Isolation allows for the tightening of control by abusers

Dr Marceline Naudi

Despite the country not being under full lockdown, people have been urged to remain inside in a bid to curb the spread of coronavirus in the community. Schools and educational institutions were among the first to be closed. These were followed by restaurants, bars and shops offering non-essential services. Individuals deemed to be vulnerable have been asked to stay inside. Various countries have opted for a full lockdown, with France recently banning physical exercise outside.

Mounting data from various countries suggests that domestic abuse is acting like an opportunistic infection, and that it is flourishing in the conditions created by the pandemic. While statistics on Malta are not available yet, a rise in domestic violence is expected in this period. spoke with Dr Marceline Naudi, Head of Department of Gender and Sexualities within the Faculty of Social Wellbeing to understand better how the outbreak of coronavirus has impacted women’s rights. Dr Naudi is also the president of GREVIO – Group of Experts on Action against Violence against Women and Domestic Violence.

Dr Naudi stated that while one appreciates the importance of measures which were taken to limit the transmission of the virus within the community, one also has to acknowledge the reality of women and children in abusive relationships.

“Restrictions on movement mean additional control for abusers,” Dr Naudi stated.

Although Malta is not under lockdown, women and children are ‘locked down’ with their abusers. Dr Naudi highlighted that in situations such as these, women might feel desperate as they continue doing their best to survive and protect their children.

The outbreak of coronavirus did not only spark a public health emergency, but its effects are being felt in other spheres of life, including the negative impact it has had on the economy.

Dr Naudi remarked that women – those in abusive relationships and those who are not – tend to feel the financial impact more, since they were more prone to lose their employment, and therefore increase their dependency on their partner. For those who are in an abusive relationship, this would mean an increased financial dependency on their abusers.

Why is it that there are so many men that think it’s ok?

Asked about what can be done by others to help those who might be in abusive relationship, Dr Naudi underlined that one needs to open one’s eyes and recognise that abuse exists around us. “We need to acknowledge that there are people in abusive relationships.

However, she pointed out the need to call out men who abuse women and children.

“Why are there so many men who think it is ok?” she asked, remarking that many a time we speak about how to get a victim out of a situation rather than addressing why the perpetrator feels that he can inflict violence on others.

Dr Naudi was asked about how the outbreak has affected certain services. The Head of Department pointed out that while we are not under complete lockdown people can still go out and seek assistance. Shelters were still admitting referrals after the victims are quarantined for 14 days to ensure that current residents, staff members and the victim themselves are protected from infection.

In some cases, staff at shelters have been under lockdown with the individuals living at the shelter as a precautionary measure to prevent the spread.

Non-governmental organisations working in the field are doing all they can on their part, Dr Naudi added.

She noted that while the Police are busy enforcing quarantine regulations and ensuring that no public gatherings took place, a surge in cases of domestic violence is to be expected.

Tensions are also expected in respectful relationships due to the external conditions, such as putting many people together in a small space over a period, Dr Naudi remarked. While many might be doing fun activities with the rest of the family members, the new situation produces a certain amount of stress. “Where relationships lack respect, it is not going to be any better for sure. It is more likely that it is going to be worse,” she added.

Countries which are in a similar situation to that in Malta have reported an increase in reports filed on domestic violence.

Whether in conflict or pandemic, standards must be met

Malta, as one of the countries to have ratified the Istanbul Convention, an international instrument on combatting and preventing violence against women, has an obligation to retain the standards which would be there in a ‘normal’ situation.

Dr Naudi, who heads GREVIO, referred to a statement issued last week, she explained that the Istanbul Convention was clear that whether in time of conflict or pandemic, the standards have to be met. States were not excused and thus are still legally bound by these obligations.

In such a situation, states must find innovative ways by which they could maintain the standards.

“To do this, states have to listen to the frontline workers – NGOs and specialised services,” Dr Naudi said.

“Never before in my lifetime has the need been greater to ensure that we find innovative solutions, that we work together, that we pull the same rope – a concerted effort. All the relevant ministries, the women’s organisations, must make a joint effort to keep women and children safe from violence,” Dr Naudi underlined.

As children are not in schools due to the pandemic, if schools served as a safe place, then that has had been removed. When still in school, professionals could have detected cases of domestic violence.

“We’re talking about the right to life”

Domestic violence as a continuum ends with femicide, Dr Naudi stated.

“We don’t want to be in a situation where we have more femicides.”

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