Since the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, people have been affected globally in terms of access to health, education and markets, financial resources, and vulnerabilities and shocks. In the Asia Pacific region, these effects are more pronounced for women and girls due to pre-existing gendered cultural biases and social norms that make them particularly vulnerable.
Violence against women (VAW) is a serious issue in the Asia Pacific region. More than 37% of women in South Asia, 40% of women in Southeast Asia, and up to 68% of women in the Pacific have experienced violence at the hands of their intimate partners. Country-specific data show that 15% of women in the Philippines and Bhutan, 17% of women in Myanmar, 29% of women in India, 40% of women in Tonga, 51% of women in Afghanistan, 54% of women in Bangladesh, and 64% of women in Fiji have faced physical and/or sexual partner violence.
The COVID-19 pandemic has aggravated pre-existing conditions of VAW and worsened gender inequalities. Government measures, such as lockdowns and social distancing, have meant that women already affected by violence were often confined with their abusers without access to intervention or support mechanisms. Women’s limited agency, decision-making power, and lack of access to information, services, and support systems have increased the incidence of VAW in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. Overstretched healthcare systems in times of COVID-19 have in turn strained the provision of support systems for women and girls affected by violence.
Without active VAW support services, and the fear of health risks and the consequences thereof, the COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately increased women and girls’ risk of being impacted by violence. Indeed, during the COVID-19 period, Asia and the Pacific countries have reported drastic increases in gender-based violence. The pandemic has highlighted an urgent need for immediate solutions and policies that will prevent the worsening of VAW, which will have significant flow-on effects for deepening gender inequalities and widening of gender gaps.
This year, ADB’s Gender Equity Thematic Group is commemorating the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women (IDEVAW) on 25 November by focusing on how its developing member countries have responded to VAW during the COVID-19 pandemic, including with ADB support. Panellists from Mongolia, the Philippines, and the Solomon Islands will discuss a range of targeted initiatives for tackling VAW during the pandemic from health, safety, and governance perspectives.
Internal ADB and external participants
- Mary Joy Gonzales, Project Manager – Partners for Resilience, CARE Philippines
- Doris Puiahi, Ending Violence Against Women – Pacific Partnership Programme Officer, UN Women Solomon Islands
- Declan F. Magee, Senior Country Economist, Mongolia Resident Mission, ADB