How can business respond to an increase in gender based violence during the COVID-19 outbreak?


CGD and the Covid-19 working group The Centre for Global Development and the C-19 gender working group published an excellent report last week which identified 9 pathways that lead to increased violence against women and children during pandemics. I feel there are 4 particularly relevant ones that business can respond to in both high income and low income contexts. For each of these i’ve tried to sketch out what the role for business could be…

  1. Economic insecurity and poverty-related stress (role of business? financial service providers and mobile companies scaling up cash transfers and social safety nets? Ensuring workforce stays safe from DV - policies in place,)

  2. Quarantines and social isolation & inability to escape (role of business? developing SMS/online support services for staff, and society more broadly - eg Vodafone’s BrightSky App?. Tackling online abuse of staff. Communicating what options are available to staff, and role of business in supporting large scale advertising campaigns?)

  3. Reduced health service availability and access to first responders (role of business? using philanthropy to fund shelters and other emergency services for survivors at a time of reduced capacity?)

  4. Violence against health-care workers (70% of global health workforce, pandemics can magnify violence and harassment already faced by women) (role for mass marketing/awareness campaigns?, importance of health companies having clear V& harassment policies in place?

Whilst there are multiple forms of violence i think the two that business can address are domestic violence and violence and harassment (esp online). It seems very likely that with more people working online there will be an increase in this form of harassment.

Impacts are likely to exacerbate existing challenges of GBV at work - namely, a drop in worker well-being, productivity and retention losses - our earlier report documented many of the stats on this.


Hi all,
I am Lucia Flores, I lead HERrespect, a program that aims at preventing violence against women in the workplace and the home. This is part of the HERproject, a collaborative initiative by BSR, that brings together global brands, their suppliers, and local partners to create and implement workplace-based interventions on health, financial inclusion, and gender equality.
Looking forward to the discussion!


⅓ of women worldwide suffer from violence. The statistics are very high around the world. Those who are already in abusive relationships will find themselves in mandatory lockdowns to reduce the COVID-19 outbreak with perpetrators. The COVID-19 break has also introduced great stress on the population, including a significant economic strain and insecurity, which can also bring out new instances of domestic violence due to acute and chronic stress. This has also been associated in certain countries such as France with a rise in substance abuse.

If you look at the history of epidemics worldwide such as ebola, women have always suffered. We can also look at China, which already lived through several months of closure, evidence suggests an important rise in domestic violence. An anti-domestic violence nonprofit in Jingzhou, in Hubei Province, told Sixth Tone, a news outlet in China that the number of domestic violence cases reported to a nearby police station had tripled in February, compared to the same period the previous year, Wan said. Yet activists said Chinese police were not addressing the cases, abandoning women to deal with the situation by themselves.

Victims will furthermore be isolated from their families, friends, and other resources (also to be noted is the inability to use the phone to reach out). Numerous organizations serving women who have suffered from violence have had difficulty maintaining services throughout the outbreak given exposure, health risks etc. There have also been numerous media reports stating that some shelters have not been filled because women are afraid to seek out resources in fear of contracting the virus. Furthermore the police and other health + mental health resources are heavily overloaded and mobilized on responding to the health crisis and may not have the same readiness in response that they would in normal times. Sexual and reproductive health may not be available for women during this period. According to Huber, Finelli and Stevens (2018) during the 2014 ebola outbreak 500 health workers died (these are health workers that can no longer take care of women’s healthcare and pregnancy needs). In some countries this lack of healthcare may even create a rise in maternal mortality. In 2015, the UNFPA projected the outbreak would cause 120,000 preventable maternal deaths – more than 10 times the number killed by the disease itself (11,310).

Another aspect that needs to be considered is the link between women’s economic independence and gender based violence. Economic independence and freedom may be crucial in saving women this time. If women have work, they will be able to make the choice to leave their abusive partners and support their children. However my great concern is that this crisis will render women’s economic situation worldwide more fragile by forcing many women to take more and more unpaid care, family duties and domestic work, sometimes even making it impossible to pursue their paid work. If this burden falls more on women because of this crisis and their economic situation becomes more fragile overall then they will be at a higher risk of suffering from domestic violence.

I am also concerned that the coronavirus task forces are led entirely by men and that women and their needs may be forgotten.


Hi! As I’m sure those on this discussion are aware, we’re seeing and hearing worrying reports about the rise in domestic abuse as an unintended consequence of self isolation.


