16 days of activism: Recognising the impact of Covid-19 on women’s experience of gender-based violence.
This week marks the beginning of the 16 days of activism against gender-based violence. The campaign starts on the 25th of November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. The focus of this year’s campaign is the impact Covid-19 has had on women’s experience of gender-based violence. The theme places a strong emphasis on prevention, ensuring essential services for victim-survivors and greater data collection to improve services for victim-survivors.
Violence against women (VAW) occurs at alarmingly high rates and impacts all aspects of women’s lives. In the beginning months of the pandemic, self-isolation and social distancing measures led to increased risks for victim-survivors of domestic abuse, essentially trapping them in unsafe situations with limited access to support and opportunities to leave. It’s important to understand that domestic abuse is not increasing due to Covid-19 but rather that existing abusive relationships are intensified during this period. Domestic abuse is not a one-off incident. It’s a pattern of controlling, coercive, threatening and/or violent behaviour that often includes physical, emotional, psychological and economic abuse.
With homeworking continuing to be prioritised by public health guidance and with the recent introduction of tier 4 restrictions for 11 local authorities, many victim-survivors may still be facing significant barriers in accessing support.
Covid-19 has highlighted the integral role of employers in supporting victim-survivors. For some women, work may be a safe space and a vital link for accessing support from colleagues or specialist services.
The significant changes to the workplace since the Covid-19 outbreak, including an increase in homeworking, employees working fewer hours, scaled back workforces and a reliance on digital platforms for communication, have affected the way women experience VAW. For example, digital platforms have been essential for enabling homeworking, but they have also provided perpetrators with greater access to women that wasn’t available before, for example, the ability to see when colleagues are online, or ability to send private messages or pictures constantly through the day. This has resulted in increased cases of cyberstalking and sexual harassment that have become inescapable at home.
This year’s 16 days of activism campaign is an opportunity to raise awareness of the significant barriers that victim-survivors face in doing their jobs effectively and accessing support. It’s also an opportunity to encourage employers to adapt workplace practices to better support victim-survivors. In many cases, line managers and colleagues may be the most consistent contact for victim-survivors and it’s essential that they’re aware of how to recognise the signs of VAW and initiate a conversation.
As part of Close the Gap’s Equally Safe at Work employer accreditation programme, we developed guidance on VAW, Work and Covid-19 for local authorities which outlines best practice for responding to and supporting employees disclosing or reporting VAW. Equally Safe at Work has enabled councils to develop a range of employment practices that support victim-survivors at work.
For this year’s 16 days campaign, we’re sharing the learning from Equally Safe at Work and are highlighting best practice tips for line managers in any organisation.
- If you have a VAW policy, raise awareness of your policy and what your organisation can do to support victim-survivors.
- During periods of lockdown, offer victim-survivors a key worker letter, where appropriate, to enable them to come into the office. This should be discussed with the victim-survivor and only provided if they want it.
- During periods of lockdown, ensure you remain in regular contact with all staff, including those on sick leave, through catch-ups or 1-2-1s.
- Familiarise yourself with the signs that an employee may be affected by a form VAW during Covid-19 (this can be found in the Equally Safe at Work guidance on VAW, Work and Covid-19).
- Initiate a conversation if you suspect an employee may be experiencing a form of VAW. Some victim-survivors may not want to disclose their experience, and this should be respected. To start the conversation, you may want to ask how they feel about changes in their work environment or ask if everything is alright at work or at home.
- Be supportive and non-judgemental if one of your team discloses.
- Go at the employee’s pace and if she’s finding it difficult to speak or is becoming distressed, suggest taking a break.
- Work with the employee to identify their support needs and the simple changes that can be made to support her.
- For employees affected by domestic abuse, stalking and/or so-called “honour-based” violence agree a safety plan in line with the staff member’s needs.
- For victim-survivors of domestic abuse, agree code words so they are able to communicate safely about their situation. This can be particularly important for employees who are homeworking and live with the abusive partner.
- Protect their confidentiality and communicate to them how you will do that.
- Discuss whether other workplace policies could be used to support them. This could include identifying whether staff would like to work flexibly, adjust work hours or workload, wherever necessary and possible.
- Organise regular meetings to check in and review their support needs.
- Signpost to local specialist services, such as Women’s Aid and Rape Crisis (You can find more links to support services here).
There is additional support available for SMEs through Close the Gap’s free online self-assessment tool, Think Business, Think Equality. Think Business, Think Equality enables businesses to assess their current employment practice and provides tailored advice and an action plan which supports SMEs to realise the benefits of gender equality. Think Business, Think Equality has guidance on how to support victim-survivors of domestic abuse during Covid-19. The guidance accompanies additional resources on domestic abuse which includes an FAQ on domestic abuse and work, good practice examples, and workplace resources.
Find out more by taking the Think Business, Think Equality test on domestic abuse at www.thinkbusinessthinkequality.org.uk.
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Submission to the review of employment rights for domestic abuse survivors Close the Gap's submission to the UK Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy review of employment rights for survivors of domestic abuse.