ISTANBUL/ROME (Reuters) – Women around the world on Wednesday marked International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, highlighting how lockdowns due to the pandemic had left many trapped with their abusers and exposed to greater danger.
The United Nations said that since the outbreak of COVID-19, all types of violence against women and girls, particularly domestic violence, had intensified, with shelters at capacity and helplines in some places seeing a five-fold rise in calls.
“Men’s violence against women is also a pandemic – one that pre-dates the virus and will outlive it. It too needs our global, coordinated response and enforceable protocols. It too affects vast populations of all ages,” said UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka in a statement.
Last year, 243 million women and girls experienced sexual or physical violence from their partner. This year, reports of increased domestic violence, cyberbullying, child marriages, sexual harassment and sexual violence have flooded in, she added.
In the Turkish city of Istanbul, several hundred people gathered to protest against domestic violence against women.
One woman taking part, who declined to give her name, said: “The law does not protect women as it should. We are here to make our voice heard. There are femicides happening almost every day in this country but people who are committing the crime are walking free.”
In Italy, protesters gathered outside parliament bearing banners reading “If they touch one (of us), they touch all” and “Women are not toys”.
Italy went through one of the world’s strictest lockdowns between March and May and last month introduced new restrictions.
Its quarantine is creating conditions for increased murders of women by family members in the same home, according to a study by the Italian Economic and Social Research Institute.
“We have witnessed an increase in domestic violence during confinement measures,” said protester Serena Freddi. “This shows the home is still a place of conflict and violence for women.”
Spain held a minute’s silence for murdered women on Wednesday and in Portugal, the OMA observatory, which monitors femicide, said so far in 2020 30 women had been murdered, half of them victims of domestic violence.
The country’s Interior Minister Eduardo Cabrita said there was a 6% drop in the number of complaints about violence in the first 10 months of 2020 from a year ago, which he said was a worrying sign that women were struggled to access help during lockdown.
The government launched a video campaign called #ISurvived, which warns of the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and hopes to spread the word about support available to victims of domestic violence.
In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel said in her weekly podcast, “statistically, every 45 minutes a woman in our country is attacked by her current or former partner. These are the cruel facts. Every single case tells a horrible story…We must never look the other way when girls or women are threatened with violence or attacked.”
(Reporting by Umit Bektas in Istanbul, Sabine Siebold in Berlin, Catrina Demony in Lisbon, Giselda Vagnoni in Rome and Belen Carreno in Madrid; Writing by Alexandra Hudson; Editing by Mike Collett-White)