A shadow pandemic of gender violence – by Deborah Levine

Originally published in The Chattanooga Times Free Press

As we come to the end of March, Women’s History Month, we need to see this time as a wake up call regarding women’s safety. The shootings at Asian spas in Atlanta, where most of the victims were women, underscore the vulnerability of these women. Yes, the Asian-American community as a whole is experiencing a rising number of hate crimes given COVID. And Asian-American women experience twice as many hate incidents as men.

An Asian American studies professor noted that women have always dealt with harassment and public safety issues, but COVID provided another excuse to target Asian women. Bullies attack the vulnerable and stereotypes of Asian women as meek and subservient make them easy targets. That’s why it was unusual that a 75-year old Asian-American fought back when attacked on a street corner, sending her attacker to the hospital. She isn’t the only woman to be fed up with harassment and violence.

In Mexico, there were almost 3,000 cases of female victims of intentional homicide in 2019, but only 25% of the cases were investigated as gender-related. Tired of the invisibility, women in Mexico are protesting and recently clashed with local police. Amnesty International Mexico released a report earlier in March that accused Mexican authorities of using illegal force, enforced disappearance, and sexual violence to silence the protestors.

Demonstrators in London and elsewhere in England are marching to Reclaim the Streets” following the kidnapping and death of Sarah Everard. A male police officer was charged with the murder of this marketing executive whose body was discovered in a secluded woods. The protests sparked a debate over dealing with male violence against women and a crime bill that does’t mention women in its 296 pages.

The United Nations calls gender-based violence a “shadow pandemic” that’s worsened by the pandemic when more people to stay at home and lose access to social services. A coalition of UN members will convene a Gender Equality Forum to address the harm done to women and girls. Some countries already have national plans, but others, like Turkey, are absent. Turkish activists claim that violence against women is an escalating COVID crisis, but conservatives argue that the coalition harms traditional “family values”.

In the U.S., decades of womens progress have been wiped out by COVID. Only 55.8% of women were working last month, its lowest level since 1987. Many women left work to care for families. Jobs held by women in high numbers disappeared: leisure, hospitality, education and health services and retail employment. Despite recent new hires, women are still down more than 5 million jobs. Efforts are being made to solve this economic catastrophe for women and their families, but experts wonder if, not when, this historic decline will be reversed.

It’s vital to address COVID’s economic implications for women, but we must also address the corresponding rise in sexual harassment and assault on women, including Asian-Americans.

It’s in this environment that the House just voted to renew the Violence Against Women Act. Trump’s administration let lapse this legislation against stalking, domestic violence, and sexual assault.

Less than 24 hours after Atlanta’s mass shooter shot and killed 7 women, 172 House Republicans voted against the Act. Now we’re on edge after the mass shooting in a Boulder grocery store as Tennessee votes for unrestricted gun ownership and carrying. Women at risk of domestic violence and gender-related crimes should be hiding under the covers. It’s time for politicians, local and national, to make their views public on Violence Against Women. Where do our mayoral candidates stand? Has anyone even asked?

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