The Canadian Women's Foundation launched the Signal for Help, a hand signal that would allow a victim to secretly alert others of their plight, amid rising cases of domestic abuse across the world.
"Sometimes I feel that this is a nightmare that I will eventually wake up from, but the nightmare is never-ending and I do not know how much longer I can handle this," a Palestinian woman in Al-Bureij camp, one of the poorest and most crowded camps in the Gaza Strip, told the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). A victim of verbal and physical abuse from her husband for a long time, she—like hundreds of millions of women across the world—saw the abuse become a daily occurrence under the COVID-19 pandemic. According to an April report by Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the executive director of UN Women, about 243 million women and girls between the ages of 15 and 49 have been subjected to sexual or physical violence by an intimate partner in the last 12 months. "As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, this number is likely to grow," she warned.
Domestic abuse is a "shadow pandemic" alongside Covid-19, according to the UN. They say cases are rising as women are trapped at home with their abusers.@meghamohan has been finding out how women in four parts of the world have been taking action in their own communities pic.twitter.com/nlbyadItlF— BBC World Service (@bbcworldservice) June 12, 2020
In an attempt to fight this "shadow pandemic"—as Mlambo-Ngcuka calls this rise in domestic abuse cases—the Canadian Women's Foundation launched the Signal for Help, a hand signal that would allow a victim to secretly alert others of their plight. "The social isolation measures necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic are making it more difficult for those who are at risk of abuse or violence to safely reach out for help. 'Signal for Help' is a simple one-handed sign someone can use on a video call. It can help a person silently show they need help and want someone to check in with them in a safe way," the foundation explained on its website.
"There's ample evidence that disaster situations can lead to a surge in gender-based violence. Public health directives on home isolation might increase danger and risk for people in abusive relationships," it continued. "The Signal for Help is a tool that may help some people, some of the time. Some people do not have the ability to make video calls. Please find other resources, services, and programs below that may be helpful in an unsafe situation at home." To alert someone of domestic abuse during a video call, place your thumb against your palm, wrap your fingers over that thumb, and show the fist to the viewer.
With mounting data laying bare the disturbing surge in domestic abuse during the pandemic, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres called on governments to make addressing the issue a key part of their pandemic response in April. "I recently called for an immediate global ceasefire to focus on our shared struggle to overcome the pandemic. I appealed for an end to violence everywhere, now. But violence is not confined to the battlefield. For many women and girls, the threat looms largest where they should be safest. In their own homes. And so I make a new appeal today for peace at home — and in homes — around the world," he said.
Mounting evidence suggests that domestic abuse is becoming more frequent and more severe as a world in pandemic locks down.— The New York Times (@nytimes) April 6, 2020
As hotlines struggle with a surge of calls, governments are trying to address a crisis experts say they should have seen coming.https://t.co/v9DqcZoGuc
"We know lockdowns and quarantines are essential to suppressing COVID-19. But they can trap women with abusive partners. Over the past weeks, as economic and social pressures and fear have grown, we have seen a horrifying global surge in domestic violence. In some countries, the number of women calling support services has doubled. Meanwhile, healthcare providers and police are overwhelmed and understaffed. Local support groups are paralyzed or short of funds. Some domestic violence shelters are closed; others are full. I urge all governments to make the prevention and redress of violence against women a key part of their national response plans for COVID-19," the secretary-general stated.
Peace is not just the absence of war. Many women under lockdown for #COVID19 face violence where they should be safest: in their own homes.— António Guterres (@antonioguterres) April 6, 2020
Today I appeal for peace in homes around the world.
I urge all governments to put women’s safety first as they respond to the pandemic. pic.twitter.com/PjDUTrMb9v
"Together, we can and must prevent violence everywhere, from war zones to people’s homes, as we work to beat COVID-19," he concluded. While the Signal for Help is a good tool to help domestic abuse victims seek out protection, it's only effective as long as the meaning of the hand signal is widely known. However, here there's the risk of the abuser themselves being aware of the gesture. An alternate solution would be to establish a secret signal with your loved ones and friends as a precautionary measure even if you may not be in an abusive relationship at the time.