There is no doubt that the Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated some of the worst problems in our society, whether it be inequalities in health outcomes, economic stability, housing and so much more. One of the most serious problems that has been sadly exacerbated by this pandemic is, sadly, domestic violence.
Two-thirds of women in abusive relationships have suffered more violence from their partners during the pandemic, according to the BBC’s Panorama and Women’s Aid. While three-quarters of victims also say the lockdown has made it harder for them to escape their abusers.
Meanwhile, statistics from the UN tell a depressing story globally. in France, reports of domestic violence have increased by 30% since the lockdown was imposed in March. In Cyprus and Singapore, helplines have registered an increase in calls by 30% and 33% respectively.
In Brazil it has been estimated that cases have risen by 40–50% in consequence of coronavirus isolation requirements. While Canada, Germany, Spain, the U.K. and the U.S. recorded an increase in cases of domestic violence and demand for emergency shelter.
Worryingly we have seen an uptick in domestic violence here in the UK. The founder of the organisation Counting Dead Women told MPs the number of women killed by men in the three weeks between 23 March and 12 April is the highest it has been for at least 11 years and is double that of a hypothetical average 21 days over the last 10 years.
It is perhaps unsurprising given the amount of time people have been forced to stay at home during the lockdown, which could in many cases leave victims trapped indoors with their abuser.
I hate to say that I was right, but I said back at the start of the pandemic that I feared this would happen and I called on the Government to put together an urgent plan to address it. The money that eventually came was insufficient however it is never too late to do the right thing and put a strong plan in place.
There was once a time when people kept much quieter about domestic violence, when it was excused a lot more and when people would cover up their bruises with make up or a scarf. It was quite uncommon to hear talk about domestic violence in an open way in years gone by than it is now.
I even remember a time when it was deemed acceptable by many people for men to beat their wives if they did not have the dinner ready or did not dress up sufficiently for their husband.
I remember reading a book when I was young about ‘how to be a good wife’. It was from the 1950s and it spoke of the need for women to be a “little gay and a little more interesting” – meaning happy – and to make sure your husband’s “delicious” dinner was always ready on time every day.
I am pleased that attitudes have changed a lot since then, as when you read something like that as a young woman in the 1970s, it creates unfair expectations on you as a woman. With expectations like these for how a woman should be expected to behave by their husband, it is perhaps unsurprising that abuse was so accepted in society. And we know that the vast majority, but not all, of domestic abuse is experienced by women and perpetrated by men.
The truth is we can only truly tackle domestic violence when we are open, truthful, and talk about the issue. That is why, as difficult as it must be, I am so thankful to the survivors who come out and tell their harrowing stories. It is vital to increase awareness around the consequences of domestic abuse in society, so we can bring about change.
These conversations are uncomfortable, but it was only when we started openly talking about domestic abuse in society that things started to change and it at became more unacceptable. Sometimes in order to tackle something you first must convince people so that they believe it is happening. First you identify the problem then you remove it.
That is why, despite all the pressure and abuse that I receive daily for speaking out about racism, telling me that I am stoking division, I will never stop talking about racism. If we do not talk about the wrongs in society, how will we make them right?
And it is the same for domestic violence – would not talking about domestic violence anymore mean that people stop abusing their partners? Whether it is racism, domestic violence, or any other problem, it will only be tackled if we are open and honest about it.
We have made progress in society, but we need to keep talking about this issue, keep raising awareness, and keep the pressure on the Government. Two women a week are killed by a current or former partner in England and Wales alone which shows how big this problem still is.
We know the Domestic Abuse Bill has been progressing through Parliament. I have been critical of this and believe it should have been stronger and gone much further, but it is a positive step forward. But the Government still needs to come forward with a sustainable form of funding for women’s refuges, including specialist services, and I feel the emergency funding to cover the period of the Covid-19 pandemic should be both extended and increased to meet the huge pressure faced.
I would also like to see the Government go further. At the last general election, I announced that a policy which would require employers to provide up to ten days paid leave for victims of domestic violence. This crucial time will give victims time to leave abusive partners safely and seek the support they need knowing their livelihood is secure. These ten days could help save the lives of these victims and I would like the Government to be similarly ambitious in the support it provides.
It is time that we end this dehumanising and disgusting criminal behaviour in society for good. To do that, we will need everyone in society to play their part.