The Helsinki Policy Forum’s Women’s Parliamentary Network convened on the 14th of October to explore strategies for tackling domestic violence. Participants included parliamentarians and senior officials from Egypt, Finland, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Turkey, and the UK, as well as representatives from UNDP.

Opening remarks were provided by the Rt Hon Theresa May MP, the former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, who has been at the forefront of advancing a new Domestic Abuse Bill in the UK. Ms May provided an overview of the Bill’s key provisions and highlighted areas that may be useful to legislators in other contexts.

Widespread restrictions on movement, combined with the increased social and economic pressures of Covid-19 have been associated with a disturbing rise in domestic violence around the globe. Phone calls to domestic violence helplines are estimated by the WHO to have risen by as much as three-fifths in Europe.Countries across the Gulf-MENA region have seen comparable rises. UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, has condemned this “horrifying surge” and urgently appealed to governments to ensure adequate protections for victims of domestic violence in their responses to the pandemic.

However, Covid-19 has not created as much as exposed the scale of domestic violence experienced by women worldwide.Prior to the pandemic, the WHO estimates that 35% of women worldwide have experienced physical and/or sexual violence. The UN also estimates that “Violence against women is as serious a cause of death and incapacity among women of reproductive age as cancer, and a greater cause of ill health than traffic accidents and malaria combined.”

The attention Covid-19 has brought to this issue must represent a watershed. Policymakers have to ensure there is no return to the status quo once the pandemic has faded and should reinvigorate efforts to eradicate domestic violence. Likeminded policymakers need to form coalitions across political and geographic divides to share experiences and insights that can support efforts to effect change.  Such international support is especially important for those working in contexts where domestic violence is not seen as a priority.