Women critical to COVID19 response, yet face high risk of violence

In Fiji, women make significant and critical contributions to the country’s COVID-19 response, whether they are front-line responders, market vendors, farmers or primary care givers at home, yet majority are victims of domestic violence and violence against women and children.

Minister for Women Mereseini Vuniwaqa said in the health sector, women make up 63 per cent of workers and as market vendors, make up 85 per cent of the total count, already placing them at increased risk and exposure to infection during the pandemic, and then have to be at the receiving end of violence, most times at the hands of their loved ones.

The ministry recorded increased calls to the National Domestic Violence helpline number 1560 – from 87 in February, up by 100 in March to 187 and then a sharp increase to 527 calls  in April. 

“66% of the callers were women and 44% were men. 54% of calls were domestic violence related and 30% related to COVID-19.

“Close to 50% of cases reported are linked to COVID-19 such as restrictions of movement and economic strains on families. Close to three-quarters of women reported physical violence.”

Already, the month of May is shaping up to be no different, with reports of the alleged murder of a 28-year-old woman and mother-of-two at the hands of her husband in Naitasiri on Friday, May 1.

To address this and gauge the impact of the pandemic on the welfare of women, the ministry has formed two working groups, being the Gender Based Violence (GBV) Working Group and the COVID-19 Response Gender Working Group.  The former, to advance prevention and response to Violence against Women and Girls (VAWG) during emergencies, and the latter, to undertake a rapid /internal gender analysis on the impact of COVID-19 on all Fijian women and girls.

“To formulate policies and programs that are not gender-blind, it is important to understand the different ways that the COVID-19 pandemic and accompanying economic crisis may affect gender equality outcomes. The impact of the virus is not gender-blind; therefore the response to it should not be either. We are doing this to ensure that recovery is centered on the principle of leaving no one behind,” Vuniwaqa said.

Tune in on the MaiTV Facebook Page at 2pm today for live COVID19 gender update with Minister Mereseini Vuniwaqa and Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre Coordinator Shamima Ali.

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