On March 11, 2020, due to a new coronavirus (COVID-19) that appeared in China and later spread around the world, the World Health Organization declared a pandemic. The announcement of the pandemic was not only a new challenge for the healthcare system, but also made more obvious all the political, societal and structural problems that demand state actions.
As a result of the pandemic, a state of emergency was declared in a number of countries as well as in Armenia. It should be noted that in the face of the state of emergency, violence against women remains a global public health problem worldwide. In the state of emergency, the number of phone calls received by member organizations of “Coalition to Stop Violence against Women” NGO (Coalition) on the hotline reached 803 calls in March, 172 of which were about domestic violence, 750 calls in April, 250 of which were about domestic violence, and 915 calls were registered in May, 256 of which were related to domestic violence.
Comparing and analyzing this data, we can clearly see that the number of phone calls to domestic violence hotlines has increased․ If in March there was a 30% increase compared to February, in April it was 40%, and in May 50%․
Moreover, women call for both violence counseling and social assistance questions. To date, Coalition member organizations have provided social assistance packages to more than 300 beneficiaries from the most vulnerable groups, and this process continues.
As a result of the state emergency situation and the lockdown, women suffer more because of domestic violence, unequal distribution of domestic work, limited financial resources and poverty.
According to the Coalition member organizations, as a consequence of the Coronavirus and state emergency situation, among other things, the social and economic situation of people of different groups has deteriorated. Apart from economic challenges and increasing poverty, there have been other challenges registered such as the problem of access to communication, transportation system, the lack of sensitivity of police officers.
- Deterioration of socio-economic conditions:
According to the “Women’s Support Center” NGO (WSC), due to the effects of the Coronavirus, women are now in a more vulnerable position. Many of them are daily wage earners and unregistered workers who lost their jobs and are unemployed today and have no income. Although women who have experienced domestic violence have gone through many hardships, they have gone through a period of psychological recovery and often, having no work experience or skills, have tried to find their place in the labor market. However, women living on daily wages jobs are now in a very difficult situation. In order to alleviate the situation, the WSC provided first aid to its beneficiaries, but there is misgiving that if the restrictions are extended, they will not be able to provide them with full social assistance and women will find themselves in a more vulnerable situation.
- Problem of accessibility of means of communication:
Women are having a hard time using the phone these days, because as a result of the Coronavirus, women who are being abused are in the same area with the abuser all day.
Our observations on the issue show that the telephone numbers of women victims of domestic violence are mostly registered in the name of their husbands and are strictly controlled by them. Now that everyone is at home, the control has increased and women are often unable to even call from home for help.
- Problems of transport system:
As a result of transport system problems, when women try to report about domestic violence, they are unable to reach the local police station or the nearest support center.
In one of the last cases registered by WSC, the woman, who had been abused by her husband for 25 years, just left the house on foot because of the lack of transportation and approached the first policeman she met with the expectation of support. The latter offered the woman to apply to the precinct police station, and when asked how she could get there, he answered that it was not his job. The woman approached the accidental taxi driver excitedly and asked him to help her. Eventually, with the support of compassionate people, the woman found herself in a WSC shelter.
- Lack of sensitivity of police officers:
This case once again proves that such situations can be repeated, so the police officers in public places must be sensitive to the issues of domestic violence and be informed about referral mechanisms, as well as have access to the hotline numbers of non-governmental organizations and, if necessary, call or refer the person who has been subjected to violence to relevant support circles.
- Deterioration of the situation of people living with HIV:
The number of calls from people living with HIV has increased by 50%, reaching 589 calls in one month. People living with HIV are in a very vulnerable position due to the Coronavirus and the restriction of the right to free movement due to the state of emergency situation.
People living with HIV have many problems with access to medicine, food and care, for the solution of which urgent steps have been taken by “Real World, Real People” NGO. Unfortunately, during the pandemic, there was also a case of death of a person infected with the Coronavirus at the stage of AIDS.
Due to the Coronavirus, it has become more difficult to provide medical care to people living with HIV as under Armenian law the multi-profile hospitals that can provide medical services to people living with HIV, have been re-profiled to provide services to people infected with the Coronavirus, so in the current situation, it has become more difficult for people living with HIV to receive medical care and services.
- The situation of lesbian, bisexual women and trans people:
During the Coronavirus, “Pink” Human Rights Defender non-governmental organization continued to provide legal and social-psychological support to lesbian and bisexual (LB) women and trans people. During this period, the organization recorded 8 cases of rights violations on the grounds of sexual orientation and/or gender identity, including multiple cases of domestic violence against LB women and trans people, as well as case dismissals on the grounds of sexual orientation.
The state of emergency situation in the country has made LB women and trans people more vulnerable in this period, especially in terms of socio-economic protection, especially for women who have been subjected to physical or psychological and economic violence by their relatives and have left home and live separately. Prior to the state of emergency, the majority of LB women and trans people worked in the service sector, but during the temporary cessation of activities, they lost their jobs and the opportunity to earn a living.
Given the fact that the majority of LB women and trans people hide their sexual orientation and gender identity by avoiding family conflicts or family pressures and other problems, they are also in a difficult social situation, unable to receive support from family members and relatives.
- Deterioration of the condition of women and girls with disabilities:
The Coronavirus pandemic has, directly and indirectly, affected many girls and women with disabilities.
Women and girls with disabilities suffer disproportionately in the face of a job loss. Many of them have informal employment, which means that a certain source of income with which they have to take care of their needs may disappear, while it is assumed that they have less savings due to lower wages and greater need for living expenses.
There are girls with disabilities who were engaged in handicrafts from home. Their source of income was sewing and working on various items. But being isolated and closed at home, they could not go out to buy raw materials, and now there is no market to sell their products.
Some girls made jewelry from beads and macramé at home, but they were deprived of their source of income when the shops were closed. And those who have psychological problems and depression now spend more money on medication. Moreover, many are not able to go to a polyclinic or hospital to get their medication and are deprived of rehabilitation services and much-needed medical care.
The current situation makes more obvious all the political, societal, and structural problems that require systemic solutions. This is why it is crucial that state bodies undertake urgent steps and include needs of different societal layers in the necessary processes of policy and legal changes.