As coronavirus cases rise sharply in Latin American countries, so has violence against women.
In Peru, it is believed that over 900 women have disappeared during its COVID-19 quarantine—and 70 percent of them are minors. Many of them are feared dead. Before the pandemic, Peruvian authorities reported five disappearances per day on average but the office estimates that the figure rose to eight during the confinement period.
Churches in many countries are leading the way in trying to prevent the rise in violence against women. In April, World Council of Churches (WCC) ambassadors of the Thursdays in Black campaign signed a joint statement that urges both awareness and protection from the “dual pandemics” of COVID-19 and gender-based violence.
“As countries respond to COVID-19 with necessary restrictions on movements and activities, more people are calling violence hotlines and crying for help in other ways,” the statement reads. "The effects of lockdown, job losses, and the sheer vulnerability of people who were already on the margins of society are all serious concerns.”
WCC member churches are helping vulnerable women in creative ways.
A home without violence
In April, the Evangelical Church of the Lutheran Confession in Brazil created “For a home without violence” campaign to help churches promote dignified lives and overcome domestic and family violence.
Created in partnership with the Gender and Religion Program of Faculdades EST, the campaign aims to sensitize the community, and break the silence that makes violence inside houses invisible. It also aims to connect women with resources that can help and protect them, particularly in this period of social isolation.
“In addition to the publication of e-cards on social networks and radio spots, we are working to establish local support networks and offer training to advise and welcome women in distress,” said Rev. Carmen Michel Siegle, coordinator of Gender, Generations and Ethnicities at the Evangelical Church of the Lutheran Confession in Brazil.
The Evangelical Church of the Lutheran Confession in Brazil states, based on the Gospel, that violence against women is a sin, and that its mission is to welcome, support and not leave women alone when they need it most.
People are invited to join the campaign by sharing information, and praying and caring for the lives of women and their families in situations of violence, so that life can be transformed by the power of God.
Links of caring
Social distance, compulsory or voluntary, has generated greater danger for women in their homes.
The Colombian Women's Observatory showed an increase of 4,206 calls to “line 155,” the specific line for reporting domestic violence—an increase of 228%, during the period from 25 March to 28 May.
“In several Latin American countries, measures have been taken through different initiatives such as manuals, emergency telephones, legislative decrees, and public spaces in supermarkets where women can approach to report, and women's organizations are working hard to find ways to protect women and create alerts in response to violent situations,” said Rev. Gloria Ulloa, from the Presbyterian Church of Colombia, who serves as WCC president for Latin America and the Caribbean.
In many countries, women from churches actively participate in denouncing situations of violence against women and supporting the fight for justice and punishment of feminicides.
The Evangelical Church of the River Plate—in Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay—created on 3 June a system of "Pastoral Listening Guards,” a team of 15 female volunteers who answer calls to listen and offer support to women who want to share and think about their reality.
The group comprises pastors, professionals and students with experience in accompanying women. The Evangelical Church of Río de la Plata, United Evangelical Lutheran Church, Fundación Hora de Obrar, and the ECoJ, a youth coordination team, provide support for the devices and the team of volunteers. Contacts can be made through any device with an internet connection, free of charge and confidentially, by entering a link to contact the person who is available at the time by WhatsApp, according to an established schedule.
The device is part of a #ProtestantesActivandoDerechos campaign to inform and raise awareness about the rights of women, girls and adolescents during isolation. "From the Protestant faith, we seek to make visible the essential renewing and liberating role that, as women of faith, we occupy in the fight for gender justice, inside and outside our churches," reads a statement from the founding team.
The Argentinean Commission for Refugees and Migrants (CAREF), created in 1973 by the Protestant churches in Argentina under the mandate of the WCC to respond to the massive influx of Chilean political refugees as a result of the military coup, has been working for many years on issues related to gender and migration, also accompanying migrant and refugee women who experience situations of violence.
Discrimination, institutional violence and prejudice on the part of officials who are in charge is another obstacle this population faces. “All of this has been exacerbated in the context of COVID-19 due to the multiple obstacles to accessing health and civil protection institutions, as well as support networks,” said Gabriela Liguori, CAREF executive director.
CAREF’s goal, said Liguori, is to ensure that, beyond the immigration status of the individual, “access to rights is equal.”