Video Statement by Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
20 November 2020
Greetings to all. This is a critical time for your discussion, as the COVID-19 pandemic keeps gathering force, heightening the risk of domestic and family violence.
Even during ordinary times, violence against women and girls, as well as LGBTI members of the family, is pervasive. It is a product of the deeply held stereotypes and unequal gender power relations that underpin all forms of discrimination.
According to one systematic review, over 1 billion children experience sexual, physical or psychological violence each year, with much of this violence taking place within the home.
Today, we know that the risk of these forms of violence is growing. Every detailed study – and there have not been many – has concluded that violence against women and children has increased during the pandemic and its accompanying recession.
I am not aware of any current studies focusing on violence against LGBTI people – but I do know of many heart-breaking stories of young people battered and rejected by family members in recent months.
Furthermore, as this violence has risen, protective services have been falling away. Movement restrictions and diverted funding has led to reductions in access to specialized services and support systems, including women’s shelters. While some countries have implemented 24-hour phone hotlines to offer some support, these have not filled the gap. These factors challenge the ability of women, children and LGBTI people to access emergency services or temporarily escape the context of abuse.
It means people who are locked in with their abusers – at a time of heightened risk of violence due to intensified social and economic stress – have very few options for escape.
UNFPA has estimated that for every 3 months of pandemic-related movement restrictions, an additional 15 million women could suffer violence.
It is absolutely clear that domestic violence cannot be de-prioritised during this crisis.
We need to revive and strengthen all our partnerships and work, to ensure that all governments make the prevention and redress of violence in the home a key part of their national response and recovery plans for COVID-19. And we need to ensure that high priority be given to police and judicial responses to domestic violence.
This means making urgent and flexible funding available for services to victims – including women, children and LGBTI individuals. Services for survivors of violence should be regarded as essential and must remain open, to continue their duty of care to survivors – especially those most likely to be left behind. Many civil society groups doing this work are critically underfunded. They need strong support.
And we need to make sure equality underpins everything we do.
Women and girls have equal rights to men and boys. LGBTI people have exactly the same human rights as everyone else. We all have the right to live lives of dignity, free of fear – and especially during these challenging times, it is up to us to be vigilant and remain active in our work to care for victims, and prevent domestic violence.
Thank you for standing up for human rights.