The United Nations calls the ongoing increase in domestic violence a “shadow pandemic” adjacent to COVID-19.
The UNFPA which stands for the U.N Sexual and Reproductive Health agency conducted a research and recently disclosed that every three months of lockdown can lead to 15 million more cases of domestic violence than the average that would have been expected¹.
Morocco is one of the countries severely afflicted by this domestic violence phenomenon. In 2019, the national survey concerning violence against women revealed that the rate in Morocco is at 54.4% and the highest prevalence rates were in the marital context. There is no doubt about the seriousness of the Shadow pandemic as a worldwide issue, but the mentioned statistical facts mean that for countries like Morocco, it makes for an even more dangerous crisis.
The Shadow pandemic
The connection between Covid-19 and a spike in domestic violence has been a widely discussed concern on an international level since the early beginning of this pandemic. The reports that came from several countries around the world quickly validated it.
In Spain, the first domestic violence tragedy during lockdown was on March 19th when a woman was killed by her husband. From the UK reports entailed that there were at least 16 domestic abuse murders between 23 March and 12 April and according to Karen Ingala Smith, the founder of Counting Dead Women that documents the number of women murdered by men in the UK , the average for the same period of time for the last 10 years has been an average of five deaths. And in China’s southern Hubei, the number of spouse violence incidents in February has tripled compared to last year, according to Jianli County Police while Beijing Community Development and Service Centre has witnessed around a 50% rise when it comes to reports of domestic abuse through their national hotline.
According to experts, this spike is not unexpected. Marcy Hersh, from Women Deliver, a global women’s right advocate stated that it is something that happens in every crisis situation. A paper published by the World Health organization on Covid19 and violence against women explained how the combination of stress brought on by emergencies and the way they disrupt the social and protective networks along with the decreased access to services during a crisis aggravates violence against women.
The UN Women Deputy Executive Director Anita Bhatia stated in an announcement that, “The very conditions that are needed to battle the disease isolation, social distancing, restrictions on freedom of movement are, perversely, the very conditions that feed into the hands of abusers who now find state-sanctioned circumstances tailor-made for unleashing abuse. Second, ensure that hotlines and services for all victims of domestic abuse are considered “essential services“ and are kept open and law enforcement is sensitized to the need to be responsive to calls from victims.”
It was during the first week of April that António Guterres, the Secretary-General of the United Nations urged governments to make sure that their policies and efforts to overcome COVID-19 had taken women’s rights in consideration, especially since now many women are stuck at home with their abusers during a time where the services they need are facing restrictions.
Morocco answered Guterres’s plea by joining the initiative to write up a declaration supporting the UN Secretary’s call. An initiative formed by the EU along with New Zealand, Argentina, Turkey, Mongolia and Namibia. The countries signing the declaration agree to make fighting domestic violence an essential element of the national and international responses to Covid-19.
The signing of the declaration is an important and positive step for Morocco. But, to understand what is currently being done in the fight against the increased marital violence we need to know how are the national women’s rights NGOs dealing with this situation since they are the front liners in this battle.
When asked about how are they handling this marital violence crisis, Nadia Nair from UAF(Union De L’Action Feminine) said that their national Annajda(SOS) centres that offer listening services, as well as psychological support and legal counselling, have been forced to close down. And that UAF has switched to offering remote services via phone calls. She also mentioned that many other Moroccan NGOs have done the same after they too had to close their centres.
Bouchra Barki, from Sayeda El Hora a regional NGO informed us that they drafted up a statement addressed to the policy-makers. The purpose of the statement is drawing attention to the sensitive position of women who now have no way to earn their bread, as well as a caution about the difficulties many of these women will face trying to access the government financial support. She also talked about the awareness and guidance approach they adopted during this crisis. During our talk, Barki was adamant about the importance of the economic factor in helping to protect these women.
Nair felt it was important to share that while NGOs are doing the best they can their efforts remain insufficient in the face of the gravity of the situation. She went on to explain that she believes it is up to the state now to provide shelters for these women who are seeking an immediate solution to their suffering. Nair was not the only one who talked about the insufficiency of the efforts that NGOs can provide. Barki too expressed her concern about this particular point.
During our talk, Halima Arabi from UAF started by telling us the spike was something that has been noted in Morocco to later express that she hopes this pandemic could accelerate the much-needed reforms as well as motivate a multiplication of efforts in the fight against domestic violence because it is bringing it all to the surface in an unprecedented way.
The realness and gravity of domestic violence and the threat to women’s safety during this crisis is undisputed. But, we should not forget that women are more than just victims. They are also warriors in the battle against Covid-19 as healthcare professionals, law enforcement and much more including being the pillars holding up their families.