Femicide rates on the rise amid COVID-19 pandemic: Canadian researcher
TORONTO -- There has been a surge in femicide – the gender- and sex-related killing of women and girls – around the world in recent years, with the pandemic playing a role, says a Canadian gender-based violence expert.
Repeated lockdowns and limited access to services and shelters, as well as tense home environments, all a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, have contributed to a steady rise in femicide, according to University of Guelph researcher Mryna Dawson.
"The numbers are showing increases over the three years – pre-COVID-19, beginning of COVID-19 and as COVID-19 continues – and in that context, it is something that we should be concerned about," she said in a news release.
"Not only because the numbers are increasing, but because these numbers are only capturing women and girls who were killed. This does not capture the increase in those who have and continue to experience violence."
Those previously mentioned numbers paint a bleak picture. According to the Canadian Femicide Observatory for Justice and Accountability, of which Dawson is the director, there were 92 women and girls killed in the first six months of 2021 compared to 78 during the same period in 2020 and 60 during the same period in 2019 across the country.
"That's an increase of 32 women and girls killed from 2019 to 2021," she said. "Canada is not the only country experiencing these continual increases in numbers. It's a global trend."
It's possible the uptick may be the result of changing dynamics in the home due to lockdowns and stay-at-home orders, which could have led to bad domestic situations for victims of violence becoming even worse.
"These orders do not suddenly turn previously non-violent men into violent men," Dawson said. "Instead, it's likely exacerbated the violence some women and children have already been living with and limiting their options in terms of dealing with it like they may have done before the pandemic."
There are also fewer options available for those who may be in need of services and shelters due to restrictions brought on by the pandemic.
In addition, women have been more negatively affected than men during the pandemic in terms of job losses and reduced access to childcare.
"We know that a key contributor to male violence against women is gender inequality and the pandemic has significantly increased inequality," Dawson said. "Throughout the pandemic, women have lost more jobs, are picking up childcare responsibilities and stepping in to educate children when schools close. This is what disaster patriarchy looks like. When there is a disaster, women are typically impacted more profoundly than men, materially speaking and in terms of experiences of violence. They are closely connected."
Nov. 25 is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. It's a day the United Nations (UN) kicks off its UNiTE to End Violence against Women campaign, which includes 16 days of activism leading up to World Human Rights Day on Dec. 10.
The UN campaign was launched in 2008 to coincide with the Global 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence Campaign, which was started in 1991 at the Center for Women's Global Leadership (CWGL) at Rutgers University in collaboration with feminists from around the world. The CWGL remains the global coordinator of the campaign to this day.
The federal government is encouraging Canadians to observe 16 days of activism against gender-based violence.
"Living in fear of violence is a reality for too many Canadian women," Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a statement Thursday. "More than four in 10 women in Canada have experienced some form of psychological, physical, or sexual violence from an intimate partner. Some women and girls continue to be at a higher risk of gender-based violence due to the discrimination and additional barriers they face because of their sexuality, race, disability, or social and economic situation.
"Since the outbreak of COVID-19, there have been escalated rates of gender-based violence around the world. The social and economic impact of the public health emergency has resulted in a shadow pandemic. It has underscored the systemic issues that lead to violence, as well as the gaps in support to protect and prevent those at risk from harm."
Trudeau highlighted some of the government's efforts, including the National Action Plan to End Gender-Based Violence and 2021 Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls and 2SLGBTQQIA+ People National Action Plan.
Without real societal changes, Dawson says, rates of femicide will remain stable and possibly increase with variables such as the COVID-19 pandemic.
"While the pandemic has changed the dynamics of violence in some ways, the experiences, consequences and solutions have not changed significantly, so everything that feminists and anti-violence against women organizations have been saying for decades still applies," she said. "Gender equality or equity is key. We cannot fully prevent violence without addressing the contributions of misogyny and male entitlement."
If you are experiencing domestic abuse and seeking help you can access the following service:
Assaulted Women's Helpline: toll-free line 24/7 at 1-866-863-0511, or online Monday to Friday 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
This story was updated to clarify the Global 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence was originally created by the Center for Women’s Global Leadership in 1991.