Since the outbreak of COVID-19, emerging data and reports from those on the front lines, have shown that all types of violence against women and girls, particularly domestic violence, has intensified.

This is the Shadow Pandemic, growing amidst the COVID-19 crisis and we need a global collective effort to stop this! As COVID-19 cases continue to strain health services and essential services, such as domestic violence shelters and helplines, they have reached their full capacity. More needs to be done to prioritize addressing violence against women in COVID-19 responses and recovery efforts nation-wide.

On 25 November 2021, Advocates For Dignity (AFD) partnered with Arise Foundation to host an online webinar called- ‘Violence Against Women: The Shadow Pandemic’.

The webinar was moderated by Dr Maria Bhatti, Lecturer at Western Sydney University’s School of Law, and included a panel discussion followed by a Q&A segment. The panel was made up of special guests; Amani Haydar, award winning artist, advocate and author of ‘The Mother Wound’, Balawyin Jones, academic at La Trobe University Law School and Renata Field, Policy, Advocacy and Research Manage of Domestic Violence NSW.

When talking about how the increase of domestic and family violence against women has been coined ‘The Shadow Pandemic’’, Renata Field explained that the name depicted the silencing which is happening behind closed doors. “We know that more than 60% of victims do not report to police, so it is hard to know exactly how much domestic violence is actually happening in the community,”she said.

“In the very first lockdown in China, there was a three-fold increase in domestic violence. We know that most people are not reaching out for help because they are kept in smaller, confined circles, and their networks and support systems are restricted during the pandemic,” she continued. 

Balawyn Jones then delved into the importance of understanding that the root cause of violence against women is gender inequality, and that it is prevalent in all communities, defeating the stereotype that domestic violence only occurs in lower socio-economic or disadvantaged communities. 

“However, we do know there are higher rates reported where people experience intersecting inequalities. For instance, women who have disabilities are two times more likely to experience domestic violence. Because domestic violence is about power and control,” she said. 

Balawyn also noted that victims from particular marginalized communities can also experience what is called the ‘double bind’, which is the compounding of barriers to access justice. “For example, Muslim women are less likely to report and access mainstream services because in addition to stigma and taboo in the community, they can face racism and Islamaphobia,” she continued.

Amani, whose mother was murdered by her father in her own home, touched on the difficulties faced by victims when trying to escape violent relationships and how statistically, the post separation period is a very dangerous time for women, often leading to their murder.

“My mother was murdered during the separation period, and had multiple stages throughout her marriage where she attempted to find the right opportunity to escape the relationship, and find the stability to continue without being dependent on my dad.”

“My mum had already taken all the steps people assume a victim should take to leave a relationship. She was attacked in her own home, she had a job, and her independence. In writing ‘The Mother Wound’, I wanted to map out some of the subtle, insidious things about domestic violence and how difficult it can be for outsiders to understand,” Amani said. 

When asked about the taboos and stigmas surrounding violence against women, and how that impacts womens’ abilities to leave a relationship, Renata stated: “My frustration is our focus on the narrative of the victim staying when we should be questioning why people hurt others, and why society creates situations that enable that violence to happen.”

Balawyn ended the webinar with an important message, inviting positive change for the future. “What we need is more men stepping up to be role models to what should be a healthy and positive masculinity, to create social and intergenerational change. I think that is an underdeveloped area.”