Negative impact of COVID-19 on family peace

19 April 2020

The second webinar organized by the Kemet Boutros Ghali Foundation (KBG) in collaboration with Al-Ahram Establishment focused on discussing the impact of the lockdown on family peace and stability.

KBG chairman, Mamdouh Abbas, predicted that the pandemic would have lasting effects on families. In addition to exacerbating fear, anxiety, and financial stress, COVID-19 has challenged the ability of health and social services to connect with and support victims of violence. The scarcity of community resources has set the stage for exacerbated domestic violence. Many victims find themselves isolated in violent homes, without access to resources or friend and family networks.

According to Ambassador Moushira Khattab, KBG Executive President, it is common knowledge that family members perpetrate most violence against women, and in times of crisis, the number of cases tends to increase. She also referred to the statement made by UN Secretary-General Antonio Gutierrez when he said that "Women are not safe in their own homes because they are trapped with abusive partners." He urged all governments to address violence against women as a crucial part of their national response plans. The increase in interpersonal violence during times of crisis is well-documented. But wide underreporting has made response and data gathering a challenge, with less than 40% of women who experience violence seeking help or reporting the crime. Among women who do seek help, less than 10% go to the police.

Dr. Moez Doraid, Regional Director of UN Women, highlighted the dimensions of the problem in the Middle East. This pandemic has the potential to continue to marginalize domestic violence survivors in dire need of support amid what could become the most significant global economic crisis in modern history. To address this new reality, governments, NGOs, and the private sector must incorporate a human rights and gender lens into their COVID-19 responses and funding structures. According to Doraid, the Eastern Mediterranean Region has the second highest prevalence of violence against women worldwide, at 37%. This is due to structural systems that maintain gender inequalities at different levels of society, crystalized by political crises and socioeconomic instability in the region. Initial information from two countries reports an increase of 50-60% of cases, based on survivors' calls for help to women organizations' hotline. 

Ambassador Naela Gabr, Head of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, declared that special consideration should be given to more vulnerable groups, including women living in rural areas. Such women are at increased risk of domestic violence and may face further barriers in reaching the services they require due to curfews and social distancing or restrictions on movement. The women who speak up mostly turn to their families and friends rather than the police. She added that the lack of effective judicial response to their accusations contributes to their discouragement.

Mrs. Amal El- Dousary, a member of the UN Committee for Children's Rights, shed light on children's issues during the lockdown. She expressed concern over the psychological health of children during this period. She deplored that the new online educational approach adopted by governments has made it difficult for poor children, especially girls, to access such services. 

Mohamed Fayek, Chairman of the National Council for Human Rights,  pointed to the urgent need for the government to re-open the economy and accelerate the production process. Governments should shoulder part of the heavy economic burden of the lockdown, which negatively affected several sectors of society. He added that the pandemic showed the vulnerability of the concept of globalization. He nonetheless praised the relentless efforts exerted by the medical teams globally, especially in countries with weak health systems. 

Mr. Amre Moussa, dormer Secretary of the Arab League, raised an important issue for UN officials to consider. He said that the United Nations should put pandemics, climate change, and demographic changes at the top of their priorities. Moussa believes that those issues should be seen within the context of threatening world peace and security by the UN Charter. 
On the issue of domestic violence, Moussa, who led a team of distinguished experts in Egypt to bring to light the 2014 constitution, said that women in Egypt should fight for the rights bestowed to them by the constitution.
Unfortunately, domestic violence is still tolerated by many in Egypt. Moussa called upon officials to conduct surveys covering the past three months to scientifically observe the surge of domestic violence, the number of divorce cases, and the fertility rate. Such studies will show the impact of the lockdown on women, children, and men and will also work, if extended for a year, as a base to understand the era of post COVID- 19, he added.

Dr. Hoda Badran, president of the UN Child Human Rights Committee in Geneva and the Egypt Women Federation, highlighted the connection between the local and international repercussions of the lockdown imposed because of COVID- 19. 
"Members of the UN security council are the world's producers of arms and destructive military stockpiles. Weapons are not sold for development but destruction, and the Arab countries have become the hub for such strategy," she added. 
To achieve a more peaceful and secure environment for women and children in Egypt, Dr. Badran said that women's rights, as stated by the 2014 constitution, should be translated into effective laws and legal procedures to protect them. 

According to Mr. Sabri Othman, director of Child Security Hotline, mounting data suggests domestic abuse is spreading in the conditions created by the pandemic. The first quarter of 2020 has seen a drastic increase in the number of calls received by the National Council for Motherhood and Childhood's hotline. The hotline received 74 calls about domestic violence, 974 complaints of child abuse, and 843 cases of sexual abuse, in addition to court cases.
Suspension of courts has also hindered the implementation of previous rulings in favor of women's rights, further exacerbating violence against women. 

Dr. Fatma Khafagy, a member of the Arab Women Associations, deplored that most women in Egypt hardly know about the hotlines and the services offered. Most women's associations suffer from low funding, especially regarding providing shelters. According to Dr. Khafagy, governments should establish shelters run by civil society organizations, with well-trained members capable of handling women abused by their partners socially and psychologically. 

Dr. Howaida Moustafa, Dean of Mass Media at Cairo University, believes that local media plays a vital role in people's awareness of the pandemic and the measures taken to protect themselves. However, the economic consequences of the lockdown and the repercussions of women trapped in their homes with abusive partners are yet to be highlighted. The media should exert more effort in creating a culture of social peace and security, tolerance, and acceptance. Finally, she pointed to the several initiatives supporting science and health media, which should expand to different media coverage post-lockdown.

Amal Fawzy, Chief Editor of 'Nesf el- Donia', a women's magazine published by Al-Ahram establishment, said the magazine has been working on several issues involving violence among family members. During the lockdown, the magazine reported an increase in the number of divorce cases as well as violence targeting women. 

Lastly, Mr. Hany Asal, deputy news editor of Al- Ahram daily, pointed to the issue faced by the elderly. Because of the restrictive measures imposed, many seniors found themselves with no caretaker, isolated, and without access to proper health care. This constitutes yet another societal issue to be addressed by the government and civil society.