Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

"In every region of the world, battery and sexual assault of women and girls isolated at home increased with the spread of the coronavirus," writes Hynes. (Photo: Genebel/Twenty20)

"In every region of the world, battery and sexual assault of women and girls isolated at home increased with the spread of the coronavirus," writes Hynes. (Photo: Genebel/Twenty20)

A Pandemic Within the Pandemic

The spread of coronavirus has created a "perfect storm" for violence against women behind closed doors.

H. Patricia Hynes

On March 23, 2020, as Covid 19 was overtaking the world, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres pleaded for peace: “To warring parties: Pull back from hostilities. Silence the guns; stop the artillery; end the airstrikes...End the sickness of war and fight the disease that is ravaging our world.  It starts by stopping the fighting everywhere. Now. That is what our human family needs, now more than ever.” 

Two weeks later, horrified by the global surge in male violence against women, he again implored for peace: “Peace is not just the absence of war.  Many women under lockdown for Covid 19 face violence where they should be safest: in their own homes. Today I appeal for peace in homes around the world. I urge all governments to put women’s safety first as they respond to the pandemic.”

" 'Stay Safe—Stay Home' is one of the essential public health measures in containing the Covid virus.  Yet home is a dangerous and unsafe place for those 1 in 3 women worldwide who are physically and/or sexually abused over their lifetime, most by a male relative or intimate partner at home."

In every region of the world, battery and sexual assault of women and girls isolated at home increased with the spread of the coronavirus.  Reports from China's Hubei province indicated that domestic violence tripled during February 2020 compared to February 2019.   In France violence against women increased 30% after they initiated a March 17 lockdown; in Argentina, by 25%; and in Singapore, 33%.  The pandemic in sexual assault of women and girls followed the Covid 19 pandemic in what Executive Director of UN Women Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka called “a perfect storm for…violent behavior behind closed doors.”  By the end of May 2020, nearly 250 million women and girls had reported suffering sexual or physical violence by an intimate partner, a far greater number than those infected by the virus.  

“Stay Safe—Stay Home” is one of the essential public health measures in containing the Covid virus.  Yet home is a dangerous and unsafe place for those 1 in 3 women worldwide who are physically and/or sexually abused over their lifetime, most by a male relative or intimate partner at home.  Further, intimate partners commit one-half of femicides—the killing of women because they are women—throughout the world.  School, the workplace outdoors, anywhere is safer than home for women and girls at risk of domestic violence.

An estimated 1.6 billion of the world’s children lost their in-school education because of Covid-19, with many in developing countries lacking the benefit of online education at home. For girls, this setback can be yet more dangerous, more violent and more life-limiting.  Boarding schools in Tanzania have saved girls from female genital mutilation (FGM) until Covid sent them home. According to the NGO Terre des Hommes, which runs a safe house for girls, “The community has taken advantage of this situation of Covid-19 and where children are now back at home, they are cutting their girls. They know it is against the law but they are not afraid.”

During the 2014-2016 Ebola crisis in Africa, many children were kept out of school at home, especially girls, according to Eric Hazard of Save the Children. “Over 11,000 girls became pregnant,” due to sexual violence and abuse.  

Given that the same is assuredly occurring now with our current pandemic, what recourse to healthcare do women and girls have?  Some governments in Covid lockdown did not classify sexual and reproductive health—for pregnancy, childbirth, abortion and birth control—as essential, forcing the health centers to close.  In the case of India they were repurposed for Covid.  The UN Population Fund director Natalia Kanen calls the effect of Covid 19 on women and girls “devastating,” with estimates of 7 million unintended pregnancies worldwide and potentially thousands of deaths from birth complications and unsafe abortions.  

What of the situation in the United States? Crime rates plunged in cities and counties across the U.S. over the second half of March —with one exception, domestic violence—as mandatory stay-at–home orders drove millions of residents to stay inside their homes. Calls by victims of domestic violence surged between 10% and 30%, according to an analysis of crime data published by 53 law enforcement agencies in two dozen states. 

Another more nuanced study found that the crimes that have dropped are more minor, younger peer group crimes such as vandalism, car theft and DUIs.  The graver crimes of homicide and aggravated assault have remained the same.  Only intimate partner violence has increased.

"As with systemic racism, we must as a society excavate and eliminate the structural roots of violence against women and girls: namely gender inequality, rape culture, and the failure to treat violence against women as a serious offense."

And what of the fate of women’s reproductive health clinics?  Twelve states quickly banned or blocked abortion services in response to the Covid 19 pandemic, justifying their actions by defining abortion services a non-essential health service.  Many defended their actions under the aegis of conserving personal protective equipment (PPE).  In response, the leading medical professional organizations, among them the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, issued a public statement defining abortion as “an essential component of comprehensive health care.”  

Ultimately these bans were rescinded, after successful court challenges or state executive action.  However, in the time this took, many reproductive health clinics closed for financial reasons; and the consequences for women and girls in need of abortion, before the bans were lifted, are unknown.

But, ending the Stay at Home order won’t end violence against women.  On average, at least one in three women in the US is beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused by an intimate partner in the course of her lifetime.

More than one in three women regularly fears being sexually assaulted, according to a new report from Gallup,

Violence against women is the “most common but least punished crime in the world,” according to the UN; and it is a catastrophic obstacle for achieving women’s equality worldwide. 

As with systemic racism, we must as a society excavate and eliminate the structural roots of violence against women and girls: namely gender inequality, rape culture, and the failure to treat violence against women as a serious offense.

Peace on earth begins with peace at home.  The degree of equality women have within their families and in their society predicts best how peaceful or conflict-ridden their country is. 


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
H. Patricia Hynes

H. Patricia Hynes

H. Patricia Hynes is a retired Professor of Environmental Health from Boston University School of Public Health and current Chair of the Board of the Traprock Center for Peace and Justice. She has written and edited seven books, among them "The Recurring Silent Spring." She writes and speaks on issues of war and militarism with an emphasis on women, the environment, and public health.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

First Stop for Cuellar After FBI Raid? An Anti-Choice Event

"Despite being under an FBI investigation," said progressive primary challenger Jessica Cisneros, the congressman from Texas "has once again proven that nothing can stop him from opposing our reproductive rights and freedoms."

Brett Wilkins ·


House Calls Big Oil Board Members to Testify on 'Phony' Net-Zero Pledges

"It's critical that Congress holds these companies accountable and exposes the industry's fake climate pledges for the fraud that they are," said one supporter of Democrats' probe.

Jessica Corbett ·


'Time for Citizens United to Go': US Oligarchs Poured $1.2 Billion Into 2020 Elections

The figure represents a 39-fold increase compared to spending in 2010, the first election held after the widely decried ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Jake Johnson ·


Biden Praised for $15 Minimum Wage Hike for All Federal Workers

"Setting a new $15 per hour wage floor for federal government work will encourage employers across the country who are currently paying poverty wages to compete for labor and start paying fairer rates."

Brett Wilkins ·


Sotomayor Excoriates Majority for 'Egregious' Attack on Texas Women

"This case is a disaster for the rule of law and a grave disservice to women in Texas, who have a right to control their own bodies," said the justice. "I will not stand by silently as a state continues to nullify this constitutional guarantee."

Julia Conley ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.


Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo