Tomorrow is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, as well as the start of the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence (GBV)—an international campaign to raise awareness about GBV and call for change. It is important to recognize that during the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been another global pandemic—the “shadow pandemic”—of increased violence against women that has largely been overlooked. 

This blog will explore this silent pandemic within a pandemic, what is needed to address this issue, and how you can spread the message of the 16 Days of Activism campaign today and every day.

The Connection Between COVID-19 and the Uptick in Intimate Partner Violence (IPV)

Before COVID-19 hit, violence against women and girls was already a significant issue that affected one in three women around the globe. In 2019, 243 million women and girls around the world were abused by an intimate partner. Of these 243 women and girls, 40% did not seek help or report it. 

In Canada, every six days a woman is killed by her intimate partner. According to police-reported data from 2019, 79% of the 107,810 people aged 15 and over who experienced IPV were women. As in previous years, the rate of IPV among women was more than 3.5 times higher than the rate among men (536 versus 149 per 100,000). 

With the stay-at-home mandates put in place at the onset of COVID-19, the United Nations reported several factors that could increase GBV, including:

  • Increased economic stressors
  • More toxic and abusive relationships
  • The home not always being a safe place to be for women experiencing GBV
  • Decreased access to formal and informal support systems

COVID-19 has also increased the health inequities that continue to make health and social services inaccessible to many, including access to GBV healthcare, safe and secure housing, and social services. All the previously mentioned challenges add to existing service pressures and high demand for support within the violence against women sector in Canada. 

By October 2021, 52 countries integrated preventing and responding to violence against women and girls into their COVID-19 response.

What is Needed to Address This Issue?

As an urgent response during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Canadian violence against women sector quickly opened outreach hotels to respond to the chronic, silent pandemic of GBV. This band-aid solution worked immediately, but as COVID-19 restrictions and measures were lifted and the temporary shelters closed, one is left to wonder what long-term measures need to be considered amid a housing and shelter crisis? 

Housing prices have started to rise again. There was a small decline during COVID-19, but now prices have resumed their increase. Consequently, those on social assistance struggle even more creating a horrible cycle of homelessness for women and children who are in precarious housing and fleeing GBV. 

Even amid the housing market crisis and inflation, Ontario Works and Ontario Disability Support Program payments and minimum wage remain stagnant, which is unsustainable with inflation. Women and children fleeing violence are physically and emotionally burdened by poverty, and economic dependency forces them back into the hands of their abusers. 

Supporting women in securing safe accommodations in the community is paramount, but equally important is ensuring women are able to keep their housing. It is imperative that IPV support strategies move beyond band-aid solutions and look for strategies that address the systemic barriers that continue to prevent women from becoming economically independent. 

There is a need for a better funding system that supports housing sustainability. Long-term, sustainable change requires a meaningful commitment. Funding needs to be directed in a way that allows organizations to be flexible in how they use the funds provided. When it comes to supporting women, flexibility is essential. Violence follows women, and often women must leave multiple times to find another “safe haven” once they lose their housing. 

Sixteen Days of Activism and Beyond

November 25th has been designated as a day dedicated to ending violence against women and girls and marks the beginning of the 16 Days of Activism. One step toward ending GBV is ensuring that women and children have access to safe housing. This can be achieved by joining the UNiTE campaign to Orange the World. The #OrangeTheWorld campaign launched in 2008, with orange symbolizing a brighter future without violence. This year, the theme chosen by the Canadian Government for the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence is ‘It’s Not Just’. This theme aims to remind Canadians of the injustice of gender-based violence, which is dismissed, minimized, and ignored by society. 

In acknowledging gender-based violence as a systemic issue, all Canadians can and should take action to stop it. Strategies to mitigate COVID-19 did not end GBV. Instead, these strategies exacerbated the gaps and intersections in the violence against women sector that need to be addressed. In the words of Audre Lorde “There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.”