Shadow Pandemic Action Brief

The BKMC organized a virtual high-level and multi-stakeholder roundtable on November 26th, 2020, titled “Tackling the Shadow Pandemic – Violence Against Women During COVID-19 Times”. This report is the outcome of the mentioned event.

The BKMC organized a virtual high-level and multi-stakeholder roundtable on November 26th, 2020, titled “Tackling the Shadow Pandemic – Violence Against Women During COVID-19 Times”. This report is the outcome of the mentioned event.


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D U R I N G C O V I D - 1 9 T I M E S



The Shadow Pandemic

Facts and Statistics

The COVID-19 pandemic is accompanied by a multitude of exacerbated challenges in the global fight against

Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG). In an effort to stop the coronavirus from spreading, the

containment strategies placed more and more women and girls in vulnerable situations, exposing them to a

Shadow Pandemic of VAWG, a term coined by UN Women, the United Nation’s Entity for Gender Equality and

the Empowerment of Women. It is estimated that "the COVID-19 pandemic is likely to cause a one-third

reduction in progress towards ending gender-based violence by 2030".[1]

Health workers, such as Simret Tesfaye, a nurse at a woman's shelter in Ethiopia, are experiencing the Shadow

Pandemic and the intensified pressure due to COVID-19 first hand. Tesfaye reports how frontline services have

not been able to deliver adequate support for survivors of VAWG due to a lack of isolation rooms and

insufficient human resources. At the same time, she recounts, survivors have not gone to the police during

the pandemic, making it harder to press charges afterwards and prevent repeated offences. Her work as a

frontline worker has become significantly more challenging during COVID-19 times.[2]

Early warnings anticipated that the measures of confinement and physical distancing could have severe

effects on VAWG. Even before the outbreak of the coronavirus, every 1 in 3 women globally experienced

sexual or physical violence at least once in her lifetime.[3] With half of the world’s population in lockdown,

women and girls are immediately at greater risk of experiencing sexual or physical violence within their

homes and beyond.

Domestic Violence

Other Forms of Violence

Other forms of VAWG are also under immediate

During lockdown measures in the first half of

2020, Argentina experienced a 25% increase of

pressure due to COVID-19. The United Nations

Office on Drugs and Crime warns that "the living

emergency calls reporting domestic violence.

France’s domestic violence cases increased by

conditions of many trafficking victims, such as

those in domestic servitude or sex slavery, forms

30% and the demand for helplines increased by

of exploitation that disproportionately affect

30% in Cyprus and 33% Singapore. The statistics

women and girls” are at severe risk.[6] COVID-19

in Canada, Germany, Spain, the United Kingdom,

also brought along a disruption in efforts to

Australia and the United States reflect similar

prevent child marriages. The United Nations

increasing developments in the reports of

Population Fund (UNFPA) estimates that this

domestic violence and demand for emergency

could result in an additional 13 million child

shelters.[4] At the same time, essential services

marriages to take place between 2020 and 2030

have been compensated. A UK survey found that

that could otherwise have been prevented.

three-quarters (76%) of UK frontline service

UNFPA also pointed out that addressing Female

providers had to decrease their service delivery

Genital Mutilation (FGM) has become more

for VAWG cases because of COVID-19. With

difficult as prevention efforts are compensated.

increasing pressure on health care services due

This could result in a failure to avert 2 million

to the prioritizing of COVID-19 cases, chances are

cases of FGM.[7] Furthermore, the use of the

high that access to urgent support for victims of

internet increasing by 50%-70%, as social life has

VAWG will be disrupted.[5] Moreover, increasing

shifted to the online sphere, is accompanied by a

unemployment due to the accompanying

heightened risk of cyber violence against women.

economic crisis leads to economic dependence,

[8] During the lockdown and confinement, tweets

preventing women from escaping abusive

from India, Indonesia and the Philippines

relationships. Studies have shown that less than

containing misogynistic language doubled week

40% of all women experiencing violence, report

over week in May 2020.[9]

the crime or ask for support.

0 2

affected by violence before



in demand for helplines


Cyrus and Singapore


in domestic violence


calls in Argentina


women who face violence


or seek help


of frontline service


VAW survivors in UK


child marriages to occur


2020 and 2030


cases of FGM that


could have been averted


in internet use leading to


cyber violence


Facts and Statistics

1 in 3

High-Level Roundtable

Despite substantial evidence on the negative

The BKMC Co-chairs Ban Ki-moon and Heinz

effect of COVID-19 on VAWG, the Ban Ki-moon

Fischer, Executive Director of UN Women

Centre (BKMC) observed a lack of widespread

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, former Prime Minister

awareness on the issue. Taking action, the BKMC

of New Zealand Helen Clark, CEO of Avon Angela

Cretu, Regional Director of UN Women Asia and

organized a virtual high-level and multistakeholder

roundtable on November 26th, 2020,

Pacific Mohammad Naciri, and women’s rights

titled “Tackling the Shadow Pandemic – Violence

activist Trisha Shetty came together to discuss

Against Women During COVID-19 Times”. The

what steps must be taken to address the spike in

event was open to all and held during the

VAWG during COVID-19 times. The event's

international Orange the World campaign.

