By Makeida Antonio
A local non-profit organisation (NGO) has had to increase the support it extends to victims of gender-based violence (GBV) as the Covid-19 pandemic persists.
President of Women Against Rape (WAR), Alexandrina Wong, gave Observer a report of its activities in light of October as Domestic Violence Awareness Month. She said that unemployment is among several factors making women and children particularly vulnerable.
“Covid-19 has impacted the people’s lives in many different ways. Those who have suffered the most are women and other vulnerable groups. The grinding halt to the tourist industry not only in Antigua and Barbuda, but in the region and throughout the world, has left many people jobless and their savings have dwindled significantly,” Wong told Observer yesterday in an interview.
The organisation does significant work to tackle domestic violence (DV) which usually results from an imbalance of power in a relationship. While women can also be perpetrators of DV, in a patriarchal system where men are the heads of the household, women find themselves at the mercy of the decisions made by these men, including finances.
However, in a Caribbean context, some women such as single mothers are the head of their households either because they are the sole income earners, or even in cases where they are married, earn more than their male partners. This creates an atmosphere which leads to violence against women.
According to Wong, mothers have found themselves trapped in abusive households due to dwindling options to achieve financial independence. Additionally, the consultations that the organisation carries out in the community highlights that access to essential services in the household, such as light and internet, prevent women from leaving dangerous situations.
“What has become the hidden or silent pandemic has resulted in many women having to remain in households, in abusive relationships, in order to survive; in order for their children to have access to food, and more so the internet to continue their education, [they have had to stay put],” Wong disclosed.
Children are often overlooked in the conversation of domestic violence. They are particularly vulnerable as they cannot fend for themselves, and they are dependent on care from parents and guardians, usually their mothers.
Wong lamented that even though some women escape with their children and end up seeking refuge with extended family members, children are now at risk of being exposed to different lifestyles which may feature violence.
“What we found also is that people have had to move in with relatives because they cannot afford to pay their rent. We have this extended family situation with different values, new rules, so the children are exposed to risk.”
WAR, through the support of volunteers and sponsors, has provided psychosocial support, food and clothing to those who are in need through online mechanisms.
“Women Against Rape, as you know, our mandate is to serve women and families affected by gender-based violence (GBV), and we have continued to do that to the best of our ability. Through the Covid protocols, we were able to reach women, and women were able to reach us via the WhatsApp hotline which has been set up over a number of years through Digicel.”