COVID-19, Structural Inequality and Violence against Women and Girls: One Year On (Part Three)

Posted in: COVID-19

Part Three: The COVID Context and Struggle for Intersectional Women’s Rights

The role of women’s organisations and leadership was vital in responding to this crisis. Women’s rights organisations, advocates and women’s defenders mobilised quickly to ensure service continuity, to minimise disruption, implement adaptions and respond to the online environment, and develop new systems and processes to address the challenges of the operating environment. Women ensured the continuation of rights-based policy and advocacy with states. Women’s mobilisation was not about fixing a broken system by returning to ‘business as usual’ in the recovery phase. Women’s leadership reflected the need for a transformed political and economic system.

At the start of this blog, it was highlighted how rates of sexual violence increased for women trapped in homes. During the pandemic, the Government undertook a Rape Review to better understand the low rate of conviction in cases of rape and sexual violence. The review recommendations fell short on the substantive reforms that were recommended by women’s organisations who called for a fundamental review of the laws and reform to the system. Women’s organisations defined the system as broken on three critical points: in reporting rape and sexual violence to Police, in bringing about convictions and in receiving specialist trauma-informed support through specialist advocacy for women going through the system. Women often experienced secondary victimisation and Black and minoritised women often confronted a system that was racialised. For migrant women and women with insecure immigration status, reporting meant fear of detention and deportation. The importance of rights-based responses addressing the inadequacies of the system which reproduce inequality and discrimination is a core idea in political economic recovery and yet, women have been excluded from influencing the post-COVID-19 phase.

Women across the board (advocates, defenders, activists and residents and citizens) have struggled to define space for themselves in the recovery effort however they have argued for a clear platform of reform and transformative change. Recovery must address the intersectional inequalities that impact women’s lives including their migrant histories. The idea of ‘building back better’ must be grounded in moving women from the margin to the centre[1] by reflecting diverse women’s leadership. The recovery effort must involve women from diverse and intersectional perspectives. Addressing structural inequalities means addressing the political economy specifically the ways in which inequalities are reproduced through economic systems of accumulation, wealth generation and distribution. Within this approach, the continuum of violence against women is evident implying that violence against women and girls is direct and structural. This means the recovery effort must take account of the structural nature of violence such as the gender division of labour for example, by dismantling zero hours contract and the precarious employment sector which is based on exploitative relationships between a predominantly female work force and the employment market.

The recovery must address patriarchy and differential gender impacts and the masculinisation of identities.[2]Political and economic power is part of a transactional authority structure integrated into the political economic authority that extends from the household to the global realm.[3] The recovery effort must consider the following as a minimum starting point. An open and transparent review of the COVID-19 response must be conducted in participatory ways involving sectors of civil society and taking the lead from groups who have been disproportionately impacted moving such voices from the margin to the centre. Such a review must consider the inadequacies of the existing systems under an enhanced Public Sector Equality Duty governing local authority consultation and decision processes especially covering local commissioning. Funding structures and their corresponding policies must be reviewed in line with calls from the VAWG sector for equitable ring-fenced funding to specialist women only VAWG services where specialist organisations addressing the protected characteristics are sign posted for sustainable resourcing.

Microaggressions also imply that the rights and protections agenda can be easily co-opted by the state as evident in the recently published Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities Report (2021). The degrees of co-optation can inform funding and resourcing decisions including that of grant funders and define local strategies and priorities. The recovery effort must critically address and alleviate the impact of microaggressions in policy, strategy and governance structures. The recovery must be centred around a rights-based grassroots advocacy focusing on the lived experiences of diverse communities. In the context of addressing VAWG, there must be a consolidated VAWG strategy ending ongoing attempts to ‘professionalise’ rights-based VAWG provision through commercially driven mechanisms. A gendered recovery is one embedded in intersectionality and social justice reform where Black and minoritised women, migrant and disabled women, among other groups of women with protected characteristics hold and offer leadership to the vision addressing institutional and structural inequalities driven by a political economic analysis of violence.


From Crisis and Prevention

Violence against women existed before COVID-19, the frequency and severity of violence against women and girls increased during COVID-19 and violence against women and girls will exist after COVID-19. This blog discussed the prevalence of VAWG reviewing the nature of structural inequalities that impact women’s lives. It provided a brief overview of the risks posed by microaggressions resulting in diminished rights and protections for women. It ended with a vision for a different form of recovery that is inclusive and touches women’s realities more directly.


Baljit Banga, Executive Director of Imkaan 


[1] Hooks, B. 1984. Feminist Theory from Margin to Centre. Boston. South End Press.

[2] Ertuk, Y. 2009 and True, J. 2012 in Samuel, K. eds. 2019. The Political Economy of Conflict and Violence against Women. New York. Zed Books.

[3] True. J. 2012. The Political Economy of Violence. Oxford. Oxford Press.

Posted in: COVID-19


  • (we won't publish this)

Write a response