moderator Monika Froehler, CEO of the BKMC,

Headed by UN Women, the Orange the World

provided insights on facts and statistics on the

campaign raises awareness for VAWG annually

Shadow Pandemic and asked the diverse

during the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-

audience from 20 different countries to share

Based Violence from the 25th of November, the

their perspectives on VAWG during COVID-19 via

International Day for the Elimination of Violence

online live polling. Considering the exacerbated

Against Women to the 10th of December,

risks in their region, the audience perceived the

International Human Rights Day. The High-Level

expansion of frontline services, awarenessraising,

and education of men and boys to be

Roundtable took place in support of these multistakeholder

efforts to end VAWG.

crucial tools to tackle the Shadow Pandemic.

Insights from the Opening Speakers:

Ban Ki-moon,

8th Secretary-

General of the

United Nations

Heinz Fischer,

11th President of the

Republic of Austria



Executive Director

of UN Women

Violence against women and girls is

Women constitute half of the

We have seen the whole world

one of the most pervasive human

world's population and can only

respond to the coronavirus

rights violations and perhaps the

unfold their full potential when

pandemic, with all hands on deck.

most obvious manifestation of the

free of violence. We must talk

Men’s violence against women is

deep imbalances in power in our

about the changing dynamics of

societies. As a global community,

VAWG during COVID-19. What can

also a pandemic – one that predates

the virus and will outlive it.

we must not look away. We must

we do to protect and support

It too needs our global,

engage in an open dialogue and

women and girls during periods of

coordinated response and

bring all stakeholders to the table.

quarantine, social distancing?

enforceable protocols.

0 4

Key Statements and


Governments Private Sector International Organizations Civil Society

Rt. Hon. Helen Clark

Hon. Rt Helen Clar

is the former Prime Minister of New Zealand and former UNDP Administrator. Helen Clark

chairs several organizations and serves on multiple public good Advisory Boards. She continuously speaks on

issues related to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Women’s Leadership. Sharing her unique

insights as former head of government, Clark shed light on the governmental responsibility to tackle the

Shadow Pandemic:


To tackle the shadow pandemic, the issue of VAWG must be pushed out of the shadows through legislative

measures. Changing the law to call out domestic violence as an assault is the first step that needs to be


Governmental Campaigns:

Leading governmental campaigns that carry compelling messages is key to gain the support of other

stakeholders. New Zealand, for example, initiated “It’s not OK” campaign, calling for the need to address and

end VAWG.

Women’s Leadership:

As the proportion of women in parliament grows, issues that predominantly affect women are finally

addressed. The government of Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand successfully pushed for legislation making it

easier for survivors of domestic violence to flee their home while receiving ten days of paid leave.

Women Advisors:

Asking women what they need from policymakers to make their lives safer is crucial. Gender-sensitive

responses can only be effective if women are part of the decision-making and if they are engaged and

involved in designing what is required.

0 5

Key Statements and


Governments Private Sector International Organizations Civil Society

Cret is the CEO of the global beauty company Avon, a keen advocate for gender equality, and a

Angela Cretu


champion of Avon's mission to create a better world for all, through women. Under her leadership, Avon has

doubled down on its long-term commitment to tackling gender-based violence, with new programs and

funding to drive positive social change. Representing the private sector, Cretu drew on her experience as best


Sustainable Missions:

Private sector companies have a responsibility to go beyond selling their products and services and align

their mission and agenda with sustainability and core values of society such as dignity, well-being, and

freedom of choice.

Leveraging Influence:

Private sector companies are highly influential. They can and should do their part to eliminate VAWG by

cooperating with NGOs, legislators, raising awareness, writing letters to governments, or mobilizing funds for

frontline services.

Supporting Employees:

The private sector is responsible for creating earning opportunities for women that allow more flexibility and

contribute to more financial freedom of women. Only 40% of women survivors report their violent

experiences. This gives testimony that more must be done to secure the economic stability of women, to

empower them to leave abusive relationships.

Training Employees:

Businesses should train their employees to read signs of abuse to protect their own communities of

employees and customers. Avon partners with Vital Voices Global Partnership to train its employees in taking

on responsibility in the fight against VAW.

0 6

Key Statements and


Governments Private Sector International Organizations Civil Society

Naciriis the Regional Director of UN Women for Asia and the Pacific with considerable experience

Mohammad Naciri


in the international development sector working for multiple international organizations. He has supported

Yemen in the formulation of its Gender Strategy and the Gender Responsive Budgeting process and worked in

Kuwait, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Cambodia, dealing with issues from human trafficking to ethnic cleansing.

With his extensive background in the multilateral sector, Naciri pointed out the following:

Regional Differences:

In the Asia-Pacific region, the rate of VAWG has been even higher than the global average. Two out of three

women have reported experiences of violence, which underscores the need for regional and local

perspectives in gender-sensitive responses.

