Introduction and opening remarks by Dr. Antonia Felix

Uniting Voices Worldwide to Eliminate Violence Against Women 2020

A Discussion and Call to Action on the Pandemic’s Impact on Women and Girls

November 24, 2020

Antonia Felix, Ed.D., Moderator, education consultant and researcher specializing in racial and gender equity; author of 24 books including biographies of women leaders Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elizabeth Warren, Michelle Obama, Sonia Sotomayor, Condoleezza Rice, and others.

Good morning, good afternoon, and good evening to everyone joining us for the Women’s Freedom Forum Annual Event, “Uniting Voices Worldwide to Eliminate Violence Against Women: A Discussion and Call to Action on the Pandemic’s Impact on Women and Girls.”

Recording of the Conference is available to view on WFF YouTube

I’m Antonia Felix, the moderator and a member of the Women’s Freedom Forum Advisory Board. It is my great pleasure to welcome you. Registrations show that we have a global audience today with attendees from Japan, India, Pakistan, Iran, China, Nigeria, Somalia, Kenya, Germany, Ireland, the UK, Ecuador, Australia, North America, and many other countries.  We are very happy to have all of you here.

Today’s event is streaming live on YouTube as well, UNDER THE TITLE “Women’s Freedom Forum Annual Event,” in case you would like to let someone know they can tune in.

I’d like to start with a few words about our organization, and then give a rundown of what we will be presenting today. 

The Women’s Freedom Forum is a non-profit educational women’s rights organization associated with the United Nations Department of Global Communications. We’re holding this teleconference to coincide with the UN’s event “16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence.” 

Our aim at the Women’s Freedom Forum is to raise public awareness on issues relating to women’s equality and legal and human rights. We work to uplift the voices of marginalized women, particularly in the Middle East, but as you’ll hear today, also from countries around the world, and to place these voices into the mainstream public discourse to create greater knowledge and understanding about specific issues and ensure their voices are heard. Our usual focus on the Middle East region is due to its social problems including but not limited to a system of gender apartheid, illiteracy, violence against women, forced child marriage, human trafficking, job discrimination, and misogyny. Through our publications, advocacy for women’s rights policy, and events such as this and regular presentations in the U.S. Congress and elsewhere, the Women’s Freedom Forum acts on its vision of a world based on equality, social justice, and women’s rights. 

Before introducing our panelists, I would like to thank Paula Corrado, WFF president, for her two decades of leadership.

Our panelists today bring a wide range of expertise to this discussion of the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic on women and girls and to related issues facing women around the world. Our distinguished panel includes 

  • International human rights activist Mandy Sanghera,
  • Gender & Women’s Studies professor from Rhode Island University Dr. Donna Hughes,
  • Social entrepreneur Zahra Amanpour,
  • Preeminent scholar on Islam in America Dr. Aminah Al-Deen,
  • Survivor-turned-activist Mitra Samani, who has been a political prisoner in Iran,
  • Conflict resolution scholar and world champion athlete Soolmaz Abooali,
  • Professional photographer and Women’s Freedom Forum representative to the UN Lynn Dykstra
  • International human rights, refugee, and immigration lawyer David Matas
  • Human rights researcher and Women’s Freedom Forum communications director Tamila Kianfard,
  • And international education scholar and professor at Miramar College in San Diego, Dr. Judy Patacsil.

We are also honored to have violinist Zhenya Zianouka performing for us today. 

We will start with brief opening remarks from each panelist, and between some of the speakers I will share a few lines from the letters of support for this event we have received from members of congress. We thank them for their enthusiastic support and also give a special welcome to their staff members who are attending today. A bit later you will also see a short video called “Women in the Front lines”.

After all the panelists have spoken, we will have a Q & A session, so we invite you to submit your questions on the live chat at any time throughout the conference. We will be gathering those questions as we go along. 

The covid-19 pandemic has impacted lives physically, mentally, emotionally, and economically throughout the world. Shutdowns that have shifted schooling online and put a risky burden on “essential workers” have brought the reality of societies’ deep inequities to the surface in ways that can no longer be denied or ignored. The pandemic has also dramatically escalated domestic violence, as victims are forced to be isolated at home with their abusers. This is no surprise to those familiar with how disasters, both natural and otherwise, have a disproportionately negative impact on women and children due to their vulnerability to poverty and violence and other factors. 

Domestic violence, the emotional, physical, or sexual abuse by a current or former intimate partner, is also called intimate partner violence. From March through May of this year in the U.S., when 42 states and territories put the first mandatory stay-at-home orders into effect (Moreland et al., 2020), some major cities had spikes of 20 to 30% more 911 calls about domestic violence (Tolan, 2020). At the same time that some domestic hotline calls also increased, other hotline call centers saw decreases in the average number of calls. This slowdown masked the dark reality that victims, being in “close and constant proximity to violent partners” (Kofman & Garfin, 2020, p. S199) during the lockdowns, had no way to reach out for help. 

Being isolated in unsafe homes where the stress and anxiety of a pandemic with its unemployment and uncertainty has increased the risk of new and escalating domestic violence, creating a shadow pandemic. The situation was already dire before Covid-19, with domestic violence a common public health issue around the world. UN Women and other agencies have reported that globally, approximately 1 in 3 women are victims of domestic abuse (UN Women, 2020). 

We have seen dramatic increases of this violence in Europe, where reports rose by more than 30% in France and 20% in Spain’s Catalan region, for example; in China, where domestic violence reports more than tripled in the Hubei province during lockdown; in Columbia, which had a 94% spike in violence against women ages 29 to 59 (Faiolo & Herrera, 2020), and in Australia, where doctors in the Northern Territory saw a 15% increase in surgeries related to family violence in May (Mercer, 2020). 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2020), the pandemic has escalated this violence and suicide rates due to alcohol or other substance abuse; financial, emotional, or physical stress; job loss; depression or anxiety; and social isolation. 

Our panelists will give us insights into the shadow pandemic and how women, their communities and governments are meeting this crisis, as well as other critical issues facing women around the world today. 

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