New report shows huge spike in violence against women worldwide


Global lockdowns and coronavirus restrictions have unleashed a shocking surge in gender-based violence (GBV) in countries across Europe, Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Latin America, as women’s shelters are shut down and countries divert funding to battle the pandemic.

New research by ActionAid, based on surveys of local support services and women’s movements worldwide, also found that domestic violence survivors with live legal cases were increasingly being forced to settle out of court, due to pandemic-related court closures.

ActionAid Australia’s Executive Director, Michelle Higelin said the organisation’s frontline, women-led services in 40 countries have reported increases in gender-based violence since the start of the pandemic.

“The COVID-19 health and economic crisis has unleashed a horrifying surge in violence against women. ActionAid’s research shows this is a worldwide phenomenon. The persistent, yet predictable increase in rape and murder of women, which happens in any emergency, remains the most ignored and underfunded part of the global COVID-19 response,” Ms Higelin said.

Key findings from the report, Surviving COVID-19: A Women-Led Response show that:

  • In Bangladesh, ActionAid’s network of support services, including in the Rohingya refugee camps, found a tenfold (983%) increase in sexual and domestic violence this April to May, compared to the same period last year.
  • In Uganda, ActionAid was forced to temporarily shut down 10 of its shelters due to lockdown restrictions, even though caseloads doubled in March and April 2020 during the outbreak, compared to the previous year.
  • In the Gaza strip, an ActionAid partner organisation reports supporting 700% more survivors of GBV through its counselling services this April-May, than in 2019.
  • In Italy, a review of more than 228 shelters saw the number of women who asked for support through the government’s anti-violence hotline increase by 59%.
  • In Brazil, 143 women were killed across 12 states in March and April this year with a 22% increase in femicide compared to last year, according to data from security agencies. In the Northern State, Acre, femicide is up 300%.
  • In Nigeria, where the government has declared a state of emergency following a sharp spike in cases of femicide and rape, one women’s shelter reported a 700% increase in cases of violence since lockdown.

“Girls, women, young and old, are living in fear as they don’t even feel safe in their own homes,” said ActionAid’s Country Director in Nigeria, Ene Obi.

“Due to the pandemic, arrest is no longer enough to serve as a deterrent, as most of these cases are being settled out of court. This means there is no real justice for the survivors and their families,” she said.

Sharmin Akhter, a case management officer in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar refugee camps said: “Women and girls are trapped in a pressure cage. With men at home all day things are very tense, we have had situations where the wives have been attacked. Small disagreements are turning into major assaults.”

ActionAid is calling for GBV services like women’s shelters and referral pathways to be classified as essential in all countries.

“The Australian Government has shown leadership by increasing funding for national violence support services during COVID-19, however we urgently need to boost international aid to scale up women’s protection services and support for local organisations working on the frontline of the COVID-19 pandemic in low income countries experiencing the worst impacts of this global crisis,” Ms Higelin said.

For more information and interviews with ActionAid spokespeople and partners contact: Liz Pick, ActionAid Australia’s media manager on 0422 105 840 or [email protected].


Notes to Editors: 

ActionAid is responding to the COVID-19 crisis in 40 countries around the world. Its frontline, women-led services have all reported increases in violence against women and girls since the start of the pandemic. More than 60% of its humanitarian funding goes to local organisations, the majority to women’s organisations.

Four years ago, at the inaugural World Humanitarian Summit, the world promised that 25% of humanitarian funding would go directly to local organisations, such as the women’s shelters featured in ActionAid’s new report. But the UN’s global plan for COVID-19 is way off track, with just 0.1% of funding going to local organisations. Less than 0.3% of the funding needed to protect women from violence has been committed.

Table of results: ActionAid monitored service users and referrals to women’s shelters and hotlines across five countries in Europe, Africa, Asia and the Middle East, and compared data from March to May 2020, during global lockdowns, to comparable data from 2019.

Country Name of shelter 2020 March/ April cases/ referrals 2019 March/ April cases/ referrals % increase Name of partner/ally Number shelters the data refers to
Bangladesh Kutupalong, Ukhyia, Cox’s Bazar 60 47 28 ActionAid service 1
Bangladesh National Women’s Violence Prevention Forum 1495 138 983 The National Women’s Violence Prevention Forum in collaboration with ActionAid Bangladesh. 25
Uganda ActionAid International Uganda GBV Shelter located in Bwaise, Kampala 955 480 99 ActionAid service 10
Nigeria Ireti Resource Centre, Lagos 48 6 700 Ireti Resource Centre (An Initiative of Women’s Rights and Health Project – WRAHP) 1
Palestine 370 40 700 ActionAid Palestine in partnership with WEFAQ and HUM.Wefaq Society for Woman & Child Care 1
Italy Anti-violence Centre ‘D. Tellini Onlus’ 44 30 47 Anti Violence Centre ‘Tellini Onlus’ 1