Apia, Samoa – When the government first declared the COVID-19 State of Emergency lockdown in March 2020, it was expected that many things would change. The country had its first experience of SOE conditions just a few months earlier when Samoa was hit by the measles pandemic. People knew that there would be changes, but not to the level and magnitude that eventually unfolded especially in terms of domestic violence (DV) and gender-based violence (GBV).
From March to May 2020, the Spotlight Initiative worked with the Samoa Victims Support Group (SVSG) on a project offering virtual support via toll free helplines. The aim was to make these accessible to those in need, building on a survivor-centred principle and ‘do no harm’ approach. It was also to strengthen virtual response mechanisms within SVSG as an intervention against GBV and the provision of support services in the COVID-19 context.
The number of cases that came through those helplines were alarming.
With the imposition of the State of Emergency on March 22, 2020, case management data from SVSG shows that between March and May this year, reported domestic violence cases increased by 48 per cent in comparison to the same months in 2019. Cases reported include sexual, emotional, physical and verbal abuse.
It’s a problem not isolated to Samoa.
All over the world, such drastic figures have sadly become a part of the COVID-19 world as we now know it, and have given rise to a shadow pandemic – worsening violence against women and girls.
It is why the commemoration of days like the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on November 25th, and the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence campaign from November 25th to December 10th, is more important than ever.
This year’s theme, as part of the UN Secretary-General’s UNiTE Campaign, is ‘Orange the World: Fund, Respond, Prevent, Collect!’ led by our sister agency UN Women. The campaign focuses on the disproportionate impact of the COVID-19 crisis on women and girls, particularly when it comes to GBV.
“Even before COVID-19 hit, 28 percent of people thought it was justifiable for a man to beat his partner, according to UNDP’s Gender Social Norms Index. Now, as violence hides behind the closed doors of lockdowns, reports of all forms of violence - particularly domestic violence - are on the rise, with calls to helplines increasing up to fivefold,” said UNDP’s Administrator, Achim Steiner.
“COVID-19 has exposed the fractures that existed in our society long before the pandemic hit but it has also opened the door to change, including to end violence against women and girls - the most pervasive and insidious inequalities of all.”
UNDP currently supports more than 80 countries on gender as part of its Beyond Recovery, Towards 2030 response plan, including its work as part of the global Spotlight Initiative, a partnership between the European Union and the United Nations to eradicate violence against women and girls across the world.
In Samoa, UNDP continues to support efforts towards the eradication of DV and GBV through the valuable work done by organizations like SVSG and Faataua Le Ola.
“We are committed to supporting strategic efforts to put an end to this scourge in our society – DV and GBV. Our women and girls deserve to live in a world where they are safe and well protected, especially in their own homes,” said UNDP Resident Representative to Samoa, Jorn Sorensen.
Concerted efforts are needed to shine the light on this shadow pandemic in order to totally eliminate it and put it firmly in the past where it belongs to ensure a safer and better world for our women and girls.
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