All of this provides an incendiary situation during the current lockdown, when tensions rise and escape proves impossible.
The call to action so far
On 29 March, specific guidance on Coronavirus (COVID-19): Support for victims of domestic abuse was published and Home Secretary, Priti Patel, confirmed that women can leave violent households to go to a refuge during the lockdown.
Yet, refuges and specialist services have been savaged by austerity cuts. This means, in reality, there is nowhere for women to go when they do leave violent homes during lockdown. And although many services for women survivors have moved online, this does not suffice.
Half of the women in our research cited women’s organisations as the most important place to report Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) after the police.
Specialist services are especially important for migrant women who need support in their own languages and culture.
When the women come to us, they disowned their family or were disowned by them; they’re disowned by the community. We end up being their family and their community. This is the only place they know that will accept them, not judge them, and they’re able to fulfil, to learn what their rights are here, and they’ll be given a voice.– Anonymous service provider
Last week, the Latin American Women’s Rights Service and Amnesty International wrote an open letter urging the Government to recognise the specific challenges facing migrant women with insecure immigration status.
They called to:
- stop data sharing among statutory services
- end all NHS charges
- abolish the ‘No Recourse to Public Funds’ (NRPF) condition that prevents many migrant women from accessing support
- provide additional funding for specialist organisations, including refuges
They also called for the forthcoming Domestic Abuse Bill to highlight the plight of migrant women to ensure that they are protected.
This was followed up by another letter to the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government to protect migrant women with NRPF – requesting an emergency fund to Local Authorities to ensure they are able to house survivors of domestic abuse in hotels or other appropriate locations.
Now, Women’s Aid has appealed to the Prime Minister to develop an urgent strategy to protect women and girls from abuse, including ensuring equal protection for migrant survivors.
What will happen next?
If these calls are not heeded, many women will die or face life-changing injuries – not just from COVID-19 but from gender-based violence.
The current pandemic is not the cause of Violence Against Women and Girls, yet it brings into focus the enduring inequalities and fears faced by migrant women. It also shows how the prior decimation of the specialist women’s sector funding, especially for refuges, has meant that deaths from domestic abuse will be another legacy of COVID-19.
Cathy McIlwaine is Professor of Development Geography at King's College London. This blog originally appeared on the Kings College London website on 9 April 2020.