The corona pandemic is like a magnifying glass making visible a range of problems. Vulnerable groups are becoming even more vulnerable, in Denmark and in the Global South. The pandemic points to inequalities within both societies, and this could be a first step in doing something about the situation.
The whole world has been affected by the corona pandemic. But there is a big difference in how it has affected not just individual countries, but also different groups within the population.
A crisis like Covid-19 is having a skewed effect. This is what Hilda Rømer Christensen, Associate Professor at the Department of Sociology, University of Copenhagen (KU), says at a webinar organized by the Danish Development Research Network (DDRN) on Tuesday 27 April with support from the Danish Science Festival to share experiences from the Global North and South.
“Gender inequality is increasing. We have seen an increase in gender-based violence, abuse and human trafficking. Both in Denmark and globally,” says Hilda Rømer Christensen, who has studied the gender-specific effects of the pandemic.
This is making already vulnerable groups within societies even more vulnerable. A trend that is global.
Women and girls disappear
In the past year, the Danish freelance journalist Lise Josefsen Hermann based in Ecuador, has together with the French-Peruvian photographer Florence Goupil worked on a project about missing women and girls in Peru.
“In Peru, as in many places in Latin America, many have been locked inside their homes due to a severe lock-down. It has worsened the situation for girls and women who already live in violent households,” says Lise Josefsen Hermann.
During the lock-down from March to July (2020), 11,000 cases of violence were registered in Peru. One third of the victims were minors. Violence is one of the reasons why many women – 11,828 by 2020 – are disappearing. It is the last resort.
“Corona highlights problems,” says Lise Josefsen Hermann, referring to the fact that violence against women – especially committed by an (ex) partner is widespread in Peru.
At worst, they become victims of crimes such as murder, kidnapping and human trafficking.
In an article for DDRN, Lise Josefsen Hermann has written about 28-year-old Marleny Estrada Bolivar and 24-year-old Joys Estefani Qqueccaño Huamani, who disappeared last year and later were found buried under their home. Killed by their (former) partner and the father of their children. In 2020, 132 feminicidios (murder of women) were registered in Peru.
How many of them could have been avoided if the police were investigating these cases?
When women are of no interest to the police
“There is a reluctance on part of the authorities and the police to investigate the cases. There is often this thought that it is probably the women’s fault. If something has happened, it’s because they have not behaved properly. It is a structural problem that makes the situation difficult for women,” says Lise Josefsen Hermann.
Malene Muusholm also well aware of this issue. She is the team leader at Reden International, which helps foreign women in prostitution and victims of human trafficking, primarily from Eastern Europe, Thailand and West Africa, who have difficult living conditions.
“I have been concerned about the Nigerian women we do not have contact with. There are large areas in Italy where undocumented migrants live and there are many women who disappear. I wish I knew how many women have died in North Africa to reach Europe. I have heard from women: ‘We were ten, who were sent away, at least two died in the desert,” says Malene Muusholm, and adds:
“It is a huge problem that women are disappearing. And when they are from poor families, the police show little concern. In Nigerian networks, the mafia kills women, but no one hears about it. It is a general problem that poor women are not a concern for society.”.
A magnifying glass
The pandemic has also had consequences for the women with whom Reden works with in Denmark. The biggest challenge has been that women could not work (sell sex) during the lock-down. Loss of income has been the overriding consequence of Covid-19, as it has made it difficult for them to support themselves but also difficult to send money home to their families. Some of the Nigerian women have had to ask friends in Italy to send them money. It tends to be the other way around.
“Our target group already lives in difficult conditions. The corona crisis has been a magnifying glass, which has made it more extreme than it was before,” says Malene Muusholm.
Reden International has been in close dialogue with the women. Among other things, they have shared food with some of the Nigerian women who usually travel between Denmark and Italy, but are stranded in Denmark. Over the summer, many of them went back to Italy, but then they became stranded there and could not enter Denmark because they did not have a ‘recognizable purpose’.
“The women’s business model is to move around continually. Internally in Denmark, but also in other European countries. Some are sent around, others do it because they make good money,” says Malene Muusholm.
According to Hilda Rømer Christensen, history is repeating itself. At the beginning of the 20th century, Danish women traveled from Jutland, from the countryside, to Copenhagen. When they migrated to the city, they had nothing to live off. At the time, the strategy from the YWCA, of which Reden International is a part of today, was that women should get out of prostitution and have proper living conditions.
But what are the options available to the women Reden International seeks to assist? According to Malene Muusholm, there are some women content with the line of work they are engaged in – selling sex. And it’s going in the wrong direction. Reden is currently experiencing an increase in the number of Spanish-speaking women selling sex for the first time because they have lost their jobs in the tourism industry due to Covid-19.
“They see it (sex work) as a last resort. As the only way to earn money,” says Malene Mussholm.
Some of the women have continued to work despite the lock-down. And that has had consequences. Some have contracted corona, others have been fined up to DKK 20,000, after the police have contacted them as potential customers after monitoring escort ads.
“We think that the epidemic legislation has been used to make migration policy. DKK 10,000-20,000 on top of the problems they already have, it is quite serious. If the women do not do as told, they will be deported. A handful already has been. Some women have suffered psychological injuries after that and have had difficulty sleeping,” says Malene Muusholm.
In the same boat
According to Lise Josefsen Hermann, the dialogue between North and South shows thatIn many ways we are in the same boat. The whole world was hit by the pandemic, and although it has affected us differently, we may be able to better understand what others are going through, because we ourselves have also lived in a lock-down – albeit to varying degrees.
We can see that partner violence – often in the form of violence against women – is a global trend. And there is a lack of awareness in the genderised outcomes brought about though Covid-19, which Hilda Rømer Christensen points out by criticizing the lack of priority with regard to vulnerable groups in society. Whether it is women in abusive relationships or vulnerable groups – as Reden’s target group. The corona crisis has made some risk groups more visible, while others remain invisible: e.g., men with low income.
“The visibility may strengthen solidarity. We can put ourselves in the situation of others elsewhere. Our realities do not usually resemble each other, and we do not usually have the same problems and challenges that we have had during corona,” says Lise Josefsen Hermann.
“The pandemic has helped focusing on existing problems – on inequalities. It’s bad news, and it’s sad, but it’s also a first step in realizing that we need to do something about the situation.”
Mette Mølgaard Henriksen is a journalist, University of Southern Denmark & MSc in development and international relations with a specialization in Latin America Studies, Aalborg University
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