Press release: UN Women raises awareness of the shadow pandemic of violence against women during COVID-19

Public service announcement narrated by Oscar-winning actor highlights increase in domestic violence with call to support women in need.

New York, 27 May, 2020– UN Women, the United Nations entity dedicated to gender equality and the empowerment of women, today launched the Shadow Pandemic public awareness campaign, focusing on the global increase in domestic violence amid the COVID-19 health crisis. The Shadow Pandemic public service announcement is a sixty-second film narrated by Academy Award-winning actor Kate Winslet, who has championed many humanitarian causesThe video highlights the alarming upsurge in domestic violence during COVID-19 and delivers a vital message urging people to act to support women if they know or suspect someone is experiencing violence.

While some countries are beginning to reopen, billions of people are estimated to still be sheltering at home. When households are placed under the increased strains that come from security, health and money worries, and cramped and confined living conditions, levels of domestic violence spike. Government authorities, women’s rights activists and civil society partners across the world are reporting significantly increased calls for help to domestic violence helplines and heightened demand for emergency shelter.

The Shadow Pandemic film begins with seemingly innocuous and familiar domestic scenes in 14 different homes around the world. When coupled with an evocative music track and voiceover, it soon reveals a starkly different picture. It concludes with three clear calls to action for individuals to help address the pandemic of violence against women. In addition to the PSA, the campaign includes social media assets giving key advice from shelters, helplines, domestic violence organizations and police departments across the UN’s Member States.

A prominent activist for positive female body image, Kate Winslet is an advocate for at-risk and disadvantaged youths, children, parents and families. She is co-founder of NGO The Golden Hat Foundation, and has spent many years working to improve the lives of autistic people. She said, “Nobody should feel fear in their homes. Violence at times of crisis, or any other time, is unacceptable and I stand with UN Women and all its partners to call for international action on the longstanding terrorizing of women and children within domestic circumstances.”

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women said: “Even before the pandemic, violence against women was one of the most widespread violations of human rights. Since lockdown restrictions, domestic violence has multiplied, spreading across the world in a shadow pandemic. This is a critical time for action, from prioritizing essential services like shelter and support for women survivors, to providing the economic support and stimulus packages needed for broader recovery. Through this campaign UN Women’s activists, and advocates like Kate Winslet, will help spread the word so this issue comes fully to light.”

Emergency calls for domestic violence cases in Argentina have increased by 25 per cent since the lockdown began. Helplines in Singapore and Cyprus have registered an increase in calls of more than 30 per cent. In the USA, the National Domestic Violence Hotline reported a rising number of victims who reached out via text or phone. Evidence shows that, even before the pandemic, 1 in 3 women has experienced physical and/or sexual violence from an intimate partner in their lifetime.

Pandemics like COVID-19 can exacerbate not only violence within the home, but other forms of violence against women and girls. Violence against female healthcare workers as well as migrant or domestic workers increases. Xenophobia-related violence, harassment and other forms of violence in public spaces and online is more prevalent and the risk of sexual exploitation and abuse becomes more likely. Some groups of women, including human rights defenders, women in politics, journalists, bloggers, women belonging to ethnic minorities, indigenous women, lesbian, bisexual and transgender women, and women with disabilities are particularly targeted by ICT-facilitated violence. In New South Wales, Australia, 40 per cent of front-line workers in a survey reported increased requests for help with violence that was escalating in intensity and complexity.

Investments to prevent and respond to violence against women have long been at crisis point. With already limited capacities and investment to address violence against women, this increase in violence is happening at a time of further reduced capacity of service providers (health, police, social care, charities) to cope with the demand. Women are locked in with their abusers and are isolated from the people and resources that can best help them.

To develop the film, UN Women received pro-bono support from global image library Getty Images and marketing agency MRM as well as production company Craft, part of Interpublic Group and members of the Unstereotype Alliance, convened by UN Women. Violence against women and girls is fueled by discrimination and harmful gender stereotypes that the Unstereotype Alliance works to eradicate from all advertising and media content.

This is a critical time for women and girls, and urgent action is needed. UN Women hopes that this campaign will make a lifesaving difference to women and girls across the world, during this crisis of historic proportions and for the long-term.

For additional information on ending violence against women and girls and COVID-19, please check the following UN Women policy briefs: