The Istanbul Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence applies in “sickness and in health” - like in a marriage.
One of the things that really hurts Marceline Naudi personally is the occasional spikes of awareness when people say, ‘What? That’s terrible!’ and then it just goes away again. The Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic health crisis has shone the spotlight on violence against women and domestic violence. Marceline explains why consistent and constant services are needed in order to be able to help and protect women and their children and to prevent violence in the first place.
Hello, calls to domestic violence hotlines in Europe have increased by up to sixty percent. The World Health Organisation cited reports from many countries including Belgium, Bulgaria, France, Ireland, Russia, Spain and Britain of increases in violence against women and men by an intimate partner and against children as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Marceline Naudi is chair of the Council of Europe body GREVIO, the Group of Experts on Action against Violence against Women and Domestic Violence.
Dr Naudi, what is your understanding of the extent of domestic violence against women across greater Europe since the start of the coronavirus situation?
MN : My personal general understanding is that I would expect that there would be an increase of domestic violence. That is to say, I would expect that women and children who are living in an abusive household are very likely to have an increased risk of abuse. However, because of the Covid, we also know that often women in those situations, who are now suddenly completely under the control and surveillance of the perpetrator, are probably less likely to be able to report or call for help, or even speak to a friend about what is happening to them.
Would you say that there is a discrepancy between what authorities are reporting – in terms of domestic abuse and violence – and information coming from non-governmental agencies and other organisations?
MN : In some countries yes. Not everywhere, but in some countries, yes. However, I would say that if the state is reporting police reports, reports received by the police, then it is a different statistic to that of NGOs who are reporting calls to their help lines, for example. Many NGOs have gone online, they also have chats online, so it is a different statistic. All that would show is that, as is always the case again, not just because of COVID, fewer women report than seek help in an informal way – through NGOs rather than through the police or the state services - where they exist.
The Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence is partly designed to protect women. How can it best be used right now in this situation?
MN : One of the most important things is that we are very clear, the Convention is very clear, that the Convention applies in “sickness and in health” - like in a marriage. The Convention applies whether there is a COVID-19 pandemic, or not – the Convention continues to apply. States are not let off their obligations - the obligations that they have ratified, that they are legally bound to meet. They are not excused from these obligations because of the pandemic. Especially, having said what I have already said, because we know that the pandemic is likely to exacerbate and aggravate the situation of women. At the end of the day what we want is to protect the women and children who are living in those situations. That is what we want – to prevent if possible, but to protect, to make sure that there is safety, and a safe place for these women and children.
Are groups that help women who are in danger in the home well-enough financed to cope with the rise in demand for their services?
MN : Thank you, that is a very important question and again our activity report, the GREVIO activity report that we issued a few weeks ago, clearly states that generally – covid apart – generally most of the women specialists NGOs that work in the field of violence against women and domestic violence, most of these agencies in fact are insufficiently funded and often unstably funded. Funding is often irregular (comes in in ‘bits and bobs’), they can’t plan ahead. They can’t know for sure that they are going to have funding next year or in two years’ times, or whatever. That is the situation generally. Now, with the covid situation, they have extra expenses. For example, several of them are offering quarantine within their premises. They need the Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) which costs money and which they are paying out for in order to protect the other women and children that are in the shelter - all of their residents and of course the staff. We have many NGOs where the workers are locking themselves in the shelter with the staff. So the workers who would normally go in and out, are for example locking themselves in for two or three weeks. Then they change and another shift comes in - again, for the protection of the residents, the women and the children who are living within the shelter. Many of those workers, if they had to do that in a state organisation, would of course need to be paid enormous amounts of money for overtime, for adverse or unsocial conditions, etc ... Of course, many of these workers are doing it completely voluntarily. They are receiving their normal salary, but they are putting in all this extra effort as well. So, no, they are not generally sufficiently well-funded.
So that is now. After the lockdowns have been lifted in many parts of Europe and across the world, what is the outlook for women in situations of domestic abuse and violence?
MN : Where measures have been eased, I think we still need to be very careful - especially in residential establishments, in which most of the shelters and services for the protection of the women are to be found. That is one thing. I would love to be able to say that, because of the Covid-19, people’s awareness has increased about the issues that women who live in abusive situations are facing, and that therefore, hopefully, this increasing awareness will result in more money being put into these essential services. I would love to be able to say that. I truly wish that it is what will happen. However, I strongly suspect that what will happen is that it will just get forgotten again. One of the things that really hurts me personally deeply is that we get occasional spikes of awareness when people are saying, ‘What? That’s terrible!’ and then it just goes away again. We need consistent and constant services to be able to help, and awareness of course to be able to protect the women and their children and to prevent violence in the first place.