Are we all staying safe?
Words by Larisa Forgač
No one can deny that the COVID-19 pandemic threw some curveballs and shook up our lives in the way that we never could have expected. If these times are uncertain and confusing for all of us, then they are especially so for women. I write this article simply to point out that many women have had a largely unique and especially disadvantageous experience of the pandemic.
The global pandemic and isolation have brought to light something that victim-blamers and downplayers of abuse have been unwilling to recognise: women are often victims of their surroundings. Especially recently, when we were often unable to choose our surroundings — stuck at home, with no work and no opportunity to go somewhere whenever we please. For most of us, this would have been a somewhat welcome change, being able to enjoy peace and quiet at home and devote ourselves to domestic life. However, let us not forget the unfortunate ones, the women who did not get to experience this feeling of domestic bliss because they are living with an abuser. For far too many women, this pandemic signified not only the loss of their independence, livelihood, and hobbies, but also a loss of safety and dignity in their own homes. Is “stay home and stay safe” something that can truly be said for all of us?
Many Australian domestic violence and support helplines like 1800RESPECT and Lifeline have recorded a significant spike in reports of domestic violence since the lockdown began. Those 10 to 15% spikes are still likely underestimates of the real situation as many women are too afraid to reach out because they are stuck at home with their abuser. What is even more devastating is that women from migrant or refugee backgrounds, which are frequently already financially and socially disadvantaged are at even higher risk of violence. Many violence refuge centres are full during this time and there is often simply no where for the victims to go. Be it because of loss of income, difficulty finding accommodation in this climate or visiting restrictions, women frequently didn’t have a viable exit from a violent or toxic situation during lockdown.
Even without a pandemic happening, escaping DV is a complex and incredibly stressful process with a lot of intricate considerations. Women should not be making this hard choice and decision when there are so many things out of place right now. And if they do have to, they should be adequately supported. That is why the government’s funding boost to DV services was not only helpful but necessary.
But what about the other women, the ones that are safe from family violence? I say, it is amazing to see them safe at home, but they might be faced with other problems. Women are significantly overrepresented in health and education jobs, which meant that a large number of women were putting their health and lives at risk every day, all while working longer hours but not seeing any rise in wages (with the exception of some aged care subsidies). Interestingly enough, women are also overrepresented in retail and hospitality industries where there has been less work and less demand(excluding supermarkets) — forcing them to rely on welfare. To make matters worse, women are also employed on a casual basis more than men are, and would hence have difficulty accessing payments like JobKeeper, unless they meet the special requirements.
So, what can loss of income mean for women? Well for starters, a loss of autonomy, decision making ability and independence. This feeds into what I mentioned before: that without a secure job and income women are finding it harder to leave abusive relationships. Women who were left without work (and even those who were working still) during the pandemic were also more likely to pick up “traditionally feminine” tasks than men were, such as household chores, meal prep, child care and home schooling.
All of these elements — domestic violence, unemployment, financial hardship, and domestic tasks — often came together to cause significant detriment to women in the height of COVID-19.
The statement that gets thrown around a lot nowadays of “we’re all in this together” rings both false and true in many ways. We are definitely not all going through the same experiences during this, but we can all come together and work for a better future after the pandemic. I absolutely do not have the intention to discredit anyone’s experiences during the pandemic but am rather just using women as one example of collective hardship.
I am not a hopeless optimist; I do not believe that we will come out of this with a solution to every systematic issue that women or any other group are faced with. What I do believe is that we can try harder to understand how the challenges and issues that women experience have been exacerbated during the pandemic and that for many of us, the road to recovery will be a long one.
If you or anyone you know is affected by family violence, sexual assault or any other form of domestic violence please call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 7328) or dial 000 in case of an emergency.
If your income has been impacted by COVID-19 refer to Centrelink’s site for welfare options or get in touch with your employer.