Covid-19 has had a disproportionate impact on women worldwide. According to the UN, 240 million women and girls experienced violence in 2020. Gender-blind lockdown measures forced millions of women to confine at home with an abusive partner. Victims were cut from their support systems and resources. Countries around the globe reported a steep increase in domestic violence, including sexual violence, unwanted pregnancies, and feminicide. Instead of intensifying their action for women at risk, social services and shelters were reassigned to address the pandemic. The already limited resources allocated to victims of violence were further strained.
In most countries, the police, the judiciary and psycho-social services were failing to address violence against women even before 2020. The pandemic further exacerbated this situation.
Over the course of 2020, there was growing awareness of the conditions of detention in prisons. The media reported on the damaging effects of the pandemic on prisoners and several countries released detainees. Frequently though, women offenders didn’t benefit from these positive measures. They stayed in prison while being denied essential hygiene items. Facilities for online meetings were only allocated to male prisoners and women were no longer allowed to see their children. The lack of gender-sensitive approaches to Covid-19 measures only exacerbates the inadequate conditions of detention women are subjected to. Their damaging effects will likely be long-lasting.
Police stopped investigating cases of violence against women and courts cancelled hearings or postponed decisions.
The OMCT also carried out a mission to Latin America, and issued a report on the extremely precarious situation of 153 women and 13 children detained in the dilapidated Quetzaltenango prison in Guatemala.
In Burundi, rape has been used as a political weapon by law enforcement, who target both women and men to suppress dissent. Together with a local partner, the OMCT launched a social media campaign in November and December and assisted several survivors via its Fund for Victims of Torture.
In 2020, we also had some major successes:
- After being detained for almost seven years in Mexico, Monica Esparza was finally set free in March. The OMCT, together with its Mexican member Centro Prodh, had campaigned for years for Monica, a victim of arbitrary arrest, rape and torture by police, whose husband was tortured to death in front of her eyes. This emblematic case is far from being isolated: rape and other forms of torture at the hands of State agents are extremely frequent in Mexico.
- In Kyrgyzstan, the OMCT’s network member Spravedlivost scored a landmark victory at the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW Committee). In November, Committee members found the State guilty of the torture and ill-treatment of a female prisoner. They stated that the fact that detention facilities do not address the specific needs of women constituted discrimination within the meaning of Article 1 of the CEDAW Convention. Respecting the privacy and dignity of women prisoners must be a high priority for prison staff. The OMCT had submitted an amicus curiae in the case, highlighting obligations under international law when it comes to detaining women.
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Story: Anésie and Delia
Anésie was just 18 when Burundi was engulfed in violence. A few weeks after her father, a member of the opposition, had been abducted and killed, policemen kidnapped Anésie on her way back from school and gang raped her. When doctors later told her she was pregnant, Anésie tried to commit suicide by taking poison. Her family sent her and her mother – also a survivor of politically motivated rape – abroad, for their own security. Anésie had to abandon her studies and work to raise her daughter, who is now four years old. Thanks to the OMCT, she was able to open a small shop.