The outbreak of global pandemic COVID-19 has disrupted the live in multiple ways and continues to expose other challenges beyond healthcare. It has created several socio-economic challenges, deepening pre-existing inequalities, and has been exacerbating the vulnerabilities in social, political, and economic and legal systems. The consequences of crisis are more intensified among girls, women, children, transgender community, and other vulnerable group.
Gender Base Violence is also one of the hidden and rising consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. As communities around the world are forced to stay at home, women, girls, children and transgender persons are at a heightened risk of domestic violence, intimate partner violence, child abuse, and other forms of sexual and gender-based violence. Pre-existing toxic social norms and gender inequalities, economic and social stress caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with restricted movement and social isolation measures, have led to an exponential increase in GBV.
According to UNFPA, with one in three women globally experiencing violence over their lifetimes and the crisis of global pandemic has further exacerbated the situation as it is expected that there will be at least 15 million more cases of domestic violence around the world in 2020 for every three months that lock-downs are extended. It also says that COVID-19 will also disrupt efforts to end child marriage, potentially resulting in an additional 13 million child marriages taking place between 2020 and 2030 that could otherwise have been averted.
According to the available media report, at least 399 cases of violence against women has been reported in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa since the outbreak of COVID-19 and lock down restrictions, out of which majority of the cases were reported to police. Lock down restrictions, limited mobility, inability to access services, closure and disruption of essential response services and other socio-economic challenges have been contributing into rising cases of violence among the vulnerable populations including women, girls, children, young people and transgender community.
Also the rising cases of violence, curtailing measures, social distancing, closure of business, schools, loss of jobs and other associated crisis has also adversely impacted the mental and physical health of the general public and especially of young people. The prolonged social isolation and stress have increased the incidences of mental health conditions in young people including suicidal throughout the world. Since January 2020, about 29 suicidal and attempted suicide cases were reported in Pakistani press media (i.e., news reports in both English and Urdu languages).
In this regard, Ujala network along with other Civil Society Organizations is making advocacy and attitudinal and behavioral change targeted efforts at local and local and national level to promote vulnerable groups-inclusive response strategies to ensure that all protection and social services must remain available via physical and digital spaces.
Sana Ahmad, Provincial Coordinator Ujala Network stated that, there is no doubt that the access to protective and social services have been constrained during the pandemic which have negative ramifications for out vulnerable groups. Keeping in consideration the indications of UN and media reports, government and civil society both need to adopt viable and innovative approached to ensure the access of vulnerable populations to essential response services.
Government should ensure that all protection services for women, girls, children and other marginalized group’s must be classified and available 24/7 as “essential” during any disaster. Hotlines, safe spaces, protection services, referral pathways, and justice mechanisms are necessary to be functional and more responsive during and post-pandemic times.