The Gender Issues Committee of the University of Malta notes that the issue of domestic violence has risen in the national agenda due to the effects of the measures taken to protect the general public from infection and transmission of the virus COVID-19.
The exacerbation of the difficulties being faced by women and children living in abusive situations during these generally challenging times has been recognised, and some actions to mitigate their plight have been taken. We acknowledge and applaud the hard work being done by the various NGOs working in the field, often at great personal sacrifice, as well as by the state services, in this respect.
Now that we are in the transition phase, and looking, hopefully, ahead towards the way out of the pandemic, we need to ensure that the issues of domestic violence, gender-based violence and violence against women are not thrown onto the back burner.
The expected recession, or economic downturn must not result in the neglect of survivors, of withdrawal of resources and/or services which, on the contrary, must continue to be considered essential. This area is generally under resourced at the best of times, not only in Malta but generally across Europe, as was evidenced by the GREVIO activity report published recently.
The COVID-19 pandemic also brought additional financial burdens to the sector of domestic violence service providers, whether residential or community based – many have been and continue to be severely stretched. Furthermore, with an increase in unemployment expected, many women generally may end up back as full-time home makers, and not out of choice. This may once more increase women’s dependency on their abuser, further decreasing their chances of escaping an abusive relationship. These and other gendered issues must be considered carefully and form part of the strategy for the way forward for our country as we slowly exit the pandemic.
Dr Marceline Naudi, Head of the Department of Gender & Sexualities within the Faculty for Social Wellbeing, and member of the Gender Issues Committee, said that women and children, who she feels are disproportionately affected by situations like pandemics in terms of their vulnerability to violence, “should be the target of added prevention and mitigation initiatives that need to be implemented across all sectors”. Dr Naudi added that any services protecting women and children during such times should be classified as essential, so the consequences of gender-based violence are contained as much as possible.