Gender-based violence is a global problem. Figures from the World Health Organization show that during their lifetime, one woman in three will experience gender-based violence in forms including physical, sexual, emotional, and other family violence, as well as female genital mutilation (FGM), child marriage, early childbearing, trafficking, and sexual violence as a weapon of war.
Since COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization on 11 March 2020, violence against women and girls (VAWG) has continued and even increased in all of its forms—a shadow pandemic exacerbated by restrictions that have placed as much as half of the world’s population in lockdown measures.
While an important tool in the fight against the pandemic, these restrictions have increased risk factors for VAWG, including food shortages, unemployment, economic insecurity, school closures, massive migration flows, and the threat of civil unrest. This is resulting in alarming increases in violence including all forms of domestic violence and harmful practices such as FGM and forced marriages. At the same time, services that respond to VAWG have often been forced to pause activities or operate under reduced funding.
Across Africa some of the statistics have been particularly stark; in Liberia, there was a 50% increase in gender-based violence in the first half of the year, Nigeria also reported an increase in sexual violence and Kenya reported that almost 4,000 schoolgirls had become pregnant during the time when schools were closed.
Today (25 November 2020) is the first day of the annual worldwide campaign ‘16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence.’ The campaign is coordinated by the Center for Women’s Global Leadership (CWGL) and runs for 16 days each year beginning on 25 November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, until 10 December, Human Rights Day. It calls for organizations and governments around the world to unite in the fight against violence and uses the color orange as a visual representation of its work.
The 2020 campaign has a particular focus on the informal economy and the women who work in it, who have seen their lives and livelihoods acutely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. It will focus on six sectors where women work and experience violence and discrimination: domestic workers, home-based workers, street vendors, agricultural workers, waste-pickers, and sex workers. It also calls for the ratification of C190 – the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) Violence and Harassment Convention. 2020 is also an important milestone for gender equality and work to end VAWG—it is the 25th anniversary of the adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. While much progress has been made, there is an imperative to accelerate steps to end violence as former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf discussed earlier this year.
Over the next 16 days, we will be using our platform to raise awareness of VAWG and the increased prevalence of violence during the COVID-19 pandemic, highlighting African organizations and women activists who campaign against gender-based violence. We will also continue to highlight the work of our Amujae Leaders, who have responded to the impact of the pandemic in their own communities, and its particular effects on women.
Learn more about the ‘16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence’ campaign here.