Online Violence:

Since lockdowns and physical distancing measures pushed more people online, digital platforms are being

increasingly used to spread sexist and dangerous rhetoric about women, inciting hatred and potentially

provoking violence online and offline. Legislation that criminalizes cyber harassment and stalking must be

expanded and women’s capacity to identify, report and block hateful content must be built.

Patriarchal Structures:

The deeply-rooted ideas of patriarchy exacerbate the vulnerability of women to male violence. It must be a

common effort of all stakeholders to unteach traditional gender-roles, communicate messages and images of

women empowerment, tackle harmful traditional cultural and religious narratives and work with men and

boys to dissolve patriarchal ideas.

International Cooperation:

International organizations play a key role in strengthening systems, improving access to essential services

for survivors in remote areas, raising awareness, and disseminating guidance to governments and

humanitarian actors to help shape services that respond to the increase in VAWG during COVID-19 through

technology and remote support options.

0 7

Key Statements and


Governments Private Sector International Organizations Civil Society

Trisha Shetty

Trisha S

ettyis a lawyer and full-time social activist, who founded SheSays, a non-profit organization and

online platform that aims to end gender-based discrimination and advance women’s rights in India by

engaging youth as agents of social change. She has dedicated herself to addressing gender-based violence

and advocates for women and youth to have equal representation in leadership positions. Shetty addressed a

variety of crucial issues, drawing from her experience on the ground:

Cracks in a System:

Our system presents cracks when dealing with survivors of VAWG. While survivors have spoken up about this

issue, the system has actively ignored their voices or deliberately silenced them. As a result, women’s bodies

have become politicized, preventing women from seeking justice for crimes perpetrated against them.

Failed Leadership:

Leadership continuously shies back from holding uncomfortable conversations. The fact that marital rape is

legal in India and is not recognized as crime is a sign of the failure of leadership to call this out as a human

rights violation. Leaders must speak up and actively condemn VAWG.

Awareness for the Shadow Pandemic:

COVID-19 has helped us acknowledge that VAWG is a global pandemic that is not restricted to developing or

under-developed countries. The pandemic has made us realize that violence is a health issue and not only a

women’s issue.

Need-Driven Responses:

From its early beginnings, SheSays pledged to be a need-driven and not solely cause-driven organization.

Surveys and audits can help to point out the void and the gaps that need to be filled. Based on these findings

SheSays started to provide financial, mental health, and legal support to women survivors of violence.

Ending Victim-Blaming:

Survivors are speaking up about the injustice they are facing. They challenge norms and go against cultural

taboos by demanding justice. Blaming the victims is a reflection of a system that is not brave enough to listen

to survivors and provide them with the help they need.

0 8

Take Action to Tackle the

Shadow Pandemic!

Recommendations what you can do to end VAWG:


Listen to and believe survivors


Learn the signs of abuse and how you can help


Start a conversation on social media


Call on governments to bridge funding gaps



Speak out, be present, pay attention!

Take a stand by calling VAWG out when you see it





Reach out and follow up with friends and family

Donate to women’s organizations

Know the data and demand more of it

Watch and share the High-Level Rountable:

0 9

UNFPA. "Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Family Planning and Ending Gender-based Violence, Female Genital Mutilation and


Marriage." unfpa.org, 27 April 2020, https://www.unfpa.org/sites/default/files/resource-pdf/COVID-


Tesfay, Simret. "From where I stand." unwomen.org, 1 June 2020, https://www.unwomen.org/en/news/stories/2020/6/from-wherei-stand-simret-tesfaye,


retrieved on 9 February 2021.

UN Women. "Facts and figures: Ending violence against women." unwomen.org, November 2020,


retrieved on 06 February 2021.


UNODC. "Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Trafficking in Persons." un.org, 2020, https://www.un.org/ruleoflaw/wpcontent/uploads/2020/05/Thematic-Brief-on-COVID-19-EN-ver.21.pdf,


retrieved on 06 February 2021.

UNFPA. "Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Family Planning and Ending Gender-based Violence, Female Genital Mutilation and


Marriage." unfpa.org, 27 April 2020, https://www.unfpa.org/sites/default/files/resource-pdf/COVID-


Naciri, Mohammad. "Opinion: How women are fighting for peace in a militarised cyberspace." Thomas Reuters Foundation News, 18


2020, https://news.trust.org/item/20201028171445-u9wn2/, retrieved on 06 February 2021.


+43 664 916 3281


0018 1037 Vienna, Austria





19_impact_brief_for_UNFPA_24_April_2020_1.pdf, retrieved on 08 February 2021.

UN Women. "The Shadow Pandemic: Violence Against Women and Girls and COVID-19." unwomen.org, 2020,



retrieved on 06 February 2021.

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In support of the Orange The World campaign • a cooperation between

© 2021 by Ban Ki-moon Centre for Global Citizens



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