The UWI’s Institute for Gender and Development Studies (IGDS) says the increase in domestic violence reports during the current COVID-19 crisis demands the creation and implementation of a proper, national strategy to deal with gender-based violence in this country.

And the IGDS is urging Government to ensure that such a plan is factored into any recovery plan being designed for this country, by the recently appointed Committee charged with the responsibility for charting T&T’s future, post-COVID-19 crisis.

In a release issued today, the Institute points out that the increase in gender-based violence during this time of global pandemic is not limited to Trinidad and Tobago alone, but is being seen in countries across world—in Asia, the Americas, Europe and the Middle East.

IGDS argues that creating safe shelter for women and children victims of gender-based and domestic violence must be placed high on the country’s development agenda, going forward.

The full text of the IGDS statement, follows:

The Institute for Gender and Development Studies, The UWI, St. Augustine Campus has observed the drastic rise in domestic violence with “203 police reports made for March compared with 42 reports for the same month in 2019” as reported by the Express on Thursday 23 April 2020. This is part of a worldwide rise in intimate partner violence and family violence deeply rooted in gender norms, and triggered by the COVID-19 crisis and state response.The UN is reporting that “Lebanon and Malaysia, for example, have seen the number of calls to helplines double, compared with the same month last year; in China, they have tripled; and in Australia, search engines such as Google are seeing the highest magnitude of searches for domestic violence help in the past five years”. Violence against women is also triggering increased demand for emergency shelter in Canada, Germany, Argentina, Spain, the UK and the US. There is a global call to increase investment in online services and civil society organisations responding to gender-based violence, and declare shelters as essential services.The Coalition Against Domestic Violence, and allies across the women’s movement and civil society, have publicly outlined the risks to women as their capacity to escape violence with their children, and to seek safety, is now diminished by the national lockdown.We have also noted that greater economic and psychological stress on families, due to income loss and heightened insecurity, can exacerbate women and girls’ vulnerability to physical and sexual violence in their homes, from family members and partners. Pre-COVID-19, 1 in 3 women reported experiencing sexual or physical violence from their partners in their lifetime, and 1 in 5 reported experiencing child sexual abuse at least once in their lifetime, suggesting that home and family were already sites of threat, fear and potential harm. These are the spaces to which women are now confined.Pre-COVID-19, resources available to victims were already woefully inadequate, and the state of gender-based violence was already considered to be at a crisis level in Trinidad and Tobago. Government agencies are now turning to civil society organisations for help in the provision of safe accommodation for victims, as state-managed shelters and resources for psychological support are not sufficiently available. Such organisations providing support on the ground should be better resourced, given their ability to respond with greater agility than state bureaucracy at a time when such urgency is required.As the Prime Minister’s team plans the post-COVID ‘Road to Recovery’, the IGDS notes with continued disappointment that no one on the team is positioned to represent on these matters despite a call for the inclusion of representatives with expertise in gender analysis and gender-based violence. Recovery considerations must include clear research-based and experience-based understanding of women and girls’ unequal burden of care for vulnerable populations, their increased risk as essential workers without access to proper child care, and as primary workers in the service and retail sector which is expected to contract significantly – all of which define the conditions of family violence.On April 23, 2020, 146 countries, including Trinidad and Tobago, answered the UN Secretary-General’s Call on Gender-Based Violence and COVID-19 and committed “to making prevention and redress of gender-based violence a key part of our national and global responses” as well as ensuring that “issues of gender equality are treated as essential to recovery”.We call on the government to honour this commitment by outlining how it will address increased gender-based violence in the recovery period from COVID-19 and to treat victims’ immediate need for safety and shelter as an urgent priority. We call for the inclusion of the women’s movement, with more than 30 years of experience addressing gender-based violence, in planning for post-disaster recovery. We also call on the government to recognise that the increase in domestic violence reports requires, more than ever, a national strategy to prevent and address this immediate as well as long term crisis.