Gender based violence ignored amid COVID-19 pandemic—Oxfam report

BY: Naana Agyekum
ENOUGH Project
ENOUGH Project

A new Oxfam report has shown an undeniable increase in gender-based violence (GBV) during the COVID-19 pandemic around the world which many governments are not doing enough to tackle.

The report, The Ignored Pandemic: The Dual Crisis of Gender-Based Violence (GBV) and COVID-19, reviewed the number of calls made by survivors to domestic violence hotlines in ten countries during the first months of lockdown.

The data reveals a 25 – 111 percentage surges; in Argentina (25%), Colombia (79%), Tunisia (43%), China (50%), Somalia (50%), South Africa (69%), UK (25%), Cyprus (39%), Italy (73%) and the largest increase in Malaysia where calls surged by over 111%.

Similar concerns were raised about an increase in Ghana’s rates of gender-based violence during the country’s partial lockdown in March and April 2020. Women rights organisations projected a high probability of intimate partner violence surging during the pandemic.

Existing statistics show that one in four women in Ghana have experienced some form of domestic violence in the past year (Ghana Statistical Services, 2016).

ENOUGH! Project

 The ENOUGH! Project is a multi-year project across Mali, Liberia, and Ghana that is funded by the European Union to empower women, girls, boys, and men to take positive action in ending sexual and gender-based violence.

In Ghana, ENOUGH! is led by Oxfam in Ghana and WiLDAF Ghana with collaborations by nine local partner organisations to advocate for better protection and support of survivors of gender-based violence. 

Project partners are also working to influence communities and institutions to challenge harmful social norms and practices that reinforce the root causes of gender-based violence.

'Perfect storm'

In many households, the COVID-19 pandemic has created a 'perfect storm' of social and personal anxiety, stress, economic pressure, rising alcohol and substance use, and social isolation with abusive family members or partners.

The report highlights that these have all contributed to increases in sexual and gender-based violence in and out of homes around the world.

The report further shows that few countries have acted with enough seriousness to tackle the GBV ‘Shadow Pandemic.’

Even before the surge in GBV cases sparked by the pandemic, in 2018 alone, over 245 million women and girls were subjected to sexual or physical violence by an intimate partner – a greater number than the global total of COVID-19 cases (199 million) between October 2020 and October 2021.

In addition, women's rights organizations that support women and girls and other vulnerable people from violence are more likely to have been hit by funding cuts, exactly at the time when their work is most needed.

In an Oxfam survey published in June 2021, over 200 women's rights organizations across 38 countries reported reduced funding and shrinking access to decision-making spaces.

Thirty-three percent had to lay off between one to ten staff, while nine percent had to close altogether. 

Even though 146 UN member states have formally declared their support for action against GBV in their COVID-19 response and recovery plans, only a handful have followed through.

Of the $26.7 trillion that governments and donors mobilized to respond to the pandemic in 2020, just 0.0002% has gone into combating GBV.

In Ghana, no official support for GBV was outlined in the COVID-19 response.

Domestic Violence Act

Although the Domestic Violence Act (DVA) and its Legislative Instrument (L.I.) entitle survivors to free medical care, an examination report from a medical professional is required to file a formal complaint with the police, which can cost up to Ghc800.  

Evidence from our work has shown that this creates an economic barrier for many survivors who cannot afford to file a report and increases impunity for perpetrators.  

Across the globe, some governments have made efforts to respond to the GBV crisis. For instance, Indonesia and New Zealand introduced national protocols and identified GBV service providers as essential workers. South Africa took steps to strengthen GBV reporting channels. 

Ghana’s Ministry of Gender, Children, and Social Protection has pledged to coordinate with other government bodies, such as the Ministry of Health, to address the problem of cost-prohibitive medical fees limiting survivors’ access to justice.

Women’s advocacy groups and networks, including partners on the ENOUGH project, have continued to hold them to this promise through advocacy efforts since the project began in 2019.

Issues of inequality

The Oxfam report published during the global moment against gender-based violence provides an opportunity for governments, donors, and activists to reflect on the emerging issues of inequality that put women and girls at risk and address them urgently.

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown that governments can take extraordinary measures to protect their citizens and respond to deadly crises when spurred to action.

Oxfam recommends that states and governments ensure a more coordinated, comprehensive, and multi-sectoral GBV response that enables survivors to access effective and quality services.

Governments and donors should channel more funding to women's rights organizations and feminist movements working to end GBV and support survivors.

Additionally, more funding should be allocated to better data collection and analysis of gender-disaggregated national statistics to inform evidence-based interventions to end GBV.