One of the most tragic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic is the reported increase in sexual and gender-based violence. Recent global and regional reports have shown that the pandemic has led to increased violence against girls and women, in particular, domestic violence and harmful traditional practices, including Female Genital Mutilation(FGM) and early marriage.
To understand the impact COVID-19 is having on women, the UN Women Regional Office for Arab States partnered with RIWI Corp. to conduct a web-based survey in nine countries in the region.
The survey showed that women in the region spend on average 4.7 times more hours conducting unpaid care and domestic work than men. Additionally, an increasing number of women in the region report feeling unsafe in their homes since the outbreak of the pandemic. Among those who report feeling unsafe, at least 1 in 5 women expressed fears related to domestic violence.
These regional findings are alarming and encourageus to tackle gender-based violence immediately and even more effectively. The current 16 Days of Activism Campaign is an important opportunity to place the fundamental “right of safety” for women and girls at the core of our work, to effectively address gender-based violence and find urgently needed, effective measures to eliminate what UN Secretary-General António Guterres has called the “shadow pandemic.”
The 16 Days of Activism Campaign runs every year from 25 November, which is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, to 10 December, Human Rights Day.
The campaign is focused on raising awareness of the impacts and repercussions of gender-based violence on women, as well as on family members, society, and entire nations.
To achieve concrete results and to ensure that women and girls have their most fundamental right to safety fulfilled, we need to work together, including improved actions to support survivors of gender-based violence. Governments, together with development stakeholders, must increase their efforts to listen to the voices of survivors.
There are many ways to support survivors, not just by facilitating them to safely report crimes committed at police stations, but also strengthening hotline reporting systems and digital platforms that enable victims and survivors to report what has happened to them.
Supporting survivors requires families, peers, and communities be responsible for lifting survivors up and supporting them to come forward, to have a voice, to access services, and to seek justice.
Despite the challenges, the pathways to progress are promising. Globally, approximately 20% of countries and territories do not have gender-sensitive measures related to COVID-19.
Yet in Egypt, the Government has ensured that 55.3% of measures taken in response to the pandemic are gender sensitive. This includes measures that target women’s economic security; address unpaid care work; and ensurethe continued response to, and monitoring of, Gender-Based Violence (GBV) in the country.
Egypt is among only two countries in the Arab States region that have taken measures to improve the collection and use of data focused on violence against women in the COVID-19 context.
At the Global level, Egypt is a lead signatory of a recently adopted UN General Assembly Resolution on strengthening the rapid response to the impact of COVID-19 on women and girls.
Over the years, and throughout the pandemic, the Government of Egypt has worked closely with the United Nations family and development stakeholders to ensure that national policy actions are taken to advance gender equality in government programmes and policies, as well as fighting to end violence against women.
The commitment to fighting all forms of violence against women and girls is manifested through the integration of gender focused measures into COVID-19 responses and fiscal stimulus packages.
Indeed, it is crucial to enforce existing legislation to address gender-based violence – including sexual violence – to protect women and girls and to effectively investigate and prosecute perpetrators.
Recent regulatory measures adopted by Egypt during the COVID-19 outbreak to protect the anonymity of survivors of sexual violence arean example of the measures required world-wide to support survivors’ access to justice.
To ensure that these actions are achieving results on the ground, we need to act responsibly and ensure that we are leaving no one behind by considering a survivor-centred approach. This means that all support mechanisms including healthcare, mental health support, legal aid, victim advocates, and protection and justice mechanisms should be effective and accessible to anyone exposed to this horrendous form of violence.
Most importantly, GBV will not end unless we educate ourselves and others about it; the first line of prevention is education. We need to create space for all voices to be heardand educate people about GBV and its harm to the whole community. Additionally, we need to educate ourselves and others about our responsibility as a community to stop this most egregious form of gender-based discrimination.
#OrangetheWorld and the lighting of the Great Pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx in orange is a message to the whole world that violence against women and girls is unacceptable, and that Egypt is playing a leading role in changing the global dialogue around violence against women.
*Richard Dictus is The United Nations Resident Coordinator in Egypt