The 'shadow pandemic' - violence against women
8 March 2021
Why gender equality matters in crisis response
The theme for the United Nations (UN) celebration of International Women’s Day, which began in 1975, is ‘Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world’.
The pandemic has highlighted both the centrality of women’s contributions in decision-making, healthcare, innovation, community organisation and effective national leadership, as well as the disproportionate burden women carry socially, economically politically and environmentally.
The theme celebrates the efforts by women and girls around the world in shaping a more equal future and recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. It also highlights the need for governments, institutions, communities and individuals to play their part in making this happen.
Petra Jenkins, the Salvos State Manager – Family Violence NSW/ACT, talks about the issue of Family and Domestic Violence (FDV), showing that gender inequality is still endemic in our communities and needs to be addressed if women and girls are to have equal opportunities, both now and in the future. Petra also highlights the work of Salvos leaders and frontline workers in FDV during lockdowns, and beyond.
The aim of violence and abuse is to create a hostile environment for women with the goal of shaming, intimidating, degrading, belittling or silencing them. Any kind of violence and misuse of power is unacceptable.
Of course, not all women are oppressed and not all men are oppressive, but violence is a gendered issue. Yes, men are killed, but rarely by women, and the evidence shows that victims of violence, and specifically murder, are far and away over-represented by women.
Sexual or gendered violence is more nuanced than family violence, and includes harassment in the workplace and public and private forums. Women are more likely than men to be abused online and judged on their opinion.
Family violence is hidden, but deadly. One or two women are killed every week and police in Australia are called to domestic abuse incidents every two minutes.
Sadly, in times of crisis, such as COVID-19 or a natural disaster, the risks of family violence increase markedly.
In the past year, Salvation Army services worked quickly to respond to the additional consequences of lockdowns.
This was essential, as isolation enabled more frequent and extreme violence, especially gender-based violence, as safe exit options diminished.
Help-seeking behaviour also changed, with calls to services increasing after midnight.
Referrals to the ‘Salvos Safer in the Home’ program – which aims to minimise the social and economic consequences of escaping family violence that may occur when forced to leave the family home – increased by five or six a day, to around 35 to 40.
Hope from tragedy
But, from the COVID-19 tragedy, also came hope.
People showed great compassion for fellow humans. People saw people. People heard people. People made choices, not just for themselves, but for others. A shared, social contract emerged, to care and protect one another.
Program managers in the FDV field led with a fierce determination to continue to offer safe options for people to leave violence.
Accountability came under the magnifying glass as case managers took the challenges in their stride and moved from face-to-face to virtual casework meetings for many months.
The Salvos geared up the workforce with the technology to work from home. Case management, emergency relief and support continued, undeterred by the virus. Masks and sanitiser were handed out in an abundance. Methodical cleaning regimes were implemented in our buildings – COVID-19 safe plans strictly followed.
The invisible, the marginalised, the diverse and those disproportionately impacted by the lack of resource sharing came into focus as we banded together to protect the community, our families and our older people.
There were positive policy changes too. The government provided funding to accommodate people sleeping on the street, resourced Family Violence services to be COVID-19 safe and reach isolated victim-survivors.
Women on temporary visas experiencing violence were given access to free medical assistance and emergency relief. Grants were offered to help FDV services to be pet inclusive and animals are now included in AVOs [apprehended violence orders]. There is also a robust debate happening right now across the political landscape on criminalising coercive control.
Community and connection
There is still a long way to go to achieve liberation from inequities, but there is hope, there is collaboration and there is unity. After lockdowns, many more people now know their neighbours’ names, which may bring a layer of protection instead of ambivalence if they hear someone yelling for help.
Community and connection fosters safety, and additional prevention measures nurture non-violence.
In my work, I see wonderful partnerships in the Salvos, a movement built on strong foundations where changing the status quo is seen as everyone’s responsibility. I see many acts of kindness in our work and I am proud to work for an organisation that promotes female leadership.
In 2021, the Salvos continue responding to meet the needs of people in hardship. The Family Violence team continues to advocate and hold accountable those who choose to use violence or abuse human rights, and we work towards a community which is safe and free from violence, modern slavery and one which challenges systemic gendered attitudes.
“The waters are rising, but so am I, I am not going under, but over,” said Catherine Booth, co-founder of The Salvation Army. She was a passionate advocate for women and girls experiencing violence and abuse. This passion, and advocacy, continues today.