Hoayda Darkal, Researcher for the SEREDA Project, discusses Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV) during the time of lockdown.

Once again I wake up with a luxurious essence of normality that lasts for only a glimpse before the real sense of the present surfaces.

I prepare my coffee, sit at my home-desk, go through the inbox, and start my tasks. It is just a normal morning of a working day. It starts though without the walk uphill, the transportation, the light conversations with neighbours on my way to campus, and colleagues at the coffee machine.  I have changed my phone settings, and now notifications are activated, so I am aware when someone reaches out for contact, need, or a virtual meeting. Yet, there are these new spikes of anxiety that hit frequently.  For few days I found myself keeping the radio on, I might have hoped for positive updates to help sooth these spikes.  A strategy that proved counterproductive. Another cup of coffee, media off, phone a side, but with the worry shadowing my day, here I am working from home. It is the day 15th.

COVID-19 has been spreading across the world for weeks now, and more than a Third of the population of the globe are now living under some-sort of lockdown.  Since 28th February the UK entered a period of unprecedented challenges.  On 17th March, the British Prime Minister advised the public to avoid pubs and to work from home, maintain social-distance, in order to slow the spread of the virus.  A week later, people were told to only leave home to shop for essentials, to exercise once a day, and to travel to and from work when absolutely necessary.  Enforced-social-distancing was applied; pubs, cafes and restaurants were closed, a minimum of two metres distance must be kept between others that don’t share a household, and no gatherings of more than two persons are allowed.

News sources have provided rich material on how to use time at home wisely and how to keep fit and healthy while in-doors.  All in favour of supporting the resilience of individuals, families and communities through this difficult time, when all one has to do is to stay at home.  And the ‘Stay at Home, Save Lives’ has become the slogan in the global war against the virus, with the aim to reduce the pressure on the capacity of the health system.

People have been sharing their various ways of living in quarantine on the different platforms of social media.  Their posts vary greatly, yet all have been reflecting a comforting image of ‘home’ as a dwelling of safety that holds high potentials of joy for individuals and families.  Hence, they feed into the concept of modern home, which ‘became constructed not only as a line separating the inside from the outside (a house), but also as the epitome, the spatial inscription of the idea of individual freedom, a place liberated from fear and anxiety, a place supposedly untouched by social, political and natural processes, a place enjoying an autonomous and independent existence: a home’ (Kaika, 2004: 266).  A concept that is unattainable for millions of people, as a result of socio-economic and other factors.  Forced migrants who made it to the UK for instance, are amongst the groups that are more likely to live in harsh conditions.  As revealed through the SEREDA  Project fieldwork they have no personal space, nor control on who they share that space with, and lack the sense of physical safety even when accommodation is provided.  Some are likely to face homelessness, structural violence, and/or other forms of Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV) such as transactional sex.

According to the domestic abuse commissioner for England and Wales, calls received by the national abuse hotline increased by 65% during the second Saturday of the strict measures of ‘Stay at Home’.  That is in comparison to the numbers of calls received the same day previous week.  This increase is a serious source of concern, especially as service-providers have been already been struggling due to the number of policies which create or exacerbate difficulties for refugee survivors of SGBV, a lack of resources, and the mounting demand on NHS services. I can’t help but to recall the faces of the women I met over the last two years.  Most of those women have already been living in a cruel social isolation for years, ‘at home’ with an abusive partner, away from their familiar homeland, unaware of the help available, or unable to access help due to language or cultural barriers.  In these challenging times, when having the support of our ‘close ones’ is critical, these women and many others fear their close-ones the most. 

The pandemic of COVID-19 has been beyond comprehension for most of us, with its extraordinary effects, and the unprecedented responses it has provoked.  It is also highlighting the inequalities, vulnerabilities and gaps in society. Recently, there have been reports of promised support and new measures. The Home Office provided £1.6bn to local councils, and women with insecure immigration status should have "all barriers removed, without fear of deportation, when reporting violence at this time".  With much hope that the new support could actually reach not only of the ones who are still trapped in abusive situations, but also the women who managed to escape but are suffering loneliness, isolation, health issues, and extreme vulnerability.

We must do our part by maintaining social-distance and ‘Stay at Home’, but I urge you to never let go of nurturing contact with, and support to others within and outside ‘Home’.

Read more about the SEREDA Project in the Institute for Research into Superdiversity (IRiS).