U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned of a "horrifying global surge" in domestic violence during the coronavirus crisis and urged governments to step up efforts to prevent violence against women, in a video message on Sunday.
Referring to his previous call for a global cease-fire, which hasn't been heeded, he said in a message posted on Twitter that violence is not confined to the battlefield alone.
"For many women and girls, the threat looms largest where they should be safest – in their own homes," Guterres said. "We know lockdowns and quarantines are essential to suppressing COVID-19, but they can trap women with abusive partners."
"Over the past few weeks as economic and social pressures and fear have grown we have seen a horrifying global surge in domestic violence," he continued, while pointing out that in some countries, the number of women calling support services has doubled, health care providers and police are overwhelmed and understaffed, and local support groups are "paralyzed" or short of funds.
Guterres called on governments worldwide to make sure prosecutions of abusers continue, to set up emergency warning systems in pharmacies and groceries and declare shelters as essential services. Furthermore, he said they should create safe ways for women to seek support, without alerting their abusers.
"Women's rights and freedoms are essential to strong, resilient societies," he said. "Together we can and must prevent violence everywhere, from war zones to people's homes, as we work to beat COVID-19."
Countries including Germany have warned that social restrictions placed on the public in a bid to prevent the new coronavirus spreading threaten to exacerbate domestic violence.