The pandemic has marked a time of increased anxiety and fear, especially as lockdowns were imposed to combat the spread of COVID-19. The UN reported that even prior to the health crisis, 1 in 3 women experience physical or sexual violence. Internationally, domestic violence hotlines received an increase in calls since the start of the pandemic.
The current health situation undoubtedly placed family units under immense pressure and some women confined to these tense environments experienced an increase in GBV. Organizations such as Palestinian Working Woman Society for Development (PWWSD) and SAWA have worked throughout the pandemic to aid those affected by violence and abuse—particularly victims of gender-based violence (GBV).
The pandemic is not over, however over a year since its’ beginning, it is necessary to examine the role that the pandemic has had on women experiencing GBV within Palestinian society. Gender Based Violence is an universal issue only exacerbated by the pandemic. Globally women make up nearly 70% of healthcare workers and in Palestine they hold 60% of these positions. Healthcare workers have disportionately taken a leading role during the ongoing pandemic.
Moreover, the UNFPA (UN Population Fund) reports that men worldwide are subject to gender norms that may result in men seeking less mental and physical assistance. During lockdown, many men could not fulfill their societal perceived role of working to provide for their household. These pressures on society writ-large can lead to additional tension, conflict, and violence. Such pressures are worsened by having women, along with most of the population, losing their ability to leave the house and have safe social spaces when needed.
The status of women within households have also changed with pandemic restrictions. Women who lost their jobs may have also lost their ‘bargaining power’ within families. As these women no longer provide income, those in abusive situations sometimes become subject to further abuse and are deemed useless. Situations of GBV were only aggravated with the closure of courts and the preexisting weakness of the government’s social protective services.
Palestinian Working Woman Society for Development offers phone consultations to those in need of supporrt and they reported their statistics from March 22 to May 21 of 2020. The organization connected counselors with 778 women exposed to violence during these two months. 42% of these cases were exposed to multiple types of violence including physical, psychological, verbal, economic, and sexual cases.
The phone consultations of PWWSD offer critical insight into the reality that many women face at home. During these two months, 70% of women who received phone counseling were victims of domestic violence from their husbands.
Organizations such as PWWSD and Sawa provide phone counseling to help provide support for women. Women can receive counseling, support from other local shelters or organizations, mental health support, and legal services. Such organizations quickly adapted to the pandemic and continue to cater to the ever changing health measures.
As the pandemic continues, it is critical to understand how it disportionately affects women—globally and within the context of Palestine.