Women must not pay the price for COVID-19! Good practice examples to prevent further risk to victims of male violence

In the current global context of the COVID-19 pandemic, the European Women's Lobby (EWL) recognizes the significant and long-term impacts this health crisis will have for all across Europe and beyond, and that this will disproportionately be shouldered by women and girls. This is why EWL members across Europe and EWL's Brussels-based secretariat have come together to draft the policy brief: 'Women must not pay the price for COVID-19'. Our paper sets out the key calls to action for all European Member States and the European Commission. This paper is available in the following languages: English, French, Italian, Portuguese, Romanian, Spanish. This policy brief recognizes that the deepest impact of the crisis will be on women and girls, and particularly on those who face multiple forms of discrimination on the basis of sex, compounded with other factors including race or ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, age, sexual orientation, class, and/or migration status.

Governments must ensure that protection services and mechanisms are in place and running to support all women and girls who are victims of male violence and exploitation. Now is the time to implement more fully than ever the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, the Istanbul Convention.

Good practice examples to prevent further risk to victims of male violence

Strong measures should be taken by EU Member States to reinforce systems and services to protect women and girls against violence. Below are several examples collected from our member organisations and experts on The EWL Observatory on Violence against Women and Girls

In Austria, the Federal Minister for Women and Integration decided on the expansion of financial support for women and girls affected by violence in times of the crises2. In Germany the Federal Minister for Women's Rights together with her colleagues in the 16 Federal States agreed upon a package of 10 immediate measures to increase the protection from men's violence against women and girls3. It is also imperative that, as in Spain4, services for support and protection of victims of male violence are declared an essential service so that they can keep running at the same capacity during the crisis. In Spain, new space for emergency shelters has also been made available in response to the crisis5. Any additional measures must be wide- ranging and not only rely on digital solutions, as access is not guaranteed; particularly, in cases of intimate partner violence where digital tools or restricted access to digital technologies is an aspect of psychological violence. In Spain and France, a campaign has been launched to advertise an alert mechanism for women to seek help in pharmacies6. In Ireland, policing services are reaching out to former victims of domestic violence to ensure their wellbeing7. In Italy, Telefono Rosa, an Italian anti-violence NGO, reported a decrease of 55.1% of calls in the first two weeks of March compared to those of the same period last year. A special app has been developed in order to provide women the opportunity to get immediately in touch with law enforcement units without having to call the helpline.

Awareness raising campaigns should be developed and targeted to victims of different forms of violence, as is already happening in a number of Member States, to ensure that they have information about the services that they can access for emergency protection and support8. These campaigns, run in cooperation with women's NGOs, should reiterate that prosecution and protection measures are still being applied by law enforcement units despite the exceptional circumstances. In Italy, the government has promoted a media campaign to stress the permanent functioning of helplines and shelters. Law enforcement units should make clear that they are still operating and are especially attentive to the early identification of women victims. Protection measures (such as emergency barring orders and restraining and protection orders) against the perpetrators should still be issued9. Suspension or delay of court proceedings are causing significant distress to victims as the abusers are not held accountable. Court proceedings for cases of male violence should be granted to ensure access to justice and avoid risk of re-victimisation. In the longer term, we must use this moment to recognise that our current political responses have been insufficient in recognising the inequality, harassment and violence so many women face on a daily basis. To ensure Governments never again leave women and girls in such situations of risk and vulnerability, we must work together between political partners, frontline services, advocacy groups and most importantly, those affected, to ensure adequate realisation of the provisions in the Istanbul Convention10, and go even further to bring an end to systematic male violence against women and girls.

EWL's recommendations for solidarity, care and transformation

It is only through working together that we can realise the urgently needed responses being sought by millions of women and girls across the European region. We need to ensure that this moment of transformative change turns the lessons from a global moment of crisis into an opportunity for greater equality and empowerment for all. The response plan and framework for redesign and renewal after this unprecedented crisis must be constructed in a spirit of solidarity and mutual support throughout the EU, ensuring that all women and girls rights are respected regardless of where they live.

Recommendations to EU Member States and European Commission:

  • Emergency responses must be grounded in women's rights and incorporate a gender perspective in the design and implementation of services which draw on accurate and streamlined sex-disaggregated data, ensuring there is a clear end-date to any restriction to human rights during this crisis period.
  • All risks of women and girls against male violence must be acknowledged and protection services and mechanisms must be in place, fully funded and running to support all women victims:
  • Shelters, health and financial services for homeless women, asylum seeking women, victims of male violence and those affected by prostitution must remain open with the appropriate measures taken to protect women and workers from the spread of the virus. Where needed, agencies should receive funding to support the development of decentralised helplines to ensure services are accessible for all persons and not disrupted due to isolation measures.
  • Awareness raising campaigns should be developed and targeted to victims of different forms of violence. Campaigns should also target potential abusers, highlighting that prosecutions for male violence will continue to be made.
  • Law enforcement units should be especially attentive to the early identification of victims and protection measures (such as emergency barring orders, rest and recovery periods and restraining and protection orders) must continue to be enforced.
  • European Commission continues working for the EU accession to the Istanbul Convention, and urgently proposes a Directive on preventing and combating all forms of violence against women and girls to align with existing relevant EU legislation and strengthen measures to disrupt the full continuum of violence, aligned with the Istanbul Convention and including sexual exploitation, tackling both online and offline violence.

See EWL publication https://womenlobby.org/IMG/pdf/ewl_policy_brief_on_covid-19_impact_on_women_and_girls-2.pdf
In view of the increased risk of male violence against women, temporary accommodation for victims has been arranged by the Government in hotel rooms or touristic apartments not in use at the moment.
See example of the Mask-19 campaign in Spain and France, a coded word women can use to seek for help in pharmacies as one of the few social spaces women in abusive situations could access.
Further information here.
France, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Turkey.
9 In France they have ensured that Emergency barring orders, restraining and protection orders against the perpetrators were to be continued despite the lockdown measures.
10 Online petition Rise Up Against Violence

2020-08-20 by Laura Albu, Vice president - European Women's Lobby, member in Advisory Board of IMPRODOVA