'Appalling increases in violence against women' seen throughout pandemic, WHO warns

World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus attends a press conference organised by the Geneva Association of United Nations Correspondents (ACANU) amid the COVID-19 outbreak, caused by the novel coronavirus, on July 3, 2020 at the WHO headquarters in Geneva. (Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / POOL / AFP) (Photo by FABRICE COFFRINI/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said women across the world had been disproportionately affected by COVID. (AFP via Getty)

The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that the COVID-19 pandemic has seen “appalling increases in violence against women".

Speaking at a press conference to mark International Women’s Day on Monday, WHO director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said women across the world had been disproportionately affected by coronavirus.

Since the pandemic broke out, countries have seen a surge in reports of domestic violence after populations were ordered to stay at home.

Dr Tedros said: “In many ways, women have suffered disproportionately from the pandemic. We have seen appalling increases in violence against women and reduced access to services for sexual and reproductive health.”

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Dr Tedros also said that employment losses had been higher for women compared to for men, and that they had also borne a disproportionate burden of care for children and older people.

He added that, all the while, women had been at the forefront of the response, making up 70% of health workers globally.

"They have played a key role in delivering care and saving lives but although they make up the majority of the global health workforce, women only hold 25% of leadership roles in health in health," he said.

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Dr Roopa Dhatt, the executive director of Women in Global Health, told the conference that the lack of women in leadership roles around the world had exacerbated the rising levels of violence and domestic abuse.

She said: “I don’t believe women in leadership would have imposed lockdown policies without considering the protection of many women and children locked down with abusive men.

“Gender-based violence has increased everywhere because home is not a safe place for many women.”

Dr Dhatt added that “women have died because decision-makers got this wrong”.

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The UN has called the violence, which often takes place behind closed doors and is a vastly underreported crime, a “shadow pandemic”.

While the true extent of domestic abuse globally is unknown, many countries have seen a spike in statistics.

France reported an increase of 32% during the first week of lockdown and Ireland said calls to the Women’s Aid helpline increased by 43%, according to the Irish Post.

In the UK, police have seen a 10% increase in reported cases of domestic abuse, while reports were up 8.1% in the US, according to Sky News.

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