Hi, social distancing policies and mandatory quarantines, which are required to contain the spread of the virus, increase the risk of exposure to intimate partner violence. Research conducted in this field finds four factors that anticipate a rise of violence against women and a potential increase of femicides, and which require urgent responses:
a) The increase in quantity of time shared by perpetrator and victim;
b) The growth of daily conflicts due to family and domestic issues;
c) Prolonged violence without interruption by normal daily activities such as shopping, school, family visits, work etc.; and
d) The perceived security and impunity of the perpetrator

To add, in some countries, shelters for GBV survivors in some villages were repurposed for other needs during the COVID-19 outbreak, and in some countries GBV hotlines and judicial processes are offering reduced services. Thus, UNDP has observe that in times of disruption, referral pathways for GBV survivors are limited and sometimes diminished. It is also anticipated that probably in coming weeks we will see a rise o GBV cases in emergency settings with displaced and mobile populations, as well as in overcrowded peri-urban settlements, where women are more exposed.


First is the issue of rising rates of domestic violence during the Covid-19 crisis, and is an issue facing business small and large and across the value chain. Evidence from previous pandemics, natural disasters and economic shocks all point to increasing risks of domestic violence. During this current time of confinement, along with added worry and financial stress, domestic violence is increasing. In Italy, for example, there has been a significant increase in domestic violence, including constant control and surveillance of women during the confinement. But it has become harder for a survivor to make a call for help; in March calls to the national helpline Telefono Rosa decreased by 55.1% in compared to the same time last year. In France, there are reports of up to 36% increase in calls to the national domestic violence helpline in the Paris region, and 30% for the rest of the country, since the lockdown started. There are similar reports from the USA and UK. Although it is too early to have reliable data and evidence about extent of the increase in domestic violence and its effects, there is no doubt about the impact of confinement on the safety of survivors, who may also be employees working from home, on short term working or on leave, as well as those who have lost their jobs.

For many women the risks of domestic violence further impact on their financial independence, which is critical to being about to leave a violent relationship. Second, is the issue of prevailing policy, which for many years has been to remove women and children from their homes to a place of safety and often into homelessness. We need to change this policy to ensure that women and children can remain in the safety of their own homes; this is good for their safety and security, as well as their livelihoods and work roles during the Covid-19 crisis and beyond.


Globally Women are already 27 times more likely to be harassed online than men and this is worse we begin to apply an intersectional lens, an Amnesty International research found that , Black women are 84% more likely to be mentioned in problematic and abusive tweets than white women, so we already know that gender based violence against women is already terrible.

What we also ready know that in times of national crisis, other forms of violence against women increase, including domestic violence. Just this morning the Director- General of World Health Organization which itself has said

“Sadly, there are reports of an increase in domestic violence since the COVID-19 outbreak began and is calling on all countries to include end violence as an essential service that must continue during the response. “

What is often forgotten is the online element to domestic violence and an increasing online element of violence more generally - i.e. online stalking, the sharing of non-consensual photography as an act of harm and surveillance. So we can make confident inferences that such a pandemic like COVID-19 will exacerbate Violence Against Women (VAW) in ways we know about and in new ways. In new was because we have:

1- quickly introduced more technology into lives without the necessary time to do checks, mitigations, risk assessment and put in place the required training and policy. We have yet to crapple how to be digital citizens in 2020 yet alone in a pandemic. As digital citizens we are still learning online boundaries, self care, our civic responsibilities in online communities and with tech including how to be an online active bystander.

2- Increase time online means and increase both evolved and new tactics and behaviours such as Zoom Bombing. Researchers and campaigners are having to keep up with new tactics of online abuse, this is much needed and fruitful but I would argue if we had a way of ensuring any future regulation looked at tech from a systematic point of view- the design and systems of these platforms, rather than on a case by case, tactic by tactic basis.

3- Many Tech platforms are not yet designed and developed on a safety by design basis but rather one for profit so issues like gender based violence, hate speech and manipulation of data and surveillance are often missed. Joan Donovan from Shorenstein Center has termed this Socio technical vulnerability. At Glitch we say as we have increased tech facilitate support we have also increased tech facilitated violence. This makes it even worse now that we’ve increased the chances of women being harassed and abused in their own homes. Tech platforms also themselves aren’t winning any diversity awards any time soon so there are inherent biases


We’re seeing a great deal of media coverage in the UK in particular, and we all need to work to leverage this interest, working towards shared goals of supporting the vital support services at risk during these times.


