Lockdowns around the world are helping to stop the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, but women and girls are paying the consequences.
Girls and women forced to stay home in Latin America and the Caribbean are at a heightened risk of gender-based violence, the organization Plan International USA warned.
The organization released the report “Surge in violence against girls and women in Latin America and the Caribbean” in May, and issued a press release with an update Monday. The regions are experiencing an uptick in reports of physical, sexual, and psychological abuse from girls and young people, and many more accounts are likely going underreported, the release said.
“Gender-based violence against girls and women continue to be the common denominator in all countries,” Molly Fitzgerald, senior technical adviser in health at Plan International USA, told Global Citizen via email.
“A lot of the issues that COVID-19 brings out are the same everywhere, but for some countries there are added challenges. Each country is different, but the economic volatility and heavy hit from climate change induced strains more often fall hardest on girls and women,” Fitzgerald said.
Imbalanced household burdens, machismo culture, and the prevalence of victim-blaming survivors all contribute to high domestic violence rates in Colombia, according to the National Institute of Legal Medicine and Forensic Sciences. Domestic violence reports during stay-at-home orders skyrocketed by 175% compared to the same time last year in the country, according to government data.
In El Salvador, male family members often have authority over women and violent gang culture condones the abuse of women. Gender-based violence complaints have spiked by 70% during the COVID-19 crisis.
Meanwhile, in Peru, violence against women is prevalent across all socioeconomic groups and in rural and urban areas. Social norms, however, have prevented leaders from acknowledging domestic violence as a major issue.
Within the first six days of lockdown in Peru, the Ministry of Women and Vulnerable Populations of Peru received 2,463 gender-based violence complaints.
Stay-at-home orders are putting girls and women in close quarters with their abusers — who, in Latin America and the Caribbean, are often relatives or close acquaintances, the report said.
“Unfortunately, many of these incidents go unreported because some of these families are not ready to live with the consequences and end up making a very difficult decision: Remain silent and trying to live together,” 17-year-old Islany of Brazil told Plan International.
Other girls worry about the number of domestic violence cases that will be reported as a result of the pandemic.
“Right now, I feel insecure because we don’t know what the consequences of this will be until it is over, or how many girls are suffering at home, surrounded by abuse and violence,” 17-year-old Lucía of Paraguay told Plan International.
As resources are diverted to treat and prevent COVID-19, lack of access to sexual and reproductive health care puts girls in even more danger, according to the report. Survivors of abuse are more likely to experience forced early pregnancy and child marriage.
Lockdowns are putting girls’ education in jeopardy, too, the report said. School closures are forcing girls to learn at home with their abusers and survivors who stop their education as a result of gender-based violence usually do not continue, making it difficult to escape poverty.
Plan International is collaborating with national and local governments, organizations, and community groups to protect girls from gender-based violence. The organization urges governments to reevaluate strategies for preventing and responding to gender-based violence, specifically against children, and guarantee access to sexual and reproductive services in Latin America and the Caribbean.
“There’s an urgent need to work to shift the power imbalance that exacerbates vulnerability and provide girls and women access to services to help them cope during this time of crisis,” Fitzgerald said.