Every year, iconic buildings around the world are illuminated in orange during the ‘16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence’, a global campaign that starts from 25 November (International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women) to 10 December (Human Rights Day). Throughout these 16 days, Governments, UN agencies, civil society, and activists come together to raise awareness on this issue.
Even before COVID-19 plagued the world, gender-based violence was already one of the greatest human rights violations. However, while lockdowns were imposed across the world as a protective measure to curb the spread of the virus, it also brought out another deadly pandemic to the surface – the shadow pandemic of gender-based violence, further exacerbating existing inequalities for women and girls. Countless women experiencing domestic violence, suddenly found themselves confined at home along with their perpetrators. It has also severely disrupted access to life-saving sexual and reproductive health services and hampered authorities’ ability to respond to gender-based violence, at a time when women and girls need these services most.
With health systems stretched in responding to COVID-19, many women’s shelters were also reaching capacity due to a rise in the number of calls made to the National helpline and hotlines, by those seeking help. This however is just the tip of the iceberg as many cases unreported due to fear and stigma.
As the pandemic continues, this number is likely to grow with multiple impacts on women’s mental health and wellbeing, their sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights, and their ability to participate in the recovery of this crisis.
This 16 days, in solidarity with the victims and survivors of sexual and gender-based violence during COVID-19, UNFPA Sri Lanka with support from the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission of Sri Lanka joined the ‘Orange the World campaign’, by lighting South Asia’s tallest structure ‘Lotus Tower’ orange, to shed light on this shadow pandemic.
This is also an opportunity to pay tribute to the frontline health workers and service providers who strive to create a safer world for all, whilst calling for action by policymakers to prioritize this issue even amidst the pandemic because the world cannot prosper if a home is not safe for women and girls. This is an important part of our commitment to leaving no one behind.