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COVID-19 measures are ‘gender-blind’, increase risk of violence against women, says UN expert

NEW YORK (9 October 2020) – A UN human rights expert today expressed alarm at the increase in domestic violence during the COVID-19 pandemic, and urged States to take immediate steps to stop violence against women.

Dubravka Šimonović, the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, said that there had been a rise in cases of intimate partner and sexual violence, as well as femicide, since the start of outbreak.

“Lockdown measures to combat the COVID-19 pandemic have mostly been gender- blind and have increased the risk of domestic violence for women and children who are confined at home for long periods of time with their abuser,” she said in a video link to the General Assembly where she presented her annual report.

“The intersection between the COVID-19 pandemic and the pandemic of violence against women has exposed and exacerbated pre-existing gaps and shortcomings in the prevention of violence against women.”

“The restrictive measures being employed by many countries including through fewer police interventions; the full or partial closure of courts; limited access to helplines, shelters and safe accommodation for victims have heightened the risks faced by women and girls, and emboldened perpetrators,” she added.

“Limitations to accessing sexual and reproductive health and rights is taking its toll on both the physical and mental well-being of women everywhere, with some governments taking advantage of the crisis by creating new barriers to access abortion services by deeming it a non-essential medical procedure.”

Šimonović said that while women were fully included in the design of COVID-19 response plans, including in a leadership role, in the vast majority of States they were largely absent from local, national and global COVID 19 response teams, policy spaces and decision-making.

“Going forward any response to the crisis must be considered as an opportunity to recognise and reinforce the efforts that have already been made in promoting and protecting the rights of women in all spheres of life,” she said.

On 1 October, at a high-level meeting during the UN General Assembly to mark the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, the expert noted that “there is now an urgent need to accelerate the full incorporation and implementation of international, regional and national instruments on gender equality and violence against women, including through the establishment of national femicide watches or observatories”.

“I believe that we must use the momentum to develop a new global system-wide approach to eliminate violence against women and girls, and to exert more energy and resources on bridging the gap between international and national laws and policy and ensure the harmonisation of such laws. Violence against women must be placed high on the UN agenda and included as a standing item in the deliberations of the Commission on the Status of Women,” Šimonović said.


Dubravka Simonovic is the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes andconsequences.

The Special Rapporteurs and Working Groups are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

For further information and media requests, please contact: Orlagh McCann (+41 22 917 7900/ omccann@ohchr.org) or write to vaw@ohchr.org

For media enquiries regarding other UN independent experts, please contact: In Geneva: Renato de Souza (+41 22 928 9855 / rrosariodesouza@ohchr.org). In New York: Jonathan Fowler (+ 1 917 208 6656 / jonathan.fowler@un.org)

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