Peter Cowan and Minh Phương
As Việt Nam uses social distancing to slow the spread of the coronavirus, champions of women’s rights fear the policy may be putting women in greater danger of domestic violence.
While closing public spaces and urging citizens to stay at home has helped the country record no new COVID-19 cases in almost a week, the measures have put women at increased risk of violence as they stay cooped up with abusive partners in a stressful situation.
Adding to this, the devastating economic impact of the pandemic has made it harder for civil society to support women at risk of domestic violence.
Domestic violence has long been a problem in Việt Nam and United Nations research has found that over the past 10 years, one in three married women have been the victims of domestic violence.
However, since the country began its social distancing campaign on April 1, campaigners say reports of domestic abuse have increased.
The Centre for Studies and Applied Sciences in Gender – Family – Women and Adolescents (CSAGA) runs a hotline to offer support for various issues, including domestic violence.
While the NGO does not have data for this year as its operators have been working from home, a representative told Việt Nam News that calls reporting domestic abuse have “extremely increased, especially during social distancing".
This uptick in calls chimes with what other organisations around the world have reported during lockdowns and social distancing, said UN Women Vietnam Head of Office Elisa Fernandez.
Fernandez told Việt Nam News that UN Women had been in close contact with organisations that support victims of domestic abuse, and all had reported surges in demand for their services.
“They have consistently reported an increase in calls, an increase in demand for psychological, social psychosocial support, for emergency shelter,” she said.
“We know for example that Peace House, a shelter for survivors of violence against women that is managed by the Việt Nam Women’s Union, has recorded an increase in calls and people looking for help by 50 per cent and the number of people that need shelter has doubled compared to the numbers of 2018 and 2019 at the same time of the year,” she added.
The HopeBox logo at the social enterprise's headquarters. — VNS Photo Paul Kennedy
Hope in a box
Organisations that support victims of domestic abuse are also suffering from the pandemic’s economic impact.
Đặng Thị Hương founded the social enterprise HopeBox to support women who have been victims of domestic violence and human trafficking, and she’s found it harder to help since the pandemic started.
HopeBox provides jobs for victims by offering a lunchbox delivery service, event catering and sales of baked goods, as well as helping them out with safe accommodation and offering activities like yoga, but with orders down due to the economic hit of the virus, Hương says 90 per cent of HopeBox’s activities has been impacted.
“Since COVID-19 happened all the events have been closing down,” Hương told Việt Nam News, adding: “Our 2020 plan has been kind of wiped out.”
While Hương and her staff have adapted the business by offering new products to try and cope, the impact has decreased the level of support she’s able to offer women, though she’s trying to keep as many as possible in work.
“It’s really hard to bring them (the women) back so I try to keep them staying here, even though we are not so busy or at least keep them in Hà Nội and create some other activities, for example, they’re studying English these days.”
Despite this, Hương said one woman HopeBox had supported had been forced to return to an abusive relationship due to the pandemic.
“One of our women is still in that relationship because when the pandemic came in March, she got a call from her husband and he asked her to go back just because of the pandemic.
“So she thought it would be safer but it’s actually not so. We’re still trying to rescue her to come back here,” she said.
“Social distancing time it’s just the worst time because they (victims) don’t get support,” she added.
With resources focused on confronting the pandemic, UN Women’s Fernandez fears efforts to stop gender-based violence could take a long-term hit.
She said that as the pandemic changes priorities, there was a risk of losing the progress made in Việt Nam to make confronting gender-based violence a priority.
“Gender-based violence, domestic violence even violence against children has to be a priority in the response (to the pandemic) of the Government, of society, organisations of donors and the UN,” she said. — VNS
*Support for victims of domestic abuse in Việt Nam is available through:
CSAGA – 02433335599
Peace House – 1900969680
HopeBox – +84901245073
Survivor: Nguyễn Thị Thùy’s story
Nguyễn Thị Thùy, a survivor of domestic violence and a HopeBox employee. — VNS Photo Minh Phương
When I lived in my hometown, I just worked in the field without a stable income. Then I got married and gave birth one year later. After giving birth, I stayed at home because my child was too small but no one could look after my baby, neither grandparents nor daycare.
At that time, my child was very ill, and my husband was the only who went to work. His income was not enough to cover our living costs. Whenever I asked him for money to buy diapers, milk or bring our child to the hospital, he didn’t give me money. After so many times, my husband started drinking and gambling, beat me and told me: “I have to go to work to raise you and your child!”
I couldn't stand it any longer and took my children to my mother's home. My husband then apologised and promised to change his behaviour. One year after that, he started to curse and beat me again. So I decided to leave and got divorced.
At first, I was having doubts and didn't believe that there was a place that could not only support my rent, but also give me a stable job.
Hương and other people at HopeBox are very kind to me. Working at HopeBox, I have a very stable life with an income of more than VNĐ5 million (US$221) per month. HopeBox also pays half of the monthly rent and provides lunch for us.
I think people here treat me very well, like a family. My life is getting better now, better than being at home.