On the ‘shadow pandemic’ | Inquirer Opinion
Kris-Crossing Mindanao

On the ‘shadow pandemic’

On May 27 last year, the UN Women launched in New York the Shadow Pandemic public awareness campaign that focuses on the global increase in cases of domestic, sex, and other forms of violence against women amid the COVID-19 pandemic. A one-minute video advertising this campaign urges audiences across the world to help report cases of domestic and other forms of violence against women and girls, highlighting abuses perpetrated by their intimate partners and spouses.

The one-minute film shows images of domestic and other types of violence in different parts of the world. Narrated by popular actress and advocate for at-risk and disadvantaged youths, Kate Winslet, the pithy and powerful audio-visual presentation notes that the increasing numbers of violence against women and girls “are not just numbers, but they are people who you may know.”

UN Women executive director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka rationalizes this campaign thus: “Even before the pandemic, violence against women was one of the most widespread violations of human rights. Since lockdown restrictions, domestic violence has multiplied, spreading across the world in a shadow pandemic.”


Here, health protocols have constrained the mobility of family members, forcing them to be at home most of the time with limited or no income at all, especially among semi-skilled men and women. Mlambo-Ngcuka also noted that while there is an intensive worldwide campaign to contain the spread of COVID-19, there are no clear programs in many countries across the world to prevent or address the “shadow pandemic.”


The United Nations Population Fund echoes Mlambo-Ngcuka’s view that violence against women and girls is among the most common human rights violations in the world. Yet, it is also among the least reported, with many women not coming out of an abusive relationship for fear of retaliation by their abusers, or because it can be considered a source of shame on the part of women victims. Many women do not report the abuses of their partners since they believe they are at fault why their partners inflict harm on them. This is the result of a psychological conditioning called “gaslighting.”

Sex- and gender-based violence (SGBV) is a consequence of the unequal power relations between the two sexes (male and female), and those in the spectrum of various gender identities like lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and other gender nonconforming people. It is deeply rooted in our social structure that puts a higher premium on patriarchy and the dominance of male roles, as seen in how men are viewed as “protectors” and “heroes.” This same social structure also puts in a box the female role as “subservient.”

Current trends collated by various international agencies have also shown that spikes in incidences of SGBV happen in situations of emergencies, like armed conflicts and other climate-related disasters, and in a health crisis, like the one caused by COVID-19.

The United Nations Development Programme, in collaboration with UN Women, has formulated a COVID-19 Global Gender Response Tracker in 2020. The tracker monitors government-enacted policy measures to tackle the crisis brought about by the pandemic, and highlights responses that have integrated a gender lens. It consists of national measures that directly address women’s economic and social security, including unpaid care work, the labor market, as well as violence against women. Among other Southeast Asian countries, the Philippines has among the least number of gender-sensitive COVID-19 measures. And we know why. The task force organized to combat the spread of the virus is composed of men, many of whom are former military generals.

All these point to the need for a strong, concerted effort to clear the world of the shadow pandemic. We can start with our schools to teach values around gender sensitivity and respect for diverse gender identities. We will also vigorously campaign against trivializing the role of women and normalizing violence against them and all other gender identities. More importantly, we should find ways to not put another misogynistic leader as our next president.

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TAGS: coronavirus pandemic, COVID-19, domestic violence, Kris-Crossing Mindanao, Rufa Cagoco-Guiam, Shadow Pandemic

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