Hotline and ‘safe space’ set up for victims of domestic violence during ‘lockdown’

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Manager of the Sexual Offenses and Domestic Violence Policy Unit, within the Ministry of Social Protection, Akilah Doris

As Guyanese join the rest of the world in sheltering at home to contain the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, a hotline and safe space have been set up for victims who may be experiencing some form of domestic violence during the lockdown period.

The measures were put in place by the Ministry of Social Protection’s Sexual Offenses and Domestic Violence Policy Unit, DPI reported.

Unit manager Akilah Doris was quoted by DPI as saying that persons can call the 24-hour helpline at 640-1011 for assistance.

The safe shelter can accommodate victims and their children under the age of 14 years. The facility has a full kitchen and pantry, dining room, living room, playroom, recreation room, internet access, bathrooms and laundry room.

Counselling services are provided and the Unit is also working with the police.

“Globally, one in three women experience violence at the hands of a partner, former partner or relative at some point in their life. Guyanese women experience IPV (intimate partner violence) at significantly higher rates than the global average of 1 in 3 women,” Doris explained.

She pointed out that there has been a notable spike in cases of domestic or household violence due to increased tensions in the household, as already shown by data on China, the United Kingdom and the United States.

“During quarantine or self-isolation, women and girls may be at higher risk of violence due to coexistence with their batterers. Tension can grow as a result of self-isolation, close persons becoming infected, job and income uncertainty and stress. This can lead perpetrators to resort to violence as self-isolation reinforces their control mechanisms,” Doris was quoted by DPI as saying.

Women, she said, bear the brunt of increased care-work during this pandemic. School closures further worsen this burden and places more stress on women. The disruption of livelihoods and their ability to earn a living – especially for those women who are informal wage workers – will decrease access to basic needs and services.

This situation increases stress on families with the potential to intensify conflict and violence. As resources become scarcer, women may also be at a higher risk of experiencing economic abuse.

On April 5, United Nations Secretary-General, António Guterres called on governments around the world to implement measures to protect the safety of women, girls, and children.

Referring to his repeated calls for a “ceasefire in conflicts around the world,” Guterres said, “Peace is not just the absence of war. Many women under lockdown for #COVID19 face violence where they should be safest: in their own homes.”