As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, victims of domestic violence are in acute danger due to lockdowns and stay-at-home orders.
It’s not just that they find themselves trapped with their abusers, but the options to get to safe spaces are even more limited — which is why Uber announced that it would provide free rides to those fleeing domestic violence in Canada and around the world.
"It’s a perfect storm for controlling, violent behaviour behind closed doors," Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, executive director of UN Women, said in a statement about the current lockdown climate. "And in parallel, as health systems are stretching to breaking point, domestic violence shelters are also reaching capacity, a service deficit made worse when centres are repurposed for additional COVID-response."
Uber launched its initiative knowing there has been the growing issue of providing a safe means for people to seek support, without alerting their abusers. Worldwide, the company is donating more than 50,000 free rides and additional support to shelters.
In Canada, Uber has partnered with YWCA Canada, and local organizations Le Chaînon and Ending Violence Association in BC, to provide free rides, meals, and last-mile deliveries to support shelters nationwide.
A recent Statistics Canada survey revealed that 1 in 10 Canadian women are very or extremely concerned about the possibility of domestic violence during the pandemic.
Maryam Monsef, Canada’s minister for Women and Gender Equality, contends that domestic violence has increased by 20-30% in some regions of the country during the pandemic.
And Kaitlin Geiger-Bardswich, communications and development manager at Women’s Shelters Canada, says that calls to shelters are up nationwide, but there are pockets where they've dropped off considerably.
"Both are concerning — for example, if women can't get away to call. We're also hearing that, in some areas, shelters are emptier than usual because women are afraid to leave their homes and move into a communal environment because of COVID," Geiger-Bardswich told Global Citizen.
Uber’s initiative aims not only to provide vulnerable women with the ability to reach help, but also to alleviate the strain on limited shelter staff and volunteers working overtime amid the pandemic.
Thank you @Uber. We're asking 🇨🇦 to stay home, but for some, home isn't safe. If you are experiencing violence at home, speak to someone you trust and ask for help. You are not alone. We will get through this together. https://t.co/dO1jtMYZZd— Maryam Monsef (@MaryamMonsef) April 23, 2020
YMCA Canada’s CEO Maya Roy says that this initiative comes at a critical time and will allow those in danger the means to seek resources safely.
"Through this donation, we’ll be able to provide critical transportation support so women and gender-diverse people can leave dangerous situations quickly," Roy said in a statement.
Looking ahead, without significant and proactive efforts such as these, women’s safety could be at risk. Geiger-Bardswich said shelters were already overburdened and underfinanced before the pandemic.
While provincial and federal funding are alleviating this strain, "as the pandemic wears on, we would not be surprised to see violence increasing even more, exacerbated by such things as job loss, stress, etc.," Geiger-Bardswich explained.