A shadow pandemic

Pandemic drives surge in gender based violence across Latin America.

Even before COVID-19, Latin America had 10 of the 12 countries with the highest rates of femicide worldwide. Lockdowns across the region have helped to contain the virus but have also resulted in a situation where victims of domestic violence and abuse have nowhere to go.

Data gathered by Plan International since global stay-at-home orders began illustrate the surge in violence against women and girls. In Colombia, reports of domestic violence during lockdown have increased by 175% compared to the same period last year. In Mexico, domestic violence calls to helplines rose 60% in the first weeks of lockdown. In the Dominican Republic, the violence service of the Ministry of Women’s Affairs received 619 calls during the first 25 days of quarantine. El Salvador has seen a 70 per cent increase in reports of gender based violence. In Peru, nearly 16,500 cases of violence against women and girls were reported between March and December.

These horrifying numbers are likely a gross underestimation of the reality as the number of unreported cases of gender based violence remains high, and in many Latin American countries the systems for data collection have been overwhelmed by the pandemic.

A director at Peru’s women’s ministry admitted, “We were not prepared for the pandemic, when there’s a situation such as a pandemic or earthquake, women lose their protection. Systems for reporting and protection unravel.”

“We were not prepared for the pandemic, when there’s a situation such as a pandemic or earthquake, women lose their protection. Systems for reporting and protection unravel.”

Director, Ministry of women, Peru

In addition to Peru’s healthcare system being overwhelmed, some 400 government-run shelters for abused women were forced to closed due to social distancing measures. It has taken nearly a year for the shelters to be classified as an essential service, allowing them to reopen.

Other countries are faced with similar challenges when it comes to their infrastructure to manage gender based violence. According to Al Jazeera, 590 police forces in Colombia lack basic infrastructure, like the internet, to take domestic violence calls.

A renowned psychologist in Mexico believes the answer lies in good data and education, “The genesis of violence is fear and there is no one in this pandemic who is not facing fear. Statistically, it is clear that the trend is increasing but we are not seeing the full picture because we only see the stats through a crime dimension and not a violence one. To tackle the latent and current violence against women and young girls, we must catch adolescents in the range of secondary education to change their beliefs about parenthood, sexuality and roles.”

“The genesis of violence is fear and there is no one in this pandemic who is not facing fear.”

Renowned psychologist, Mexico

The surge in gender based violence has led international groups to work with authorities, police forces, the private sector and local communities to tackle the issue. Progress has been limited though and a long-term solution must involve government, legislation and enforcement.


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