The Shadow Pandemic


Growing alongside the COVID-19 crisis is what has been referred to as the ‘Shadow Pandemic’ or ‘Women’s Recession’ (also called the ‘She-session), as pandemic consequences are hitting women in unique and difficult ways.  Across every domain, from health to the economy and beyond, the impacts of COVID-19 are exacerbated for women and girls simply by virtue of their sex.

Historically, violence against women jumps when there is widespread societal distress. Prior to COVID-19, one in three women worldwide experience physical or sexual violence mostly by an intimate partner. Violence against women and girls is a human rights violation. Since the outbreak of COVID-19, emerging data and reports from those on the front lines, have shown that all types of violence against women and girls, particularly domestic violence, has intensified. A report published by the United Nations Women (2020) revealed that agencies reporting violence against women in countries such as the United States, Canada, France, Germany, Spain, and the UK are all reporting increase in number of domestic violence amid the crisis (United Nations Women, 2020).

As the COVID-19 pandemic deepens economic and social stress coupled with restricted movement and social isolation heightens, gender-based violence is increasing exponentially.   Across every domain, from health to the economy and beyond, the impacts of COVID-19 are exacerbated for women and girls simply by virtue of their sex. Many women are being forced to ‘lockdown’ at home with their abusers at the same time that services to support survivors are being disrupted or made inaccessible.

Most perpetrators are intimate partners who have now been isolated at home with their partners. With the majority of us remaining at home most of the time, women in these circumstances are left with little (if any) privacy to even make a phone call or search a website to seek help. Women experiencing gender-based violence during times of isolation are also not coming into contact with others who would potentially see the signs and offer support.

Those women who have reported domestic or sexual violence require additional supports during this unique time of isolation, a time when access to services is actual more limited.  The pandemic has also brought compounding burdens on women as they not only face high risks of economic insecurity, but also face increased risks of abuse, exploitation, harassment and violence during the times of crisis.

Governments and business must recognize and take action to stop the Shadow Pandemic. The World Bank has produced tool kits that all levels of government and any size business can use to raise awareness and take action.

The support tools can be downloaded here:

  1.  UN Women (2020). The Shadow Pandemic: Violence against women during COVID-19. 
  2.  Global News (2020). Welcome to the ‘she’session’. 
  3.  Canadian Women’s Foundation (2020). Gendered Impacts of Coronavirus.
  4.  Unseen, unheard: Gender-based violence in disasters. (IFRC 2015). 
  5.  UN Women (2017). Facts and figures: Ending violence against women.
  6.  Canadian Women’s Foundation (2020). Gendered Impacts of Coronavirus.