The very technique we are using to protect people from the virus can perversely impact victims of domestic violence. While we absolutely support the need to follow the measures of social distancing and isolation and restrictions on freedom of movement we have to recognize that it provides an opportunity for abusers to unleash more violence.

• The impact on and role of businesses is essential: companies/workplaces may be the only source of immediate contact outside of the home. Furtermore women are the most vulnerable in supply chains, so labor force cutbacks and retrenchment may lead to women feeling forced to stay in abusive situations.

Businesses should have hotlines and psychosocial support and communicate explicitly their beliefs and norms on this. Plus partner with organizations like ours to signal support for victims. Support shelters. Sponsor hotlines.


We know from previous public health emergencies that domestic violence rates increase dramatically, and the Covid-19 pandemic is no exception. In China, there is evidence of domestic violence rates increasing by up to three times in some areas. This document by the VAWG helpdesk (run by a UK consortium for the Department for International Development) examines the emerging evidence. The Chief Justice of Kenya has said that there has been a ‘significant spike’ in sexual offences in all parts of the country in the last two weeks, and most of these incidents are at the hands of close relatives and guardians. In France, domestic violence has risen by up to 30%. Today the UK’s National Domestic Violence Helpline has reported a 25% increase in calls, and traffic to its website was last week 150% higher than for the last week in February.


Yes I think this is the perfect time to get governments as well to make commitments

A1 Initial evidence indicates that COVID-19 is likely to increase:
domestic violence : Police reports from China show domestic violence tripled during the epidemic. Domestic violence often increases during times of high stress, particularly when linked to economic instability and fears of job losses. Social isolation may also keep women and their children trapped in their homes with their abusers, isolated from the people and the resources that could spot signs of abuse and help them.

  • Violence against health sector workers , particularly female front-line workers.
  • Violence against vulnerable workers , such as sex workers or domestic workers. This may also include some women in precarious or informal work.
  • Online violence and harassment, as work related communications move online.
  • Sexual exploitation and abuse . Deployment of security forces during outbreaks has been associated with an increase in sexual exploitation, abuse and harassment. Increased humanitarian response may also heighten the risk of sexual exploitation abuse and harassment in the aid sector. In countries with recent memories of conflict-related sexual violence committed by armed forces, the deployment of security services during an outbreak can create fear and tension and lead to further trauma for survivors of VAWG.

The impact on business will be significant given what the statistics suggest about the number of women affected. Across their value chains companies will be affected by women either being unable to work or lose productivity. Classical effects of domestic violence in the workplace include absenteeism, lost productivity, and it will create difficulties in the workplace and work environment for teams and employees. Companies will have to respond in an effective manner they could lose important members of their workforce (and if they do not it could be considered workplace discrimination). This means that they will have to have systems in place to respond to these issues. Companies can also leverage their resources to let their employees know that they are available for them during this period and communicate clearly on efforts and resources mobilized.

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Absolutely, as home-working requirements increase with quarantine measures, there is a high risk of violence occurring within the home, which is effectively the new workplace. Victims of intimate partner violence may become trapped at home with their abusers increasing their daily risk of exposure to violence and with abusers potentially using the crisis to further isolate them from family, friends and support networks. Early evidence from China suggests cases of domestic violence rose during the height of the outbreak there.


Agree. We’re going to kick off a campaign in the coming days/weeks with an open letter to Governments calling for them to keep women and domestic violence in particular front of mind and give the necessary support to survivors and those at risk.


yes and poor access to services that could help!

Hi Victoria, we really value this evidence review at ActionAid UK and I’d just referenced it too :slight_smile:

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Also, as workers who are victims of violence are less able to access support, the impacts on their working lives are likely to increase, reducing their ability to participate fully within the workplace and reducing productivity. CARE has estimated the cost of GBV in the garment industry in Cambodia to be around $89million USD per year, an amount which is likely to only increase with decreasing services and increased risk in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis.

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we did a very interesting comparison of legal frameworks with Kering, Thomson Reuters and Dentons of legal frameworks on this issue in different countries, happy to share !

DV@Work Covid-19 Briefing 1 .pdf (86.8 KB)

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