Domestic violence: The ‘Shadow Pandemic’

By Tasha Sandoval May 10, 2020

Violence against women during Colombia’s quarantine has increased, prompting some chains to allow women to denounce violence when they are shopping.

Community organisations Siete Polas and Mutante compiled a multi-page virtual directory of resources for women victims of domestic violence during the national quarantine. 
Image courtesy of Siete Polas

Violence against women and femicide has increased markedly during COVID-19-related quarantines and lockdowns around the world. In Colombia, 19 women were murdered in the first three weeks of the nationwide quarantine, contributing to what UN Women has called a  “shadow pandemic.” 

Mother’s Day has always been one of the most violent weekends of the year, but this year it comes on top of a violent month. The 155 national women’s domestic violence hotline received an average of 132 calls per day between March 25 and April 23. 

Camila Pérez, co-founder and member of Siete Polas, a Bogotá-based feminist blog and collective told The Bogotá Post about how much domestic violence has increased under lockdown. 

“The possible effects of confinement, especially those that can most impact women, are no secret to anyone,” she said. That’s why Siete Polas teamed up with social change organisation, Mutante, to create a digital directory of resources for women victims of violence during the national quarantine.

“We assume, as a society, that the home is a safe place but in a country like Colombia and many others in Latin America, the reality is that that’s not the case. It is a privilege for a woman to be able to say that there is a safe space inside her home.”

One of the organisations included in the directory is Abogados en Cuarentena, a group of volunteer lawyers who are providing pro bono legal counsel and advice during the national quarantine. Laura Arboleda, a lawyer and co-founder of the group, explained during an Instagram Live event that they are taking a variety of cases including immigration, healthcare, and of course, domestic violence. 

The directory is an effort to call attention to the wealth of other available local and independent resources in existence so that women can reach help more quickly and efficiently. It includes hotline numbers for individual cities, departments, non-governmental organisation helplines, e-mails, and social media information for related advocacy and social justice organizations. 

Official response and resources to domestic violence

Authorities have clearly been concerned about the threat of domestic violence since the trial quarantine was first announced. Bogotá Mayor Claudia López launched Bogotá Solidaria en Casa almost immediately. Lead by the city’s department for women, the Secretaría Distrital de la Mujer, it aims to promote “solidarity at home” – to protect victims of domestic violence and secure legal sanctions for aggressors.

“We want to send the message that violence is unjustifiable, no matter the circumstances,” Diana Rodríguez Franco, Secretaría Distrital de la Mujer said in a press release. She sought to correct early rumours that women who reported violence would not be eligible for financial support.

Given the extraordinary circumstances presented by the novel coronavirus, the city has added other ways that women can get help. In addition to the contacts listed in their official resource guide, women who have been victims of violence can now report it when they go shopping.

Several big chains are part of the initiative, including Justo y Bueno, Tiendas D1, Farmatodo, and Ara. Participating stores will each have a team member who can take the reports and connect women directly with help provided by the Secretaría Distrital de la Mujer.

Rodríguez launched #Espaciosseguros on twitter on April 22, saying “now, women suffering from aggression can report and be attended in over 630 different stores.” 

The bigger picture

Gloria Yamile Roncancio, founder and director of the awareness-building and crisis response nonprofit, Feminicidos Colombia, outlined the root of the issue during Proantioquia’s virtual event “Género, cuidado, y violencias: Como nos cuidamos?” 

“It’s really about the perpetuation of violence against women,” Roncancio said, arguing that the term “domestic violence” does not accurately convey the gendered nature of the violence. 

Read our latest coverage on the coronavirus in Colombia

Assistant Minister of Women’s Affairs in Medellín, Claudia Restrepo explained that the pandemic is shedding light on issues that were already pervasive in Colombian society including violence and machismo. “We need to figure out how this situation can help us solve some of our structural problems,” she said. 

UN Women agrees that this is nothing new, and that “even before COVID-19 existed, domestic violence was already one of the greatest human rights violations.”

Mother’s Day and domestic violence

A 2019 National Institute of Medicine report demonstrated that Mother’s Day is historically Colombia’s most violent day of the year. The report found that throughout the last decade, 184 violent murders have been committed on the supposedly celebratory day. Researchers suggest that the holiday’s lethality could be attributed to a combination of large family reunions and alcohol, which don’t mix well with tense family relationships. 

After significant deliberation, Minister of Commerce José Manuel Restrepo announced early this month that Mother’s Day will indeed take place this May and will be followed by an additional celebration in August. The August celebration is meant to give Colombians a second opportunity to celebrate mother’s day outside of the current lockdown restrictions. The later date is also meant to give the retail and restaurant industries a second opportunity to cash in on the significant earnings that mother’s day typically represents. 

Mother’s Day 2020 will be unlike any other, as the country will still be under nationwide quarantine restrictions and extended families will be unable to come together. This suggests the possibility (and hope) that domestic violence will not see its typical single-day surge this year. 

What to do if you’ve domestic violence has affected you

If you have been the victim of domestic violence, support is available.

  • Call the 123 (the primary emergency line) or 155 (the dedicated national women’s domestic violence hotline)
  • Use the additional support in the directory developed by Siete Polas and Mutante, which can be downloaded and sent by WhatsApp or email. It includes phone numbers and emails for both governmental and non-governmental organisations, with lawyers and support networks throughout the country.
  • The Secretaría Distrital de la Mujer has 24-hour phone lines and breaks down support by district.