May 26, 2020

The Pandemic Sheds Light on Gender Based Violence

Since the beginning of Catherine McAuley’s ministry in Dublin, the Mercy community has maintained a special concern for women.  The coronavirus quarantine shows us just how much work is left undone as the rate of gender-based violence (GBV) increases and women and girls are at risk of being left behind without adequate social protections.  Now more than ever, Mercy International Association- Mercy Global Action calls for an end to GBV and gender inequality by addressing the lack of access to essential services, stereotypes that lead to violence, and the lack of social protections.

For some women and families, the quarantine is more painful and deadly than the virus itself.  Last year, 243 million women and girls experienced sexual abuse or violence at the hands of an intimate partner; this violence is increasing in our new reality. [1]  The quarantine keeps women experiencing violence,  isolated with their abusers and limits access to support systems, medical care, and shelters.  As a direct result of quarantine rules, agencies around the world have reported a 30% increase on average in calls to domestic violence hotlines. [2] The lack of access to necessary resources makes the isolation worse for women experiencing GBV.  Many have no way of escaping the escalating violence in quarantine as authorities have deemed some services unessential and converted some shelters into Corona treatment overflow spaces. [3]  Services for women and families experiencing GBV are imperative, States must recognize them as essential and keep them operational during the pandemic.

In recognition of the intersectional impacts?  of the pandemic António Guterres, the Secretary General of the United Nations, called for economic protections stating that Covid-19 is “deepening existing inequalities.” [4]  He states that, “measures to protect and stimulate the economy, from cash transfers to credits and loans, must be targeted at women. Social safety nets must be expanded.” [5]  Social protections, and the safety net they provide, are often not available to women given that social norms and stereotypes frequently limit job opportunities. Around the world, 60% of women work in the informal economy (e.g domestic work), which is characterized by decreased opportunity, low wages, and a lack of social protections (i.e. guaranteed vacation, maternity leave, social security, health insurance, or unemployment benefits). [6]  Working without social protections leaves women vulnerable to discrimination, poverty, and violence.  Social protections are necessary to prevent women from being left behind, especially as States work towards recovering from the coronavirus by stimulating their economies.  A safety net provided by social protections will free women from dependency and increase economic opportunities, which will prevent further abuse.  

We must address the underlying issues of gender inequality if we hope to eradicate GBV.  At its roots, GBV stems from the stereotypes and social norms that promote discrimination and subordination..  In line with the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) recommendation, we call on States to name and confront social norms and stereotypes that lead to violence against women and girls as a necessary step towards greater respect for women, and gender equality for all. [7]  It is crucial to educate communities and children to stop GBV from perpetuating in   generations to come.  Education, such as the UNWomen’s “Voices against Violence,” will prevent future abuse before it begins.

Education and safety were some of Catherine McAuley’s goals for women seeking shelter at the first House of Mercy.  The women she encountered struggled to find safe employment where they would be free from sexual abuse.  Before Catherine opened the House of Mercy, she found herself unable to help a woman in need; this experience roots Mercy’s call to serve women in vulnerable situations.  Catherine never knew what became of that woman, just as we do not know the many faces of women and girls who survive abuse today.  Echoes of the untold stories of women around the world reach us through the stark statistics illustrating our current culture of gender inequality.  As we carry on Catherine’s mission, the Mercy Family continues to work for equality for the women and girls we may never meet. 

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Messages to: Amanda Carrier rsm - MGA Intern

[1] “Policy Brief: The Impact of Covid-19 on Women.” United Nations. April 9, 2020.

[2] Ibid

[3] Mlambo-Ngcuka, Phumzile. “Violence Against Women and Girls: the Shadow Pandemic.” UNWomen. April 6, 2020.

 [4] Guterres, António. “Put women and girls at the centre of efforts to recover from COVID-19."United Nations Covid-19 Response.

[5] Ibid

[6] Ibid

[7] “Launch of CEDAW General Recommendation No. 35 on gender-based violence against women, updating General Recommendation No. 19.” OHCHR. 2017.

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