Supporting Survivors of Violence During the COVID-19 Pandemic
25th May 2020
By Aditi Sivakumar, SheDecides 25x25 Young Leader
“Stay at Home, Self-Isolate, Avoid Physical Contact with Others”. These are orders that most countries across the globe have instated to mitigate the spread of the COVID-19 virus. However, for millions of women and girls across the world, home is not a safe place, but rather one synonymous with fear, harm and violence.
Gender-based violence is an issue that I am extremely passionate about, as violence against women is already one of the most widespread and least reported human rights violations. The secondary effects of COVID-19 (e.g. self-isolation and physical distancing) has led to a horrifying global surge in domestic violence as many women and girls are now trapped at home with their abuser. Additionally, the closure of domestic violence shelters, courts, and social services have led to additional barriers for this population to access resources and people who could help them. It has been estimated that for every three months that lockdown is extended, an additional 15 million cases of domestic violence will occur, ultimately limiting her right to safety and to decide about her body.
As with many activists, much of the work I was doing prior to the pandemic (e.g. creating and implementing programs within domestic violence shelters) had to be put on pause as per social distancing guidelines. However, I know that supporting survivors of violence has become more important now than ever. I also knew that the way I was initially doing my activism wouldn’t translate well online. So, I had to come up with new ways to advocate for, and aid, survivors of violence.
With support from various organizations, such as the Duke of Edinburgh International Award Canada, Peace First and TakingITGlobal, I was able to create and work on two novel initiatives called the “My Empowerment (ME) Platform” and “Triple E (Everyday Essential Express) Delivery.
“My Empowerment (ME) Platform”
The “My Empowerment (ME) Platform” is a life-saving, live-changing web application for women and girls experiencing violence during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond. The web application will provide educational information (e.g., what gender-based violence is, why it occurs, etc.), resources for women and girls facing violence (e.g., medical, legal, and safety planning resources), and resources/tools for other vulnerabilities women facing violence may experience (e.g., online/text-only crises lines, how to keep themselves safe within a shelter during the pandemic, and sexual and reproductive health resources). The information will be provided within a Canadian context; however, it may also be applicable to different countries across the world. To create the “My Empowerment (ME) Platform,” I am collaborating with different organizations across Canada and the globe, and aim to launch it within the next few months!
“Triple E (Everyday Essential Express) Delivery.
“Triple E (Everyday Essential Express) Delivery is an initiative I created that aims to provide contactless delivery of basic necessities (e.g., groceries, hygiene and menstruation products, etc.) to local domestic violence shelters across Ottawa, Canada through Instacart, an online grocery delivery and pick-up service. Each week, I place an order on Instacart depending on each shelters’ needs and the supplies are delivered outside of the shelter to ensure that the social distancing guidelines are followed. As many domestic violence shelters are near or at- capacity, this program allows them to focus their funding on helping the women and girls within the residences, while ensuring that their basic needs are met.
There is no doubt that COVID-19 has affected many aspects our lives. However, the pandemic can also give us the opportunity and time to reflect on how we think about and do activism. The lockdown can be used as a unique opportunity to create novel initiatives, which can last beyond the pandemic, to ensure that her right to decide about her body, life and future is prioritized and protected.
Aditi Sivakumar is a SheDecides 25x25 young leader. Aditi volunteers at Chrysalis House in Ottowa, Canada and serves as a peer supporter with the Western Ottawa Community Resource Centre, where she provides support to women who are facing violence. She is also working with the Canadian Teachers Federation to create a Student Voice Booklet on gender equality and dismantling harmful gender norms at elementary and high school levels. In 2019 Aditi won the Princess Diana Legacy Award, and is now working on launching a national campaign to emphasise the need to teach all healthcare students how to screen and assess for domestic violence.
Read more about Aditi here: https://www.shedecides.com/25x25/aditi-sivakumar/