giovedì, Aprile 18, 2024

The impact of Covid-19 on women’s rights

In the course of these past months, governments worldwide adopted different isolation policies in order to stop the spread of the Covid-19. These measures had (and still have) a crucial impact in our lives: consequences on the economy, social life and common habits are well known. On the other hand, house-confinement also increased gender-based violence on women, as reported by media [1] and official statements [2], putting at risk women’s rights.

Reports on violence against women

Children and women facing domestic, sexual or gender-based violence have no escape from their abuser during confinement, and seeking support becomes even harder than it used to be in the past. Moreover, as reported by the office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, some of the services needed by victims may be de-prioritised in this period. The Council of Europe has expressed concern in the increasing of gender-based violence as well[3], and created a page on its website with the aim of disseminating information about initiatives, practices, statements, and guidelines put in place, notably in line with the spirit of the Istanbul Convention, adopted by civil society, Member States, international organisations and the Council itself[4].

Both Authorities reported that help phone numbers have received fewer calls than normal, and at the same time, instant messages to relevant aid organisations across Europe have increased. This proves that perpetrators have prevented their victims from seeking help by phone, just to mention one of the concerning aspects of this situation.

Moreover, the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE) and the EU Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA), exposed how insufficient the support measures for women facing gender-based violence are even during normal times[5], not achieving the standards[6] of the Istanbul Convention, adopted by the Council of Europe and signed by 21 EU countries.[7]

Key-actions to take and best practices

In order to tackle the increase of gender-based, sexual and domestic violence due to the pandemic, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights set out some of the key actions States and other stakeholders can take, such as: i) declaring protection structures and services for victims of gender-based violence as essentialii) updating referral pathways to reflect changes in available care facilities, while continuously informing key communities and service providers about those updated pathways; iii) setting up coded messages to report domestic violence; iv) Providing hotlines, online chats, and other types of diversified support and reporting mechanisms that can be remotely accessed in a safe manner; v) raising awareness in an accessible manner and through different channels about how victims can seek help, how witnesses should react, as well as how persons fearing they may turn violent can seek assistance; vi) ensuring immediate and proactive action by law enforcement and judiciary for the removal of abusers from the home and protection of victims. When contemplating prison releases, measures should equally be taken to ensure they do not put at risk survivors of gender-based violence; vii) Ensuring that those who break lockdown rules to report or flee from violence are exempted from punishment[8].

Meanwhile, EIGE and FRA called on the EU and its Member States to consider several actions. Firstly, they urged all EU Member States that have not yet ratified the Istanbul Convention or not fully aligned their legislation to do it swiftly[9]. Secondly, they recommended that the police, justice and health sectors in EU Member States work together to manage the risk of violence against women. Accordingly, orofessionals in these sectors should be properly resourced and trained to respond to such cases. Thirdly, they invited EU Member States to harmonise data collection on violence against women to ensure the phenomenon can be adequately measured and addressed and to coordinate the exchange of good practices regarding measures to eliminate violence against women adopted at the national level. Lastly, they encouraged a workable legal definition of femicide to denote the killing of women and girls because of their gender to be adopted in all Member States;

Many agencies and organisations, expressing their concern, have released their guidelines, like UNICEF, who promoted some advocacy actions, such as: providing adequate support, including childcare, health services and other social support and protection for vital frontline responders (medical staff, nurses, caregivers); maintaining core health and education systems; supporting existing women and youth rights networks; ensure the availability of gender-based violence data.

Finally, EIGE and FRA expressed their support to the European Commission’s proposal[10] aiming at adding violence against women on the list of EU crimes defined in the EU Treaties. This would recognise the structural nature of violence against women and propel joint efforts to eliminate it.

The impact of Covid-19 on gender equality

The increase of gender-based violence, unfortunately, is just one aspect of the raise of gender inequality. Covid-19 exacerbated already existing inequalities, in the world of work and in the division of household duties.

