As the world continues to fight Covid-19, a shadow pandemic is on the rise. According to the United Nations, cases of domestic violence during lockdown have increased by 20%.

Even before the additional strains put on individuals by Covid-19, UN figures indicate that 35% of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence. On top of this, fear and stigma can mean that as many as 60% of cases go unreported.

Domestic violence can be physical or psychological, and it can affect anyone of any age, gender, race or sexual orientation. The human cost is immeasurable. But alongside the physical and emotional toll, there is a significant economic impact. Loss of income, absenteeism and a fall in productivity financially impacts individuals and their families and society at large.

An opportunity for businesses to take action

“One-third of our adult lives is spent at work,” says Aline Santos, EVP, Marketing and Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer. “This puts employers like Unilever in a unique position to create a workplace culture where people know they can access support safely and securely.

“We have pledged to proactively create a safe and inclusive workplace,” she adds. “One where employees can seek help without stigma and where staff have access to basic training to know how to respond appropriately if they feel a colleague is potentially at risk.

“All of this is detailed in our Global Domestic Violence and Abuse Policy (PDF | 116KB) which ensures staff are provided with access to ‘safe leave’, flexible working conditions and access to counselling and support services should they ever need them,” she adds.

To this end, in a business first on International Women’s Day, Unilever is offering businesses and organisations open access to its policy and how it supports colleagues who have experienced abuse. “We hope that by sharing what we have learnt shaping our policy, it will help employers that currently don’t have anything in place,” Aline says.

Learning the power of speaking out from #MeToo’s Tarana Burke

Domestic abuse thrives in secrecy. Creating an environment where people felt able to disclose their experience without stigma was a powerful lesson that was brought to light by the #MeToo movement.

To continue our learning in this space, founder of the #MeToo movement Tarana Burke will take part in a LinkedIn live with Aline Santos on 4 March.

The event will also see the launch of #Unmute, a campaign urging action to end the silence on domestic violence.

Speaking out to end the silence

“Our work to tackle domestic abuse is a long-term commitment,” says Aline. “Beyond marking International Women’s Day, we will work to provide ongoing support for employees who disclose abuse. We’ll also add our voice to end the silence on domestic violence and ensure that we can raise awareness of resources such as the UN’s Virtual Knowledge Centre to End Violence Against Women and Girls.

“Through these initiatives we hope to encourage people inside and outside Unilever to speak out and help victims of domestic violence be heard,” she says. “Together we can work towards a future in which violence towards any human becomes a thing of the past.”

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