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José Pablo Mesén Gamboa Bachelor of Social Work

Social Work and Violence Against Women During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Costa Rica

Costa Rica, as well as other countries around the world, have been witness to the transformations generated in our social, personal, and work environments, due to impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic. According to international studies and reports, women and girls constitute one of the most affected groups, in terms of health and personal integrity. Before the pandemic, one in three women in the world suffered from sexual or physical violence – the vast majority, by her partner or a family member. Since the pandemic intensified, gender violence against women, mainly intra-family violence, has also increased.

Violence against women and girls constitutes a violation of human rights. In its 2020 report, the OAS Inter-American Commission of Women (CIM) highlighted the areas where these violations have worsened the most. Whole-family confinement at home imposes a greater workload and increased pressures on women – as substitute teachers, with increased remote working hours and more reproductive tasks – by up to 30%. Those who already suffered from domestic partner or family member violence are now locked in with their abusers. This situation of confinement makes reporting difficult because the aggressor is close by, controlling the phone, social networks, and contacts, all the time. Violence against women and girls on the internet (cyber violence) also increased. Additionally, the unpaid work overload increased, due to remote working and distance education, and with the care of elderly relatives who no longer went to elder-care day centers. Many women were laid off or their working hours shortened, along with decreased earnings, thus adding to their emotional burden. For many women, depression became a daily companion, further aggravated by the fact that many mental health services had been reduced.

In Costa Rica, social work professionals promote diverse actions and strategies to empower women and girls from various spaces, through both studies and informational or educational campaigns regarding available services, in the case that someone experiences any of the various forms of gender violence at home, at work, or on the street. They promote spaces for interaction between professionals and citizens, through webinars and other spaces designed for healthy social, personal, and family coexistence, to jointly generate concrete actions so that women, not only in Costa Rica but throughout Latin America, can achieve better well-being and strengthen their dignity and ability to fight. The profession seeks to strengthen women’s equitable participation, so that local, regional, and national decisions, as well as a gender approach, are central policy elements to mitigate and recover from this crisis.

As Maria, a woman survivor of domestic violence, testifies:

“I decided to be an empowered woman and not allow my partner to continue hitting me or yelling. I decided to change my life. I decided to fight for my dreams and goals. Today, thanks to efforts from social workers, I have achieved that dream. Today, I am a woman capable of reaching my goals and achievements.”

By way of conclusion, I consider it essential to recall an important phrase that nearly always applies: "Success depends on oneself." When someone strategizes on how to escape confinement and break that chain of obstacles, that’s when we feel that we have achieved our goal – that each day will be better than the previous and, in this way, that we will be witness to a better present and an extraordinary future.

References

Inter-American Commission of Women (2021). COVID-19 en la vida de las mujeres: Razones para reconocer los impactos diferenciados = COVID-19 in Women’s Lives: Reasons to Recognize the Differential Impacts / Inter-American Commission of Women. OAS. Official documents; OEA / Ser.L / II.6.25) oas.org
OAS (2020) Practical Guide to Inclusive Responses and a Focus on Rights in the Face of COVID-19 in the Americas oas.org (chapters on migrants)
UN Women (2021). The Shadow Pandemic: Violence Against Women During Confinement. unwomen.org