Covid-19 quarantines cause domestic violence spike in Brazil

. May 02, 2020
Violence against women spikes in Brazil during quarantines Photo: Mary Long/Shutterstock

Across Latin America, heads of state have been largely compliant with the World Health Organization’s Covid-19 recommendations — with the notable exceptions of Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil and Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua. Governments have closed borders, shut schools, and non-essential businesses, and are urging the population to stay at home. However, confinement at home brings with it a whole host of new challenges and risks for millions in the Americas — particularly women.

According to the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women),

reports of gender-based violence and demand for emergency shelters have shot up since the beginning of the outbreak. With an estimated 4 billion people isolating at home around the world, women&#8217;s shelters are fast reaching full capacity and the situation made even more fraught by the repurposing of centers in order to fight the Covid-19 pandemic.</p> <p>The Brazilian Human Rights Ministry, led by <a href="">Damares Alves</a>, reported that phone reports of femicide and gender-based violence rose 18 percent since isolation measures were implemented in many states. Brazil is the country with the highest number of femicides in Latin America, with 1,314 cases recorded in 2019. According to a report from the Brazilian Forum of Public Safety, online reports of domestic conflict have risen by 431 percent since confinement began.&nbsp;</p> <p>The study suggests that despite the trend of <a href="">gender-based violence</a> increasing for the last three years —&nbsp;partially because victims now have more instruments to report cases of abuse —, “women are, in fact, more vulnerable due to measures of social confinement and quarantine,” according to the Forum&#8217;s executive director.&nbsp;</p> <p>Latin America is — as stated by the United Nations — one of the <a href="">worst places to be born a woman</a> and Brazil is the region’s leader in reports of gender-based violence. While this makes sense, given that it is by far the populous country in the region, there are also underlying sociological explanations.</p> <p>According to social psychologist Victoria Vidal from non-profit organization Recomeçar — a confidential support service for women at imminent risk of death — while experts link domestic violence to factors such as unemployment, lack of money, and food security, the root causes are deeper, and that is why it is possible to see an increase in cases of violence across notably different societies. According to <a href="">data</a> released by the Health Ministry, a Brazilian woman is assaulted by her partner every four minutes.</p> <p>“We must always remember that these factors are aggravating issues, triggers, such as alcohol and other drugs. The real cause of domestic violence, as a historical phenomenon, is gender inequality and sexism. And in many of these cases, victims are left isolated with their attackers,” Ms. Vidal told <strong>The Brazilian Report</strong>.&nbsp;</p> <p>Quarantine creates further obstacles for victims of domestic violence to submit police reports. While Ms. Vidal pointed out that it is already possible to file reports online, as well as requesting protective measures from the Public Defender&#8217;s Office, not all women have access to these simple tools. “That is why it is so important to make anonymous reports and be aware of any signs of violence,” she emphasizes.&nbsp;</p> <h2>Violence against women: one problem hides the other</h2> <p>UN Secretary-General António Guterres <a href="">tweeted</a> that all governments need to &#8220;put women&#8217;s safety first as they respond to the pandemic.” How can this be put in practice, when the public health systems are stretched thin enough as it is, remains to be seen.&nbsp;</p> <p>As the pandemic has spread across the globe, many countries&#8217; <a href=";preview=true&amp;_thumbnail_id=32961">healthcare systems</a> are facing collapse. In Brazil, for instance, <a href="">field hospitals</a> have been built in order to provide medical assistance to cover the demand of the growing infection curve. Victims of domestic violence who require specific assistance — which is more difficult to find than conventional care — are largely being left to fend for themselves.</p> <p>“Here in Brazil, one of the hospitals that is a reference for legal abortions in the country had to suspend this service, as the facility was transformed into a screening center for <a href="">Covid-19 cases</a>. We are concerned that the pandemic could see an already precarious service be scrapped altogether,” says Ms. Vidal.</p> <p>“It is an endless problem. It is very important that the protocols for dealing with cases of domestic violence continue, especially during this quarantine,” she adds.

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Lucas Berti

Lucas Berti covers international affairs — specialized in Latin American politics and markets. He has been published by Opera Mundi, Revista VIP, and The Intercept Brasil, among others.

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