 2019, calculations of 3,454-bed spaces and 144 women shelter show that the law is not correctly followed. Even so, there have been several publications about the misuse of the enacted rule of laws, which has further placed thousands of women across Turkey in defenseless positions against their tormentors. Many of these misinterpreted legislative events have been reported and documented by Mor Cati, a women’s shelter foundation in Istanbul. One such report talks about a young woman who, after being beaten by her brother and father, was told by the police, when she made her complaint that there were no protective measures for unmarried ladies (Mor Cati, 2020).

Furthermore, the police called the Violence Prevention and Monitoring Centers (SONIM) responsible for providing psychological, judicial and health support for victims. Nevertheless, he subsequently told the young lady that the facility could not also put her into a shelter without “reports” of it. However, it is interesting to note that the existing rule of laws concerning shelters for women is meant for all women, and not based on their status and abuse does not equally require official reports (Mor Cati, 2020).

Another case, reported by the same organization, during the pandemic lockdown, talked about a woman fleeing an abusive matrimonial home, who was placed into a shelter and one of the police officers at the station gave the address of her shelter to the battered victim’s husband (Mor Cati, 2020). The police officer violated the laws concerning confidential information, especially in sensitive situations such as these. However, these are only a few of the many other alarming incidents were that the rule of law is thwarted and misinterpreted against vulnerable victims. Despite these alarming issues, Turkey’s political and legislative system has paid no attention to enact transparent protective measures that can help these women. It is even worse that there have been existing technological systems such as the women support application (WSA) created and established in 2018 is not equally used in providing coordinated efforts that can significantly help these individuals. This app can be installed via Android and Apple phones by any female across the country and requires only the National Identity Document (ID) card for activations. The app is supposed to be used in cases of emergencies by these women to alert the police by merely tapping the large red button on the screen. These apps could be a lifesaver for thousands of battered women across Turkey. Nevertheless, the application is never promoted by public institutions, especially during these pandemic crises, where it would have been a vital tool for fighting the prevalence of violence. Therefore, the increased need for proactive measures to fight violence and protect women, the atmosphere in Turkey is still largely the same, and in no way supportive or protective for the vulnerable female members of its population.

Conclusion

Millions of humans across the world have faced life-altering events due to the Covid-19 pandemic. However, the impacts are felt at more dangerous levels among women. For many, the obligatory restrictions have only done more harm than the virus. Many of these individuals psychologically and physically shackled with their tormentors. With their havens of support cut away. Even so, the additional ripples of the heightened levels of insecurity and employment loss have further led to higher incidents of violence, creating more dangerous situations for these vulnerable individuals. There is no doubt that the Covid-19 lockdowns placed to help safeguard the lives of people are also with its inadequacies. Still, there have been no efforts whatsoever by the Ministry of Demography, Family, Youth and Social Policy to enact thoughtful systems that would provide supportive care to these vulnerable individuals. For example, any victim at this given moment only knows the vitality of getting tested for the virus. However, there are no set guidelines to help these individuals understand how the systems can support them. In contrast, the non-government organizations has equally released warnings about placing abusers (not their victims) within shelters and facilities. Therefore, as the systems at the national levels are not efficient enough to help these victims, the only present solutions, although dismal, are micro-level support systems while praying for the end to the devastating pandemic.

It can also be concluded from previous research studies that family violence increases after major emergencies and natural disasters such as earthquakes, wildfires, hurricanes and cyclones. It is from these experiences that we can forecast an increase in cases of domestic violence during the outbreak of Covid-19. There are other contributing factors that will increase the risk of violence against women and they would be seen in the current crisis with Covid-19. These factors include financial strain, job losses and unemployment, housing deficit and increased insecurity. There will be an inability for victims to escape their abusers this period. We will also witness decreased access to community support groups if schools remain closed. That is why it is critical that the relevant authorities and organizations, especially health and enforcement services identify and quickly respond to family violence. Nevertheless, the Covid-19 outbreak seems like a test to humanity in ways we have never experienced. It is both shocking and traumatic to us as we try to get our heads above water. The violence that is creeping in is a shocking reminder and a challenge to our values and what we stand for as humans. We should strive not only to survive but also to emerge stronger, reinvigorated, with women serving at the center point of our recovery.

Key takeaways

It must be acknowledged that pandemics, national catastrophes and emergencies of any kind, can expose women and girls to violent situations. These patterns have been repeated across historical events such as during the outbreaks of the Zika virus between 2015 and 2016 and the more recent episodes of the Ebola virus disease. Therefore, the Covid-19 pandemic and its equally higher incidents of violence pose no exceptions. Overall, Higher levels of stress, greater employment rates and financial and food insecurities, and restricted movements are all conditions that lead to higher rates of domestic violence.

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Further reading

Parpart, J.L., Connelly, M.P. and Barriteau, V.E. (2000), Theoretical Perspectives on Gender and Development, International Development Research Centre, Canada.

Tub, A. (2020), “A new Covid-19 crisis: domestic abuse rises worldwide”, available at: www.nytimes.com/2020/04/06/world/coronavirus-domestic-violence.html

Corresponding author

Meltem Ince Yenilmez can be contacted at: meltem.ince@yasar.edu.tr

About the author

Meltem Ince Yenilmez is based at the Department of Economics, Yaşar Üniversitesi, Izmir, Turkey.