Lower incomes, more violence: women among the most affected by the pandemic

In Rio de Janeiro, there was a 50% increase in domestic violence complaints

Translated by: Ítalo Piva

Brasil de Fato | São Paulo |
Patrícia Petre was a seamstress before the quarantine, selling her products in art fairs. Today, to keep up with her bills, she makes face masks - Nelson Almeida/AFP

When it comes to the economic impact, women may very well be the social group most affected by the novel coronavirus pandemic. Indigenous, immigrant and black women are even more at risk. This is the analysis of Maria Fernanda Marcelino, member of the feminist organization Sempre Viva (SOF), and supporter of the Association of Women for Economic Solidarity.

Why is this? “Because women by and large, are those with the most precarious and informal jobs, or living on minimum wage, or retirement, doing domestic labor or working in the service industry”, Marcelino explains.

Another aggravating factor: women are the heads of households, that is, the ones responsible for looking after children and other family members, and this is overburdening women more “intensely” during quarantine. “Beyond thinking about having enough to eat, they still face the battle of making the household function. This creates tension, it’s stressful,” concludes the SOF member.

Lately, Maria has been studying women artisans, seamstresses, among other professions, who before the quarantine sold their products on the city’s major streets. She tell us that their “despair is absolute”, seeing that they have no way of selling anything.

This is the case for 46 year old Elaine Aparecida Souza, who lives in the east side of São Paulo. Self employed, she works as a food vendor for corporate events and says she is “literally scared”. “I was doing some financial planning and I can keep going till the end of April, I’ll be able to get the basic necessities”, she continued.

To guarantee her wages for the following month, she started selling cake and bread on the internet. Even though “nothing is certain”, she’s already had two deliveries. Her mom and two sisters depend on her income.

Patrícia Petre, who is 35 and also a resident of greater São Paulo, finds herself in a similar situation. She was a seamstress before the quarantine, selling her products in art fairs. Today, to keep up with her bills, she makes face masks: “It’s gonna get worse, we’re gonna have to cut back on a lot at home”.

According to Maria Fernanda Marcelino the situation is close to “the point of no return”. “If the government doesn’t do something immediately, the pandemic will be aggravated. We’re gonna have to make many sacrifices”. On Friday the 3rd, in an official press release, president Jair Bolsonaro sanctioned a bill providing emergency aid of up to R$1200 that will benefit women who are heads of households.

Violence against women in the home

With the implementation of the quarantine due to the pandemic, women soon began having to forego the home as a place of rest, affection and welcome. This may be one of the explanations for the rise in domestic violence since social isolation began. In Rio de Janeiro, for example, there was a 50% rise in such complaints.

Marcelino affirms that, in São Paulo, women that frequent help centers and shelters “are missing, due to isolation, but also due to the fact that their imprisonment gets worse, being deprived of privacy, of a cell phone, of anything that may put her out of the situation in which she finds herself”.

In 2019, there were 263.067 cases of assault and battery and one case of domestic violence every two minutes.

In March 2020, the United Nations released a document highlighting the possible consequences of the covid-19 pandemic, in relation to domestic violence.

The are more risks associated with the heightening of tensions at home, and the increased isolation women are facing. Survivors of domestic violence may also find additional obstacles when trying to escape violent situations, or access restraining orders that save lives and/or essential services because of the restrictions on movement brought by the quarantine”, the UN contends in section of the document.

Internet data shows that thefts have almost gone down to zero, as well as robberies, but the number of complaints which are classified as domestic disputes, which we know aren’t disputes but in fact sexist violence, have exploded”, says Maria Fernanda Marcelino.

When you are in a violent environment, what will happen is a worsening of conditions of mental suffering, depression, anguish, panic and the like, when a place where you are supposed to feel safe is where you are most vulnerable”, concludes Marcelino.

Edited by: José Eduardo Bernardes e Ítalo Piva