Domestic violence is a pandemic within a pandemic

UN Women Ukraine Report on Coronavirus Impact

(Published by Hromadske International on 11 April 2020)

Ukraine has seen a 30% rise in calls to the domestic violence helpline since the start of the nationwide quarantine. The increase of domestic violence is not unique to Ukraine – the same can be seen in Spain, Italy, and France.

But, in general, the country has more gender inequality and sexism than its more western neighbors.

What also makes Ukraine’s situation unique, according to Dominika Stojanoska, a representative from UN Women Ukraine, is that, unlike the global rating of 70% health and social sector employees being female, Ukraine has 82%. 

“We say we’re all under the same situation (with COVID-19, -ed.) when in reality, we’re not because the pandemic is impacting differently, men and women. And we’re seeing that from how the pandemic is expanding,” Stojanoska says. 

“People with disabilities, refugees, migrants, internally displaced people, all elderly, single mothers, and single fathers [are affected more]… However, it impacts heavily, more disproportionately women first – in the health sector, like the frontline workers.”

Hromadske spoke with Stojanoska about the impact of the coronavirus on women in Ukraine, the increase in domestic violence, and the unfairness of work distribution between male and female partners in a family.

Everyone can get COVID-19. However, when disease and pandemics occur, certain parts of the population are more affected. Marginalized groups are more affected, existing inequalities are amplified. How does that happen? And why is that?

You’re correct. The pandemic that we’re all living in, we say we’re all under the same situation when in reality, it’s not because the pandemic is impacting differently, men and women and we’re seeing that coming from how the pandemic is expanding. 

In particular, we’re saying that it will impact its inequalities, in particular, those who are more vulnerable – and I’m talking about different categories of citizens. So people with disabilities, refugees, migrants, internally displaced people, all elderly, single mothers, and single fathers. So it really impacts but what we’re seeing is that, however, it impacts heavily more disproportionately women first, in the health sector, like the frontline workers. Globally, we know that 70% of those engaged in the health and social sector are women. In Ukraine, 82% of those in health and social services are women. So those are our frontline workers for most explosive risks, to get infected, and actually the statistics we’re getting from Spain, from Italy, actually that the frontline workers, women, among them, women are more likely because they’re more present. But that’s an increased risk in the first place. 

But on the other it’s also additional stress because of the paid and unpaid work. This is their engagement in the phone line workers in paid work. But then they pass… 

Let me interrupt you for a minute. This difference between paid and unpaid labor might not be familiar to all of our viewers. Could you explain that quickly before you go on?

Yes, we’re talking about all the domestic work. Women are all the care work, women are taking care of the homes. That’s what we call unpaid. It’s something that we used to say it’s the work we all need for to continue what the formal economy needs to survive on meaning all the work here work for children cooking, cleaning, cooking, washing, everything that we need to go on. And we’re saying that we’re considering these in unpaid care work. And that’s what the full economy moves on, actually. So now with the pandemic and with the quarantine, the lockdown, we see that the unpaid go work really disproportionately affects women. Either working women or not working women, the care work increases because of the closure of schools. But anyway everybody needs to go on. And that’s it differently if we were saying that before the pandemic, women used to work three times more and doing the unpaid care work. Now with the pandemic these increases even more. And not only working the usual work, but also now taking care of children, thinking about the homeworks. And this is because of the existing gender stereotypes and the political social roles that we have. So the domestic work is on women and it’s undervalued and it’s unrecognized. And that it exists, although it exhausts women, so that’s also a fact. So we’ve seen with a pandemic increasing…

Well, if the economy depends on this labor and women are working even more, if it was, like you said three times more, four and five times more, how can the women hold this out? What’s happening and what’s happening specifically in Ukraine?

Well,  it’s happening everywhere, actually. And it is a huge burden. And we see even the negative consequences: people losing their job. Now, with the pandemic, it’s difficult for everyone. It’s particularly difficult for women, they have more unstable jobs. So if they’re losing their jobs, they have less savings. So they have to still continue carrying out that unpaid care work and we’re seeing the rate of domestic violence increase. It increases in countries, which are heavily affected by COVID, but, also, we have the initial data coming from Ukraine.

After the lockdown, we saw a 30% increase in calling the helpline, so it happens. It is a strain on women. And what we are advocating now is to think about the immediate consequences of the COVID, so protecting the health care workers, the frontline workers, giving them the conditions to be able to continue to do their work, but also think about the effects, the immediate effects, how to protect [women] from what is happening as a consequence of the lockdown and the quarantine.

And then we’re strongly advocating to really consider services for support for domestic violence survivors – not even survivors, I would say, victims – now to be declared and considered as essential and to have the funding to the government from either public or private funds to be able for them to run. Because we’re saying domestic violence is a pandemic within a pandemic now. We used to say that domestic, gender-based violence was a global pandemic. And now we actually have a pandemic in a pandemic. So, these services are essential because they’re life-saving. 

We’re in our first week of a stricter lockdown here in Ukraine. In Italy, France, and Spain after two weeks, there was an increase in domestic violence, reports, and calls to helpline. That means we’re coming up on this point. Traditionally, women don’t have that strong of a voice in Ukrainian politics, there’s not that many women involved in politics. Is the Zelenskyy administration or the parliament doing anything to plan for this problem, this domestic violence problem that’s bound to happen also in Ukraine?

Actually, with the latest elections, we saw an increase in the representation of women in the Ukrainian parliament, which is a very positive sign. We also have the Equal Opportunity focus in the parliament who has a large membership, is very well aware of the consequences of the COVID. And, actually, in our regular communication, we do have talks about what is the role of the parliament, how to raise awareness, and how to make sure that the packages, the stimulus, fiscal packages, which are there, the social protection forces take into account what actually is happening and the consequences. And the call is really – and the advocacies of the United Nations – is toward the government to make the women’s voices and consider the importance of the work women are doing in community, even online work, even teleworking. But it’s an important voice and the perspective definitely needs to be included in the overall response. So the United Nations are actually supporting that and advocating. We are seeing now, since yesterday (April 9 – ed.), the global brief from the United Nations’ Secretary General was actually promoted and launched to pay attention, calling upon the governments to take into account the consequences on gender equality and the risk of increasing the inequalities and the gaps, as a consequence of the COVID, and to take a differentiated approach in response to the crisis. Like, different from what we had during the crisis in 2008. To make gender equality the center and include women’s voices in that. And the Ukrainian society has a very, very vibrant civil society where women are very much engaged – even since the beginning of the crisis, and we regularly are in communication with civil society organizations. They have been very active in reaching out to the networks of women and understanding what is the strain on them and what are the actual immediate consequences they’re facing. Many of them have launched already small ground support to really support the immediate needs. But, in any way, the overall planning of the consequences of the crisis and the fiscal stimulus, and the response for recovery, needs to take into account the perspective of women. And there’s a lot there that can be contributed to the overall response from the government.

/Interview by Kari Odermann

/Text by Maria Romanenko

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