COVID-19 is exposing and exacerbating gender inequalities around the world. For many, the root cause of violence against women and girls is gender inequality - the unequal power relations between women and men, and the systems and social norms that perpetuate them. With this in mind, the recent quarantine measures imposed as a response to the pandemic are putting girls and women at heightened risk of violence in the home, and cutting them off from essential protection services and social networks.
Over the past three weeks, it has been reported that there has been a considerable increase in calls to domestic violence hotlines. Whilst we are lucky enough to have various hotline services available, many women who find themselves at home with an abuser will find it much more difficult to make a call.
Similarly, in Kenya, the current restrictions imposed make it much harder to report abuse and seek help. Schools are generally safe spaces for girls as they provide a channel through which violations can be reported and subsequent action taken. According to Kenyan government data, 45% of women and girls aged 15 to 49 have experienced physical violence, and 14% have experience sexual violence, emphasising how domestic abuse is a daily reality for women and girls across Kenya.
This pandemic is wreaking havoc around the world, not only because it is a global health crisis, but because it has shut down the key places for safeguarding girls and women from sexual and labor exploitation, human trafficking, female genital mutilation, early pregnancy, and forced marriage. These unequal power relations are deeply embedded in society, and are the driving force of violence, which can so easily be exacerbated when they cannot escape their reality. As such, the impact of COVID-19 will have far-reaching and devastating consequences for households across the continent, particularly where there is minimal social welfare provision available.