COVID-19: What Are Chances of Increased Abuse & Violence When Locked in with an Abusive Partner?

In 2014 during the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, countries imposed nationwide lockdown to manage the spread of the virus. After the epidemic West Africa countries such as Sierra Leone came up with different strategies ranging from economic recovery, to getting the education system back on track after 10 months of school closures. Humanitarian actors and academics recognized the gendered impacts of the disease and the response on women and girls, as well as the long-term recovery implications for women and girls in DRC. As we currently watch the world at its worst vulnerable situation, questions are mounting. What if Tanzanian Government issues lock down? What will be the impacts of such a lockdown, what will happen to women, girls, and children living with abusive partners or relatives?

Why am I asking this, because I’m trying to link COVID-19 and issues of power relation, gender norms that perpetuates power imbalance and gender inequity, existing poverty, where the majority of poor people in Tanzania are women. I’m thinking about low income earners who will likely lose their jobs, increasing stress and anxiety, frustrations and tensions which might accelerate abuse. If we are forced to lock down, is the government capable and prepared to support families? Do we have proper facilities to support survivors of domestic violence? Do we have means of reporting and getting help immediately? Do we have strategies in place that include supporting low income earners? Observing, China: Early evidence from China suggests that domestic violence has dramatically increased – in some parts of China it has tripled during the epidemic. Organizations dealing with GBV have observed that the extended quarantine and other social distancing measures have created additional GBV as a result of household stress over economic and health shocks combined with forced coexistence in narrow living spaces (Wanqing, 2020; Rigoli, 2020).

Economic challenges during COVID-19 have affected businesses in Tanzania. Workers have been scheduled to work from home and some have been laid off. There is unemployment for private sector workers and entrepreneurs. Limited form of accessing funds and asset, food and other necessities are increasingly becoming a challenge.

In Tanzania the intimate partner violence (IPV) and abuses vary. Data on different forms of violence against women shows that the lifetime physical and/or sexual IPV is at 42 %. In the last 12 months, IPV stood at 30%. Official national statistics is not avaialble for lifetime non-partner sexual violence. Additionally, data from a UN Women report (2018) shows child marriage stood at 31 % and female genital mutilation/cutting at 10%.

This violence is witnessed every day and spares no class. There is increased household tension and domestic violence due to forced coexistence, economic stress and fears about the virus.

Financial challenges will force women and girls to accept money and gifts to sustain living, to support themselves and their family. There is a possibility of sexual harassment at work places for fear of women to lose their jobs during and after this pandemic.

Note: Shame seems to affect women to seek help for such behaviors, but an important factor in not seeking help may be that women who wish to report violence and/or leave abusive situations have limited opportunity to flee and escape have few places to go where they can get support. Having no money to leave, to find shelter, or to buy food is one of the critical reasons why women and girls stay in violent relationships. Women who earn an income who are in coercive and/or violent relationships often have this income controlled by their partner by actionaid.org,uk report 2018

Police and Justice System can be overwhelmed during the pandemic, to draw attention towards violence against women and allow perpetrators to get away with such acts. I recommend increased awareness and education through media, religious institutions, communities and traditional social structures to condemn such acts and offer humanitarian assistance to reduce tension and frustrations.

Written by Ms. Upendo Chitinka, Tanzania

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