Domestic Violence: The Undiscussed Legacy of COVID

By Manal Jomaa

I am sitting in my living room on a late December morning feeling bored and resigned, missing the good old days when we were planning our festive gatherings with friends and family. But somewhere out there in the cold, women with young children are gathering to have breakfast with total strangers in a small eating room in a shelter, and they are considered the lucky ones.

One in four women experiences domestic violence. Shelters for women victims of domestic violence have reached a saturation point, a situation exacerbated by the destructive effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. “I urge all governments to put women’s safety first as they respond to the pandemic,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres said in April, echoing his organization’s call for action to combat the worldwide surge in domestic violence.

Behind COVID-caused closed doors, lockdowns and restrictions have increased the occurrence of conjugal violence and limited the access of affected women and children to assistance and help. Innumerable families have witnessed the loss of jobs, and this financial burden has increased tensions and sparked violence in already-febrile environments. 

Financial independence is a key factor in prompting a victim to remain in an abusive relationship. Statistics show that women, especially those belonging to minority ethnic groups and immigrant communities, are the first people to be affected by job loss. 

After almost a year since COVID-19 shut down society as we know it, we as a collective haven’t done our job to protect vulnerable groups. Governments all over the world have rightfully focused their funds on the prevention and treatment of the coronavirus, but the protection and assistance of vulnerable groups suffering from the undiscussed result of this pandemic is lagging far behind. 

Awareness campaigns targeted towards the issue of domestic violence have been shy and scarce. Budgets allocated to tackle this issue have not reflected the severity and commonality of the issue. Are we not aware of how serious it is? 

We have a moral and social responsibility to assist and help women and children affected by this pandemic-caused surge in domestic violence. It is the responsibility of the individual to remain vigilant for signs of abuse in the people in our communities, to reach out during the holidays, to send a small desert basket with a note, and perhaps include a booklet containing hotline numbers for organizations that women and children can contact should they need help. 

During this holiday season, let us take a step forward to help, to hear, to ask, and most importantly, to assist someone in need. Isn’t that the whole point of Christmas, a time of giving and care?