Gender-based violence increase during pandemic not matched with government response

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Despite a significant increase in gender-based violence (GBV) during the Covid-19 pandemic around the world, many governments and funding institutions are not doing enough to tackle the rising crisis, according to a new report published by Oxfam today.

The Ignored Pandemic: The Dual Crisis of Gender-Based Violence and Covid-19, reviewed the number of calls made by survivors to domestic violence hotlines in ten countries including the UK, China and Italy during the first months of lockdown. The data reveals all significantly increased, with the UK rising by 25 per cent, China 50 per cent, South Africa 69 per cent, Italy 73 per cent while in Malaysia, calls surged by over 111 per cent.

In many households, social isolation with abusive partners and stress, economic pressure and rising alcohol use have contributed to the increase in abuse during the pandemic.

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 £20 trillion that governments and donors mobilized to respond to the pandemic in 2020, just 0.0002% (£40 million) has gone to combating GBV.

Even before the crisis, 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 199 million global coronavirus cases between October 2020 and October 2021.

Mona Mehta, Oxfam’s Gender Justice Lead said: “The pandemic has intensified gender-based violence, including domestic violence, femicide and intimate partner violence amongst other forms of violations, but the investments in GBV prevention and response are seriously inadequate.

“It’s a scandal that millions of girls, women, including trans women, non-binary people, and LGBTQIA+ people, have to live through this double pandemic of violence and Covid-19. GBV has led to injuries, emotional distress, and increasing poverty and suffering, all of which are utterly inexcusable and avoidable.

“The pandemic has also worsened long-standing discriminations and increased the vulnerability of Black, minority, migrant and other women informal workers and unpaid carers from marginalized groups to violence and abuse. If governments do not initiate strong, properly funded strategies to tackle this, the gains made in women’s empowerment in the last 30 years are at risk”

Informal women workers in developing countries, who have had little choice but to continue working, have faced harassment and brutalization by police and military authorities enforcing coronavirus control measures. And in sectors of the workforce where women are overrepresented, such as the domestic work and healthcare sectors, workers have seen increases in violence, as have migrant women workers, isolated with their employers and unable to reach family and support networks.

Women's rights organizations are driving – often against immense barriers – the prevention and response efforts of GBV have often been hit by funding cuts, exactly at the time when their work is most needed. In an Oxfam survey published in June this year, over 200 women's rights organizations across 38 countries reported reduced funding and shrinking access to decision-making spaces. A third had to lay off between one to ten staff, while nine per cent had to close altogether.

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 other agencies should address violence and exploitation directed against women in the lowest paid, most precarious forms of work. They should build and extend social protection systems for informal workers, unpaid and low paid cares and ensure decent incomes for the poorest women, including trans women, and girls and LGBTQIA+ people.

Governments and funding institutions 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.


For more information and interviews, please contact Oxfam’s Media Unit on / 07748 761 999

Notes to editor:

The report The Ignored Pandemic: The Dual Crisis of Gender-Based Violence and Covid-19 and the methodology can be found here.

The data on calls to domestic/GBV helplines in ten low, middle-and high-income countries during the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic has been compiled from different UN, national and international NGO reports and government sources. The increase in call volumes is presented as a range between the lowest and highest percentage value among the different countries. In descending order, the increases are as follows:

Malaysia – 111%

Colombia – 79%

Italy – 73%

South Africa – 69%

China – 50%

Somalia – 50%

Tunisia – 43%

Cyprus – 39%

UK – 25%

Argentina – 25%

For further research on the impact on migrant and domestic workers see links below:

Human Rights Watch

Spotlight Initiative

A 2019 UN study showed almost six out of every ten women (58 per cent) intentionally killed worldwide are murdered by an intimate partner or other family member.

The 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence is an annual international campaign that runs for 16 days from 25 November, the International Day for the Elimination of violence against women, until 10 December, Human Rights Day. This year’s event marks 30 years since its first commemoration in 1991. The campaign is a platform used by organizations and activists globally to call for the prevention and elimination of violence against women and girls.

Press contact

For comments, interviews, or information please contact the Oxfam GB Media Team: