Editorial: Exposing the 'shadow pandemic'

·3 min read

FALLING through the cracks in the delivery of government services, women are vulnerable to and at risk of violence as victims of the “shadow pandemic” arising from the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19).

The United Nations (UN) Women terms as a “shadow pandemic” the heightening of violence committed against women under the pandemic. Before the pandemic, 243 million women, or one in three women worldwide, experience physical or sexual violence from an intimate partner.

As reported by Jyle Rachelle Aguilar of St. Theresa’s College in SunStar Cebu on March 9, the nearly 58-percent decrease of cases of violence against women (VAW) reported in 2020 compared to 2019 is caused by constraints of personnel in reaching out to women and swab test requirements for new clients.

The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) 7 recorded only 124 VAW cases in 2020, compared to 214 cases in 2019.

The possible underreporting of VAW cases should alarm stakeholders as this implies that the program for the protection and promotion of the welfare of women has slipped in government priorities.

The same SunStar Cebu report pointed out the shifting of the deployment of personnel and partners once from monitoring and intervening in VAW to assisting in measures pushed to the frontline by the pandemic, such as the distribution of the Social Amelioration Program (SAP) and the manning of checkpoints.

Reduced mobility of the public and suspension of in-person classes also affected partnerships with civil society that are crucial for sustaining the government’s VAW program.

Shelters, counseling centers, schools and parishes closed or put on hold outreach and extension programs.

In the pandemic, it is crucial for the DSWD and its partners to revitalize essential services for the protection of women from violence.

According to the DSWD 7 women’s sector focal person Lilibeth Cabiara, the pandemic heightens the “possibilities and factors for women to experience violence” due to increased “unemployment, decreased alternatives for income,” and prolonged quarantine at home and in the community.

A year after the government first implemented the enhanced community quarantine, continuing economic and social displacements only worsen the vulnerabilities of women. Aside from living with outbreaks of violence from men forced to stay home after losing their livelihood, many women have little or no sources of funds that they can use to escape abusers or predators they live with.

Many women work in the informal sector, which was hit hard by the community quarantine, curfew, work-from-home arrangements and other economic and social adjustments made during the pandemic. Cramped living conditions and isolation with abusers exacerbate tensions arising from financial, health and other domestic trials.

Finding local government aid and SAP insufficient to meet daily needs, specially with several dependents to feed and provide for, many women may cope by denying or disregarding the abuse perpetuated on them. Even before the pandemic, changing a victim’s mindset and reporting an abuser to the authorities are major psychological obstacles to hurdle for VAW survivors.

Lacking the financial means to break away from financial and mental dependence on an abuser is a constraint worsened by the Covid-19 pandemic. It does not help VAW survivors that the Department of Health requires swab testing for new clients approaching the DSWD for assistance.

With no sign that the pandemic and the recession are easing up, stakeholders must intensify services for vulnerable women, including those who contact online human traffickers, using their selves or their young as commodities.

Communities and local governments, particularly at the barangay and sitio levels, must campaign to inform and educate women and youths that services are accessible to help them expose, resist and conquer VAW.