Social Issues

Technology helping female victims of sexist violence in pandemic

By Jorge Fuentelsaz

New York, Mar 22 (efe-epa).- Poor and undocumented, Margarita (not her real name) has lived in New York for 14 years. The coronavirus pandemic turned her life and that of her daughter upside down just at the point where she thought she was beginning to get past the problems of sexist violence that had marked her in the core of her being.

“I’m better off without him. At the beginning, it was very difficult because he had control of my life, my thoughts, of me. His power over me was so great that it marked me and I came to believe that what he told me was the truth, that without him I would never make it,” Margarita told EFE in a telephone interview filled with long silences and sobs.

The Mexican-born woman lives in Queens on the disability payments she receives after being severely injured at work and the food stamps her daughter (a US citizen) gets, and with the help of uncles, aunts and siblings who send her hygiene products every now and then.

Her husband, from whom she has been separated for several years, gives her daughter some money only occasionally.

“Everything closed down” with the pandemic. They reduced the aid she gets and she could not go to the courts to complain. The doctors wouldn’t help her and she was afraid to go to the hospital, and she stopped taking her medicine. Her relatives lost their jobs and no longer bought things for her and her daughter stopped going to school, where she received two of her three daily meals.

Before the New York authorities decreed that all non-essential businesses would close in March 2020, “I had begun to feel well. I was emotionally and economically a little more stable, but the pandemic put me back like I was years ago: it opened my wounds, it opened up my pain,” she said.

After the first wave of the pandemic, Margarita had to “learn how to use these really modern things” like the Zoom platform, which enabled her to attend mental health courses remotely and resume her psychological therapy.

With the help of her daughter, various organizations and Internet tutorials, she picked up more and more technological knowledge.

Before the pandemic, “the only meetings I had were with my therapist. Now we do them virtually, but at first we did them by phone because I couldn’t connect online. It made me feel ashamed.”

“Isolation got worse during Covid,” the executive director of the New York Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence, Kelly Owens, said that isolation is a tool used by those who perpetrate sexist violence.

Everything was affected, ranging from the ability to connect with help centers to the viability of shelters, and so Owens’ office mobilized itself to try and compensate for the big gaps by creating new technological tools and facilitating access to them.

During the first two weeks, help-line calls dropped of “significantly,” although once the new tech tools were in place the requests for help jumped by 75 percent last August, Owens said, adding that now her office is receiving 30 percent more calls than before Covid.

United Nationsl Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said at the women’s status conference currently being held in New York City that the Covid crisis has affected women in particular, adding that it’s a “crisis with a woman’s face” because it’s put a spotlight on gender inequality and has hit women disproportionately hard.

Covid had a significant impact on the lives of the Violence Intervention Program’s female customers, in particular among women of color and immigrants, according to program director Rosana Conforme, adding that it has amplified economic, health and educational disparities in society.

Undocumented migrants were not eligible to receive the psychological and other help the organization provides and so it had to look for different creative ways to be able to provide help or connect with its customers, she said, adding that although the worst part of the pandemic is over many of its consequences persist.

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