EMPOWER WOMEN, EMPOWER SOCIETY!
As countries implemented lockdown measures to stop the spread of the pandemic, violence against women intensified dramatically
Even before the pandemic, violence against women and girls had reached outrageous proportions. Globally, 243 million women and girls were abused by an intimate partner in the past year, while less than 40 per cent of domestic violence survivors report it or seek help.
As countries implemented lockdown and quarantine measures to limit the spread of the coronavirus, domestic violence intensified, with some countries reporting up to five-fold increases in calls to helplines.
In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic aggravates vulnerabilities that primarily affect women who use drugs, in a context of heightened isolation and stress. It is therefore essential that harm reduction and treatment services, and domestic violence services be supported more adequately by authorities.
A vulnerable population: women who use drugs
Women who use drugs accumulate vulnerabilities and as such, they are more likely to experience violence than other women. In a time of pandemic that results in increased isolation and stress, these vulnerabilities can only be exacerbated.
Obstacles in accessing and staying in services
Women with substance use disorders (and even more so when they are also victims of violence) face many obstacles in accessing, staying and engaging in treatment or harm reduction programmes. These barriers are due to the stigma they face and the lack of a gender perspective in the design and implementation of these programmes.
Mainstreaming gender in addiction treatment services
Women who experience gender violence and substance use disorders find it difficult to address this problem effectively. The lack of gender perspective is an obstacle in their search for improved health and well-being, which is contrary to the principle of social justice.
Gender-based violence at its peak
- Calls to helplines have increased five-fold in some countries as rates of reported intimate partner violence increase because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Restricted movement, social isolation, and economic insecurity are increasing women’s vulnerability to violence in the home around the world.
- By September 2020, 52 countries had integrated prevention and response to violence against women and girls into COVID-19 response plans, and 121 countries had adopted measures to strengthen services for women survivors of violence during the global crisis, but more efforts are urgently needed.
- Globally, 6 per cent of women report they have been subjected to sexual violence from someone other than their husband or partner. However, the true prevalence of non-partner sexual violence is likely to be much higher, considering the particular stigma related to this form of violence.
- Adult women account for nearly half (49 per cent) of all human trafficking victims detected globally. Women and girls together account for 72 per cent, with girls representing more than three out of every four child trafficking victims. Most women and girls are trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation.
- Fewer than 40 per cent of the women who experience violence seek help of any sort. In the majority of countries with available data on this issue, among women who do seek help, most look to family and friends, and very few look to formal institutions, such as police and health services. Fewer than 10 per cent of those seeking help appealed to the police.
Addiction and gender-based violence
According to a United Nations progress report, the Covid-19 crisis threatens to push back the limited gains made on gender equality and exacerbate the feminization of poverty and women’s vulnerability to violence. Women who use drugs are affected most, with a prevalence of intimate partner violence higher than in the general population.
Research has pointed out a link between substance use and violence against women. This link is based on three observations:
- The prevalence of violence experienced by women who use drugs is higher than that of women in the general population,
- The prevalence of violence experienced by women who use drugs is higher than that observed among male drug users,
- Substance use disorders are more prevalent among people who have experienced violence than among those who have not.
Implementing gender-sensitive addiction programmes
There is an urgent need to rethink addiction treatment programmes and implement services that effectively and comprehensively address the needs of women with addiction problems that experience violence through a gender- and children rights-based perspective.
Gender-sensitive addiction programmes can address violence against women
One of the key elements in gender sensitive addiction services is that they specifically address the issue of gender-based violence as an initiating or aggravating factor of substance use disorders. Violence and drug use form a complex relationship which needs to be addressed in a holistic rather than fragmented manner.
Within male-dominated environments, where gender aspects are not taken into account, women who experience gender violence and substance use disorders find it difficult to address this problem effectively. The lack of gender perspective is an obstacle in their search for improved health and well-being, which is contrary to the principle of social justice.
Call to action
In this context, Dianova calls on the various national authorities to address the specific vulnerabilities and needs of women who use drugs and to take gender-based violence into account. We need to:
- Recognise addiction services as essential social and health services in order to ensure appropriate support from authorities.
- Mainstream gender in existing structures for social reintegration, harm reduction, addiction treatment and prevention
- Establish at the institutional level the conditions for effective comprehensive care for women who use substances and experience violence
- Decision makers – institutions, governments, ministries in key positions with decision-making power to carry out changes.