Updated: Oct 18, 2021
On Sept. 28, the United Nations Development Program released a new tracker developed to protect women and girls from the domestic violence that has increased during the COVID-19 crisis. The tracker spans across 206 countries/territories and examines government measures that: tackle violence against women, support unpaid care for their children, and strengthen women’s financial security.
Within the first few weeks of the release, results have already been released, and they report that 42 countries, one fifth (20%) of those analyzed, have no gender-sensitive measures in response to COVID-19 at all. Only 25 countries have introduced measures that cover all three areas. According to UN Women, these may include helplines, shelters, judicial responses to counter the surge in violence against women and girls, cash transfers directly targeted at women, or even the provision of childcare services or paid family and sick leave. “One of the really positive things that the tracker highlights is that many countries – 135 in total – have taken some sort of measures to respond to the surge in violence against women. We need to see those recognitions be backed up with more funding,” Silke Staab, a research specialist with UN Women, told NPR.
According to Staab, Canada has channeled up to $22.5 million toward shelters and sexual assault centers, with an additional $7.5 million in funding for a network of shelters that specifically supports indigenous women and children fleeing violence. Reports of domestic violence have surged dramatically since March around the world, as women find themselves trapped at home with their abusers.
Various countries have taken measures aimed at strengthening women’s economic security. In response to the care crisis, Argentina has increased monthly child allowance payments; Australia and Costa Rica have ensured that childcare services remain open during lockdown; Austria, Cyprus, and Italy have granted additional family leave to affected working parents; and Canada, Spain, and the Republic of Korea have introduced cash benefits for parents who are affected by school and daycare closures.
Additionally, various new recommendations have been made based on the latest data from the tracker. The findings mainly suggest that even where countries have adopted an impressive number of gender-sensitive measures, these will only be effective if they are financed and sustained over time. Therefore, some recommendations include: services to respond to and prevent VAWG must be treated as essential services and should be adequately funded/ an integral part of national and local COVID-19 response plans. Additionally, fiscal packages must be devised to ensure that women are not left out of the pandemic response and recovery.
The tracker has been implemented to file reports of domestic violence, and provide resources to facilitate change in that field. The goal is to help give the women that don’t have a support system, a resource to aid their well-being.
Meanwhile, research suggests women are also bearing the heaviest economic fallout because they’re more likely to work in jobs that lack social protections like unemployment benefits. “What we really wanted to see is how our governments respond to these challenges,” says Staab.
Other surveys have shown that women are more likely than men to report a loss of income during the pandemic. Domestic workers around the world, 80% of whom are women, according to the International Labour Organization, have been particularly hard hit. Many have found themselves dismissed or suspended without pay by employers who are now working from home or perhaps are facing their financial insecurity.
In Latin America, several countries have stepped up with noteworthy responses. Peru and Ecuador have launched public information campaigns to draw attention to the rights of domestic workers. Argentina extended paid leave to this group and an emergency relief payment of $155 every two months (although the government is now evaluating whether to continue these payments).
Only a third of countries — mainly in Europe and North America, plus Australia, New Zealand, and parts of Latin America have adopted any measures that tackle the burden of unpaid care in any way, which is not a good sign.
Most of the measures relate to paid family and sick leave during the pandemic.
Some countries, including Poland, South Korea, Italy, and the Cook Islands, are offering cash allowances or stipends to parents caring for children at home because of school and daycare closures. Spain has encouraged telework and allowed workers to adapt and reduce their work hours as necessary to care for dependents. Austria is partly subsidizing up to three weeks of care leave at full pay for employees with kids.
Staab also points to Australia’s innovative move at the start of the pandemic to keep afloat childcare centers — many of which are small, independent businesses predominantly staffed by women.
Through Teen Lenses: What are your thoughts on this new UN tracker? What new developments are you hoping/expecting to see?
“This issue with domestic violence and unemployment during COVID 19, especially for women, is a very prevalent issue that many aren’t aware of. It is very important that the UN is keeping track of these rates and urging countries to act upon solving this issue. I’m hoping to see that many countries take initiative and fund these shelters and programs which are aiding women through this.” Prisha Ray, 15, Sophomore at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, Fairfax, VA
“Even in this age, a woman’s independence is at risk. In many households, she can be expected to give up a career to pursue motherhood and be treated as subservient to her husband. The COVID pandemic has wrecked opportunities for both economic and social freedom for women — trapped at home, women have experienced far more domestic violence and financial problems than before the virus. Personally, I hope that more data on this awful problem will be collected and that we can provide opportunities for women to get the help and care that they need.” Emma Cox, 15, Sophomore at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, Fairfax, VA
“As shown in the meager efforts made by various countries around the world, there is still a long way to go in terms of assisting women in positions that are brutally impacted in COVID times. Confirmed by the new UN women’s tracker, government officials are not taking the possible initiatives present and leaping at opportunities to help those put in financial insecurity. However horrific the truth is, the tracker is providing wise insight on the progress that we have made in these long months. Therefore, I think it would be even more beneficial to include more specific solutions that are tuned to each country’s positions at the moment. Unfortunately, since we are all at different points in the progress towards easing struggles for women and essential workers, providing extra attention that can easily be translated to action through officials will result in real advancements.” Harini Ramaswamy, 15, Sophomore at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, Arlington, VA