In this time of high stress and growing uncertainty, and as people are spending more time in their homes, the risk of domestic violence is high. Employers and governments must ensure the proper protections and additional resources are in place to support victims and survivors of domestic violence.
Ottawa (19 March 2020) ― The COVID-19 pandemic is affecting nearly every aspect of life, and that will have implications for domestic violence. We know that the prevalence of gender-based violence rises in times of crisis, and the COVID-19 pandemic will likely be no different.
NUPGE is working to support its component unions and members, while advocating for all workers and their communities at this time. Of particular concern is the impact of COVID-19 and pandemic responses on already-vulnerable populations.
Impact on vulnerable populations
It has become widely known that COVID-19 itself disproportionately impacts vulnerable populations, as it is the elderly, people with compromised immune systems, and people with underlying health conditions that are most likely to experience severe symptoms. Front-line workers, including those in health care, corrections, child care, and social services, are also more likely to come into contact with the virus.
But it is also the case that vulnerable populations will be hardest hit by the economic impacts. People living in poverty or with low incomes, and precarious workers may have less flexibility to stay home from work or to self-isolate.
The same is true for people with disabilities, chronic health issues, and compromised immune systems, who may be putting themselves at risk by going to work. If they need to self-isolate, quarantine, or provide care for someone who is affected, they may face uncertainties related to their wages, benefits (if any), and job security.
When home isn’t a safe place
For some people, self-isolation, quarantine, working from home, or staying home to care for their families pose new or compounded risks. This is a concern for victims and survivors of domestic violence.
In this time of high stress and growing uncertainty, and as people are spending more time in their homes, the risk of domestic violence is high. Research from the U.S., as reported by Vice News, shows that even when bad weather keeps people indoors, instance of domestic violence rises.
Since the virus took hold in China, advocates have observed a surge in the cases of domestic violence (SixthTone.com).
Additional triggers, risks
Furthermore, some people simply may not be able to work during this time. Financial stress compounds the risk of violence.
A related challenge is that many closures and cancellations are taking place to slow the spread of the virus. That may mean that support groups, counseling, or other services are cancelled, leaving victims and survivors with fewer places to turn to for support.
We know that it is women and girls who are most likely to be affected by domestic violence. The prevalence of gender-based violence, including domestic violence, is disproportionately higher for women who are racialized, Indigenous, living with disabilities, immigrants and refugees, and elderly, and for LGBTQI2S people. The present crisis, then, exacerbates the risk for marginalized women and gender diverse people.
No one should have to worry about their job, bills right now
Uncertainties related to employment, pay, or benefits (if any) add additional layers of stress and concern for someone experiencing (or at risk of experiencing) domestic violence.
Whether you will keep your job, get a pay cheque, or be able to stay home when needed should be the last thing on people’s minds right now. And these concerns should not prevent someone from seeking the support they need, or from keeping themselves and their family safe. Employers must ensure that proper protections and supports are in place for all workers, including those in the uniquely difficult situation of domestic violence.
This means offering job-protected paid leave for those who need to take time off for reasons stemming from COVID-19, building upon the dedicated domestic violence leave that is already legislated in most jurisdictions across the country (NUPGE). It may also mean allowing for flexible working arrangements or work plans, developed in consultation with the employee and their union.
Time for governments to step in
As NUPGE posted here yesterday, this is a time of crisis, which means it's a time for governments to step in. They must ensure the necessary funds are in place for businesses and organizations to support workers and to empower those workers to make the best decisions for their situations.
It will be particularly important for all levels of government to be in coordination with each other to provide for arrangements and supports for those who would otherwise fall through the cracks. This includes those people who become homeless or precariously housed because they are fleeing domestic violence.
Also, as part of their ongoing response, provincial and territorial governments, and the federal government must continue to ensure that shelters, transition houses, mental health and counseling supports, and other community services are sufficiently resourced to support their communities.
We need to look out for one another
All of us are affected by this pandemic, but the situation is dire for vulnerable populations.
We all have a responsibility to prevent the worst-case scenario. We all have a responsibility to reduce the spread of the virus, but also to ensure the proper supports and resources are in place for those who are affected. We must take action to protect our communities’ most vulnerable.
For more information and support resources:
COVID-19: Public Health Agency of Canada: Coronavirus disease (COVID-19): Outbreak update
Domestic Violence: Crisis hotlines, victim services, and shelters and transition houses in your local area
Mental Health: Services and supports, and local crisis support centres
The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 390,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. — NUPGE