As demonstrated by some researches, the employment drop related to social distancing measures has a large impact on sectors with a high rate of female employment. Moreover, if 28% of male workers are employed in highly telecommutable occupations, only 22% of female workers are in the same situation. These numbers suggest that in terms of their occupations, more men than women will easily adapt to the changing work environment during the crisis.[11]. This could create some concerns, but the situation gets worse if we consider the duties that women often assume in the household and childcare. Indeed, the effects of the crisis on working mothers are getting worryingly relevant, considering the school closure and the increase of the children care needs, and it seems they will last longer than the crisis itself.

In this respect, the International Labour Organisation highlighted that“the pandemic has deepened pre-existing inequalities and exposed cracks in social, political and economic systems including access to health services and social protection. Women with care responsibilities, informal workers, low-income families, and youth are under particular pressure[12]

So, The International Labour Organization, UN Women and the European Union have called on G7 nations to put in place measures to promote gender equality amid the COVID-19 crisis, including:

  • Design and implement strategies to address COVID-19 related gender issues, to tackle the new challenges posed to the changing world of work;
  • Expand and invest in universal social protection;
  • Ensure support to women-owned micro enterprises, small and medium-sized enterprises, as well as hard-hit sectors and occupations where women are over-represented;
  • Allocate additional resources to address violence against women and girls in COVID-19 national response plans;
  • Invite businesses to commit to equal pay for work of equal value and a zero tolerance policy against sexual harassment in workplace responses;
  • Ensure that girls are included in learning and skills development programmes during and after the crisis.
  • Collect gender-related statistics and data to inform crisis response and recovery plans.

EU institutions, as well, expressed the will of putting women in the centre of the recovery process, as Hilde Hardeman, Head of the European Commission’s Service for Foreign Policy Instruments (FPI), said: “We can say that the COVID-19 crisis is gender biased looking at its impact on women-owned businesses, on the burden women are facing during the crisis, at the increase of gender based violence, but the COVID crisis is also an opportunity to rebuild back better. Our efforts should now concentrate on putting women at the centre of the recovery.”

The risks for the future

This pandemic has exposed how inequalities are still present in our society and took them to rough consequences. The confinement measures, hopefully, will soon be softened, but it is really important to keep attention on the increasing of violence against women and to take action against such unacceptable crimes. Furthermore, we have to consider that the effects of the crisis could worsen gender inequality in a persistent way, due to the loss of employment of women and to the increasing of duties that they may assume in this difficult times, added to other difficulties we have analysed.  These consequences could last more than the crisis itself and that is why it is extremely important to urgently put women in the centre of the recovery process.


[2] Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human rights, Covid-19 And Women’s Human Rights: Guidance, April 15,2020.

[3]Council of Europe Secretary General Marija Pejčinović Burić, Summary of interview with Deutsche Presse Agentur (DPA) March 30 2020



[6] For example, the number of beds in women’s shelters is only about half that required under the Istanbul Convention

[7] See Russo Maria Sole, Gender-based violence under international law: the case of Italy, Ius in Itinere, April 28, 2019.

[8] Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human rights, Covid-19 And Women’s Human Rights: Guidance, April 15,2020, p.2.

[9] This would, for example, facilitate the use of emergency barring orders. In countries where legislation already provides for these orders, police should use them more often.

[10] Full content of the proposal can be investigated here:

[11] Nber Working Paper Series, The Impact Of Covid-19 On Gender Equality, April 2020.

[12] I.L.O., COVID-19: G7 nations need to get gender equality right for a better future for women at work, May 14 2020.

Rossella Russo

Nata nel 1995, laureata in Giurisprudenza presso l'Università degli Studi di Napoli Federico II. Accanto alla pratica forense in diritto civile e del lavoro, da sempre mi dedico allo studio del diritto internazionale ed eurounitario. Attualmente frequento il Corso di Perfezionamento in Diritto dell'Unione Europea a cura del professor Roberto Mastroianni.

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