Gender-based violence against women: psychotherapeutic input on how to recognise violence and how to support women
April 6, 2021

Gender-based violence against women: psychotherapeutic input on how to recognise violence and how to support women

Gender-based violence against women is one of the most significant human rights violations. According to WHO data, there are 25.4% of ever-partnered women in Europe, who experienced intimate partner violence. Furthermore, interpersonal violence was called the fourth leading cause of death among people aged 15–29 years in the WHO European Region [1].

  • Photo: European Union

However, how did the COVID-19 pandemic influence the violence against women and girls?

UN Woman states, before the pandemic, it was determined that one in three women experience violence during their lives. Gender-based violence, and particularly domestic violence against women and girls has increased globally since the pandemic has begun. The economic and social complications caused by the COVID-19 crisis, together with the restriction of contact and movement, have made a significant impact on women´s lives. Being stuck in the homes with abusers, being forced to stay with them during the “lockdown” has led to the such called „shadow pandemic“. UN Women describes, „women will be the hardest hit by this pandemic but they will also be the backbone of recovery in communities“ [2].

Gender-based violence has its roots in gender inequality and is differentiated into four main forms in the Istanbul Convention: physical, sexual, psychological, and economic. It is to consider, that violence can also manifest based on race, (dis)ability, age, social class, religion, sexuality of the person. Therefore, while some women experience violence based on gender, the other face multiple forms of violence [3].

The research of European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE) emphasises the importance of awareness raising campaigns. Almost all EU countries established those for victims during the COVID-19 pandemic. Greece, Finland, and Portugal worked especially with refugees and migrants, and Spain recognised domestic violence to be not a private issue. According to EIGE, awareness raising campaigns are also important for witnesses, as they often cannot recognise intimate partner violence or tend to fear they make the situation worse [4].

It is important for every woman to reflect on the feelings in order to recognise violence. Such feelings as the anxiety to make the situation worse, the shame of being in such a position, and the feeling of torpor, interfere with women to defend themselves. Such feelings are often seen by women who reported being dropped in a violent situation. It is often not possible to express own aggression as self-defense and to protect own boundaries.

The idea of being guilty, being „not good enough“, doing everything wrong, and that´s why being „punished“ for a reason, are the further feelings women can experience. Furthermore, the abuser can transmit this accusation to the woman, blame her, say of being provoked by her or that she deserved it, etc. The abusers tend to control, teach or compare women with somebody else. It lowers the self-esteem of the woman, destroys her self-confidence, and therefore takes away her autonomy. A lot of women report about the loss of vision how life can be different. It leads that woman stay in abusive relationships and attached to the partner. The intention of women to rebuild a relationship and the hope that the partner will change often fail and interfere to recognise the reality.

It is important to remember that there is no excuse for the abuser for any kind of violence. The „apparent“ pathological disorders and reactions of women are the healthy reactions to unhealthy conditions. Furthermore, due to the principle of differentiative partiality, problems of social power structures as wage inequality, unpaid care work bring women into the weaker economic position. It allows us to recognise that the violent situation is not a private issue as the social power structures are reflected in private life. We have to consider, that there should be no neutral attitude towards the differentiative partiality, as it might turn into the adjustment instrument with a system stabilizing function. We have to support women in strengthening their position [5].

The common practice which helps women is to understand the mechanism of the violence. A woman is not alone as violence is a social problem. A woman is not guilty of violence. We empower women in the psychotherapeutic practice to reflect on their own emotions, understand their own wishes, needs, and goals. The easiest question that every woman can ask herself is „What do I want?“. Exploring it and expressing yourself gain strength the self-confidence.

World Health Organisation proposes recommendations on how to deal with violence in different situations, especially during pandemics [6].

In case of being in an unsafe situation: the most important is to reach out to somebody (family, friends, neighbors, colleagues, anonymous hotlines and services), where you can go after taking the documents, money, and leaving the unsafe place safety.

If you are safe, but suffer from problems caused by violence (mental, sexual, social, or physical): seek support from family or friends, get enough sleep, reduce stress, try grounding exercises, read about COVID- 19 from reliable sources, and reduce the time spent consuming news, seek care from a trained health provider in the locality and alternatives offered by phone or online. 

If you are worried about someone you know: keep in touch with a person, but consider that the perpetrator of violence can stalk your communication. Choose the safest way (SMS, email, social media, etc.) to avoid the risk of additional violence. Find some hotline, help center, or shelter and share information about the institution on your social media. Send it directly to a person only if you know that the perpetrator of the violence will not see it.

Gender-based violence has its huge impact on women´s physical and mental health. The restricted movement and social isolation during the pandemic are additional factors nowadays. By recognising and naming the conflict, the first step is done. There are hotlines, services, and professionals that may help anonymously.

It should be talked out loud about violence in society to contribute to the awareness campaigns. The power is also when women support each other and stand for each other. If you learned something about gender-based violence please share it with your nearest persons as it will prevent its spread and even save somebody’s lives.


  1. World Health Organization (2020): Fact sheet on the SDGs: Violence, health and sustainable development. (accessed on March 29th, 2021)
  2. United Nations (2020): Policy brief: The impact of COVID-19 on women. 2020/policy-brief-the-impact-of-covid-19-on-women-en.pdf?la=en&vs=1406 (accessed on March 29th, 2021)
  3. European Institute for Gender Equality (2021): Forms of violence. (accessed on March 29th, 2021)
  4. European Institute for Gender Equality (2020): Covid-19 wave of violence against women shows EU countries still lack proper safeguards (accessed on March 29th, 2021)
  5. Zehetner, Bettina (2010): „From dependency through ambivalence to autonomy. Feminist advice on separation and divorce”. In: In recognition of the difference. Feminist counseling and psychotherapy. Ed.: Traude Ebermann, Julia Fritz, Karin Macke und Bettina Zehetner. Gießen: Psychosozial-Verlag 2010
  6. Coronavirus disease (COVID-19): Violence against women. (accessed on March 29th, 2021)

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