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Coronavirus: The Hidden Costs for Women

The Hidden Costs for Women

The United Nations fears that gender-based violence will increase during lockdown because victims have to remain at home with their abusers. Soraya Polanco considers how Spain, Italy, the United States and China are responding to this scenario.

by Soraya Polanco Palomar, coordinator of pro-equality activities at IE University, Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Project.



It might seem to contradict the statistics, but it’s true: even though the coronavirus affects more men than women, the environment that this crisis is creating around the globe will have a greater effect on women. But how?

According to World Health Organization, women account for more than 70% of workers in the health and social sector—the people on the frontlines of the coronavirus response. This sector has an average gender pay gap of 28%, which may be exacerbated in times of crisis.

Moreover, the United Nations fears that gender-based violence will increase during lockdown because victims have to remain at home with their abusers. COVID-19 could be used by abusers to exercise more control over the abused.

Situations around the globe

The situation varies from one part of the world to the next. Let’s take a look at how different countries are responding to a scenario that could exacerbate inequality.


The Spanish Ministry of Equality has released a contingency plan classifying all comprehensive assistance services to victims of violence against women as essential services. The government’s gender-violence hotline (016) added a WhatsApp chat service with psychologists specialized in gender violence to provide emotional and psychological support to victims (682 91 61 36 – 682 50 85 07).

Between March 14 and 29, calls to 016 increased by 12.43% compared to the same period of the previous year—a total of 374 more calls.


ActionAid has created an emergency fund with an initial allocation of €40,000 that will support the operation of anti-violence centers so that they can continue assisting women. The fund will help these centers meet unexpected expenses during the COVID-19 emergency, thereby strengthening the system that protects women suffering from domestic violence.

United States

In the United States, the courts have vastly reduced the number of restraining orders they are processing. Under this legal triage regime, the standard for securing a restraining order has been raised to matters of life or death.

Victims can contact nonprofit organizations such as the National Domestic Violence Hotline. If the authorities issue a “shelter in place” order, women are supposed to rely on friends or family during that time in accordance with this scheme.


On the legal front, despite China’s introduction of landmark anti-domestic-violence legislation in 2017, sexism and the backward view that domestic violence is a private family matter still cloud police responses when survivors call for help.

Meanwhile, for victims seeking protective orders from courts, counseling and legal services have been largely inaccessible as court officers work from home.

Hope resides in individual actions. Reports of domestic violence have surfaced on Chinese social media in the past few months. On Weibo, the hashtag “anti domestic violence during epidemic” (#疫期反家暴# yìqī fǎn jiābào) has been viewed 3.5 million times and hundreds of participants have distributed homemade posters in their neighborhoods, reminding people to provide community care for survivors.


As you can see, violence against women is increasing all around the world, but responses vary widely by culture.

Education on gender-based violence and gender equality is fundamental to eliminate these added problems in an already difficult situation.