A record-breaking number of COVID-19 cases have been reported within the last few days in Canada (Government, 2020). The upward trend is being characterized as the second wave of the pandemic, bringing all of us back to the all-too-familiar social distancing impact of quarantine. These social distancing measures have drastically altered everyone’s day-to-day lifestyles, with most of us learning and working from home. While this benefits public health and the integrity of our health system, these changes may exacerbate social consequences that result from the pandemic, such as isolation and psychological health issues. This double-edged sword can be termed the quarantine paradox. One particularly important consequence is that of gender-based domestic violence, which, despite its global prevalence, has been a neglected outcome of the pandemic (Mittal & Singh, 2020).This is a form of violence that combines emotional, psychological, verbal, physical and sexual violence, as well as threats, coercion, and economic or educational deprivation (Ott, 2017). Although gender-based domestic violence can affect numerous individuals, it is typically against women who are disproportionately affected (Mittal & Singh, 2020).
Gender-based domestic violence is not an infrequent phenomenon in the face of global crises. The South Asian Tsunami of 2004, Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the Haiti Earthquake in 2007, and recent outbreaks of Ebola, Cholera, Zika and Nipah all saw surges in gender-based domestic violence. One identified cause of gender-based domestic violence during a pandemic is the economic dependence that comes with it, as fewer women than men have jobs capable of adapting to a remote environment. In turn, women struggle to be self-sufficient and therefore, find it difficult to leave abusive relationships. Economic insecurity is another factor related to gender-based violence as it typically leads to poor coping strategies, one of which includes substance abuse. COVID-19 induced lockdown gives abusers more freedom and can lead to a distortion of power dynamics that is difficult to identify by anyone from outside of the home (Mittal & Singh, 2020). Unfortunately, this may be why it is unacknowledged and underrepresented.
With the high prevalence of gender-based domestic violence during this pandemic, it is crucial that we continue to discuss it in order to minimize stigma and increase access to resources and support systems (Ott, 2017). As a first-world country, we may only now start to notice gender-based domestic violence locally. However, having understood its impact on our society, we also need to shift our focus to global communities where systemic gender inequality is the norm. Sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo, honour killings in Iraq and Pakistan, female genital mutilation in Nigeria, human trafficking in India, and many others, continue to exist. In these places, it may be more difficult for survivors of gender-based violence to leave their abusers due to the lack of economic opportunities, lack of justice, and limited available resources which perpetuate the disempowerment of women, girls and minorities (Ott, 2017). With what we learned from gender-based domestic violence during this pandemic, I hope our country begins to encourage education for prevention, work on behavioural and attitudinal changes with men and boys, increase institutional capacity and resources for women, and facilitate policy changes (UN Women).
Government of Canada. Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19): Epidemiology update. 2020. Available from: https://health-infobase.canada.ca/covid-19/epidemiological-summary-covid-19-cases.html (accessed Nov 8 2020).
Ott, Megan. Series: What Does That Mean? Gender Based Violence. Women for Women. 2017. Available from: https://www.womenforwomen.org/blogs/series-what-does-mean-gender-based-violence#:~:text=Gender%2Dbased%20violence%20(GBV)%20is%20violence%20that%20is%20directed,in%20public%20or%20private%20life. (accessed Nov 8 2020).
UN Women. Ending violence against women: focusing on prevention to stop the violence. n.d. Available from: https://www.unwomen.org/en/what-we-do/ending-violence-against-women/prevention (accessed Nov 8 2020).
Mittal, Shalini & Singh, Tushar. Gender-Based Violence During COVID-19 Pandemic: A Mini-Review. Front. Glob. Women's Health. 2020. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fgwh.2020.00004/full