Covid’s Shadow Pandemic: freedom is orange.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had many negative impacts and predictably it has affected some people and communities more than others. It has affected those who are older, those with disabilities, those from the BAME community and women in a disproportionate manner.  The effects of the virus have sadly and tragically not been felt equally by all. Evidence of that discriminatory impact was published by National Records Scotland in the last week when we read that those experiencing poverty or economic deprivation were two and a half times more likely to die from Covid compared to those living in areas of relative affluence.

But there have also been more hidden harms and impacts and one of those is the focus of my blog this week.

Next Thursday, the 25th of November, is the United Nations International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. Numerous charitable bodies and support groups have reported how all types of violence against women and girls, particularly domestic violence, have increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. As communities went into lockdown sadly, we also served to lock in harm and abuse with a huge multiple rise in calls to helplines. The United Nations has described this as a Shadow Pandemic.

It’s three decades since I started being involved in adult and child protection and sadly the rise in the number of those who are victims of domestic home-based violence, predominantly women, seems horrifically consistent year upon year. The pandemic has served to make matters worse at a time when supports have been stretched and resource depleted. What is it about our society where the abuse and harm of women and girls is still so tolerated?

I spoke to a frontline colleague last week who expressed to me real concern about the often-hidden harm which older women daily experienced. She spoke about how once she supported a woman in her eighties who she daily found in tears, cowering in fear when her husband was in the room. She shared the journey they both went on to a point at which with huge courage she took control over her life again. Yet she also reflected as to whether that would have been possible in this new context, we all live in. For it is equally the case that along with the increase in violence against older women that the ability to access supports amongst that sector of our community is less than amongst other women not least because of issues of digital poverty and access when so many supports have moved online.

This year’s theme for the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women is “Orange the World: Fund, Respond, Prevent, Collect!”. As in previous years, this year’s International Day will mark the launch of 16 days of activism that will conclude on 10 December 2020, which is International Human Rights Day.

For those of us working in social care I believe that we need to re-double our efforts to address harm and abuse. We need to resource the training of and confidence building of frontline staff to be able to recognise the signs of harm and abuse, whether physical, emotional, or psychological. We need to continually make sure that a predominantly female workforce is not itself the victim of violence and harm. We need to be able to address the insidiousness of family and home-based violence amongst older people especially women who are often unable to access support and help because of frailty or age. It is a sad truth that most violence and harm happen at the hands of those we are closest to.

Over the next days many public buildings across Scotland will be ‘oranged’ as part of the United Nations campaign to recall the need for a violence-free future.

The dream of creating communities where all are respected regardless of gender; where a woman or a girl is able to walk without fear and belong without limitation is one we should all have. It is a dream which is at the heart of all compassionate care and support and one worth struggling for.

And a struggle it is. Any of us who have lived with the fear of daily hurt, the choking silence of expecting rage in every breath, the holding of breath lest anger be let loose, and rage shatter the calm, will recognise the power of the poetry of the Afghan poet Wadia Samadi. It is for all of us to be silent no more but to help all regardless of age to find freedom:

 

Finding Freedom

I wake up every morning scheming my escape

But what about my children?

Who will believe me?

Who will give me a home?

Years go by and I am still waiting

When will this end?

 

My makeup does not cover my bruised face

My smile does not hide my haggard visage

Yet, no one comes to help

They say: it will get better

They say: don’t talk about it

They say: this was my fate

They say: a woman must tolerate

Don’t air your dirty laundry, they say.

When will this end?

 

Once again, he drags my body to the floor

He chokes me and I beg him not to kill me

Once again, he demands my silence

Once again, he tells me I don’t deserve to live

 

I have had enough

I will not be silent

I will live

I will find freedom

This will end today.

 

Donald Macaskill