Covid-19 lockdown and the abuse of women

July 8, 2020


The coronavirus is a strenuous threat to human life which has forced the world to put in place the unprecedented restrictive measures in an effort to curb the spread of the pandemic.

The restrictive measures have long and short term physical and psychological effects to human life.

The Covid-19 lockdown has devastating effects to vulnerable population such as young women and adolescent girls. The Covid-19 pandemic lockdown provides an enabling environment that may exacerbate or spark diverse forms of violence, can increase child marriage, unwanted pregnancies, child prostitution, and sexual exploitation of women.

The Covid-19 pandemic has created risky environments on vulnerable groups. The impact on women and adolescent girls spans from economic halt, reproductive health, and bargaining house power leading to gender-based violence.

The violence is precipitated by lack of basic needs such as food, soap and basic services. The abuse committed by men, is deeply rooted in patriarchal social norms that forces women to face “tragic choices” of transactional sex, mainly caused by vicious cycle of power and control of men.

The coronavirus lockdown has increased episodes of intimate violence. Perpetrators under this crisis might want to reassert their control and express their frustrations. It is estimated that the sudden declaration of the pandemic lockdown has trapped breadwinners unaware causing anger, anxiety, frustration and emotions.

These psychological challenges are then displaced to weaker individuals such as women and children. It is believed that a hungry man is always
an angry man.

Globally, 30 percent of people believe it is justifiable for a man to abuse his partner. Cases of domestic violence have doubled during this lockdown in countries like Argentina, Brazil, Canada, China, Cyprus, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the United States, South Africa, Zimbabwe and many more.
Confined at home is a good way to mitigate to the spread of coronavirus but it also creates a window for abuse.

The abuse against women and adolescent girls carry regional variations with the prevalence being higher in Africa.

Research has statistically pointed that, 1 in 3 women worldwide have experienced physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner or other perpetrators in their lifetime.

The closure of schools has created a double-edged sword for women
ranging from protecting themselves, protecting children from the
deadly coronavirus and looking for food and other basic necessities for
the whole family.

The sudden cut of sources of income has led to the ramification of mental health challenges and these psychological problems can be seen instantly while others resurface as post traumatic disorders.

The Covid-19 has forced women to make difficult decisions of how to use their limited resources to sustain the family, and others being forced to resort to negative risk mechanisms such as engaging in transactional sex.
There are series of factors that led to women’s abuse which are poverty,
unemployment, economic dependency, patriarchy, food insecurity,
cultural beliefs and the environmental conditions. For instance the
Covid-19 lockdown environment is a trapping situation which can
trigger women and adolescent girls’ abuse.

The most recorded different forms of abuse against women are physical, sexual, emotional and controlling behaviours by intimate partner. According to the UN, the violence against women and girls is referred as the “shadow pandemic”.

This means it needs an international solutions. These abuses can erode
self-esteem, causing injuries, disabilities, depression, and drug and alcohol abuse. Sexual abuse for instance can result in unintended pregnancy,
sexually transmitted infections and miscarriages.

Poverty caused by the lockdown has pressed women to resort to transactional sex so as to meet their basic needs.

The closure of schools precipitates high risks of early marriages, sexual abuse, unwanted pregnancy and contraction of sexual transmission diseases.

Schools serve as safe spaces for many vulnerable children where they can be empowered of sexual education. Covid-19 lockdown measure emerged unintentionally and it has created precarious environments to adolescent girls who were supposed to be at school and are spending a lot of time locked with potential abusers.

During the lockdown adolescent girls spent more time locked with
‘would-be perpetrators’ daily which put them at high risk of sexual
abuse. Chances are high that cases of abuse and violence that emerged
during the lockdown might be underreported due to accessibility of
services, shame, stigma, and fear of repercussions, among other reasons.

Adolescence is a transitional period of rapid physical, psychological and social development. Due to physical and hormonal changes adolescent girls tends to be experimental with their body which makes them to be more vulnerable to abuse especially when they are confined indoors during the Covid-19 lockdown.

The hormonal secretion triggers adolescent girls to behave in a certain manner which could lure the abusive lens of “would-be” perpetrators who are more likely to be their relatives. Research in Zimbabwe shows that most perpetrators of child abuse are their relatives who use different techniques such as using threats and pornography to convince the girls to indulge in sexual activities.

Therefore due to dynamics of the pandemic it is prudent to have effective engagement, coordination and cooperation among a wide range of
sectors and actors. It is the duty of community psychologists to capacitate the communities of the potential risks which can be encountered
during the restrictive measures.

The current pandemic has the potential to reshape the community
mindset to adapt to the coronavirus environment, to have basic lens of
equality, doubling down on investing in grassroots structure and empowering vulnerable people.

More fundamentally, the crisis is a stark reminder that community mental health professionals such as community psychologists are of importance during disaster. Action is a reflection of mental processes, therefore it is important to change the people’s mind.

Dzingirayi and Munyeza are lecturers at Women’s University in Africa, Psychology Department.
They write in their personal capacity.

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