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Ground Truth Briefing | A Pandemic of Violence: A Global Discussion of COVID-19 and Gender-Based Violence

On May 28, the Wilson Center convened a panel of experts for a global discussion of gender-based violence during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Date & Time

May. 28, 2020
2:00pm – 3:00pm ET


As governments around the world impose lockdowns and encourage social distancing to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, a shadow pandemic has emerged. Reports of domestic and intimate-partner violence have spiked, and already femicide rates are rising in some parts of the world. Yet even as the pandemic has increased the incidence of violence, it has simultaneously hampered prevention and protection efforts, including reduced access to law enforcement, social services and healthcare for women. On May 28, the Wilson Center convened a panel of experts for a global discussion of gender-based violence during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

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Selected Quotes

Jane Harman

“Even before COVID-19, 243 million women and girls aged 15 to 49 have been subjected to sexual and/or physical violence in the last year. This is outrageous and must be stopped.”

Alison Brysk

“Some of the identified drivers, or triggers, at the national, community, and individual level [of gender-based violence] include economic stress, crowding, and isolation… Even at the individual psycho-social level, we see as the level of fear rises, the level of internalized violence rises. This is typical worldwide.” 

“Just as we look at the specific impact of the pandemic conditions on some of the triggers, we also have to look … at the impact of the pandemic on the availability on some of the interventions. We know clearly that policing is less available, that leadership is distracted, that legislation can’t be implemented in the same way.” 

Lea Giménez

“Home is not a safe place for many women in our region...In periods of prolonged stress and economic difficulty, the probability of violence in the home increases.  We have seen this before, for instance, in the wake of natural disasters. This is all too common. Unfortunately, this global emergency has not been an exception. The preliminary data we have been monitoring indicates an increase of domestic violence during COVID-19 in many countries; Mexico, for instance has reported a 60 percent increase in the calls related to gender-based violence. In Colombia, the domestic violence hotline has reported a 91 percent increase in call volume as compared to the same period last year. The data speaks volumes.”

“Necessary support goes beyond the persecution of abusers. It also includes providing a range of appropriate psycho-social services to help victims recover from the psychological, physical, and emotional harm they have endured. The response of families, neighbors, community members, and community organizations also play a crucial role in stopping gender-based violence.”

Merissa Khurma

“Across the MENA region, the governments and especially the … organizations working to protect and prevent such violent instances have reported an uptick in the number of calls being made to hotlines… In Lebanon, According to ABAAD, a human rights organization focused on gender equality, calls to domestic violence hotlines increased by 110 percent in March compared to the same period last year.”

“Because of the pandemic, one of the challenges we see is that women are simply not at the highest table in government, in the public sector. They’re not in positions of authority, and even more rarely are they included in national crisis management committees such as those set up [for] COVID-19, which is how, very easily, issues such as violence against women are just dropped from the agenda for action.”

Laura Dean

“Several organizations also mention the severity of the violence due to the pandemic, but it’s not just about the surge of hotline calls but also the increased level of violence and intensity of the abuse, which has resulted in numerous deaths throughout the [Eastern Europe and Eurasia] region, and it seems as if we’ve heard of those cases in Latin America and the Middle East as well.” 

“Organizations have also discussed how the police are not taking the violence seriously, and sometimes do not even respond to emergency domestic violence calls. In Russia, victims are unable to leave due to the strict lockdown measures, so in March, nine Russian NGOs working with victims of domestic violence sent a letter to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and they asked … to not hold the victims of domestic violence accountable for violating quarantine and self-isolation laws… Thankfully, earlier this week, the Ministry responded and said that victims of violence who violated the self-isolation regime in the state of emergency would not be liable.” 


Hosted By

Brazil Institute

The Brazil Institute—the only country-specific policy institution focused on Brazil in Washington—works to foster understanding of Brazil’s complex reality and to support more consequential relations between Brazilian and U.S. institutions in all sectors. The Brazil Institute plays this role by producing independent research and programs that bridge the gap between scholarship and policy, and by serving as a crossroads for leading policymakers, scholars and private sector representatives who are committed to addressing Brazil’s challenges and opportunities.  Read more

Kennan Institute

The Kennan Institute is the premier U.S. center for advanced research on Russia and Eurasia and the oldest and largest regional program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. The Kennan Institute is committed to improving American understanding of Russia, Ukraine, Central Asia, the Caucasus, and the surrounding region though research and exchange.  Read more

Latin America Program

The Wilson Center’s prestigious Latin America Program provides non-partisan expertise to a broad community of decision makers in the United States and Latin America on critical policy issues facing the Hemisphere. The Program provides insightful and actionable research for policymakers, private sector leaders, journalists, and public intellectuals in the United States and Latin America. To bridge the gap between scholarship and policy action, it fosters new inquiry, sponsors high-level public and private meetings among multiple stakeholders, and explores policy options to improve outcomes for citizens throughout the Americas. Drawing on the Wilson Center’s strength as the nation’s key non-partisan policy forum, the Program serves as a trusted source of analysis and a vital point of contact between the worlds of scholarship and action.  Read more

Maternal Health Initiative

Life and health are the most basic human rights, yet disparities between and within countries continue to grow. No single solution or institution can address the variety of health concerns the world faces. By leveraging, building on, and coordinating the Wilson Center’s strong regional and cross-cutting programming, the Maternal Health Initiative (MHI) promotes dialogue and understanding among practitioners, scholars, community leaders, and policymakers.  Read more

Mexico Institute

The Mexico Institute seeks to improve understanding, communication, and cooperation between Mexico and the United States by promoting original research, encouraging public discussion, and proposing policy options for enhancing the bilateral relationship. A binational Advisory Board, chaired by Luis Téllez and Earl Anthony Wayne, oversees the work of the Mexico Institute.   Read more

Middle East Women's Initiative

The Middle East Women's Initiative (MEWI) promotes the empowerment of women in the region through an open and inclusive dialogue with women leaders from the Middle East and continuous research.  Read more

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