How will COVID-19 change us as a global society? Will equity lose ground?
Nazilla Khanlou on how COVID-19 has created a “syndemic”

With millions out of work or locked down in their homes to halt the spread of the virus, other issues are exacerbated. One of them, notes Professor Nazilla Khanlou (Faculty of Health), is gender-based violence (GBV).

Nazilla Khanlou

“Early in the pandemic, reports came out about how violence against women had increased due to lockdown measures. Families were spending more time together, but it was also creating a situation where victims of abuse were not able to access services they needed, like shelters,” she explains. “The nature of this pandemic has increased the risk of violence for those women who are in difficult situations to begin with, and created new settings where they may be more at risk of violence.”

Khanlou, who holds the Women’s Health Research Chair in Mental Health, points to an emerging “syndemic” – the combination of COVID-19 with two other pandemics – that of racism and GBV. Together, they form what she identifies as the 2020 Syndemic of COVID-19, GBV and racism. She notes that “gendered health disparities pathways result in synergistic health disadvantage for certain segments of the population, including racialized women at risk of gender-based violence during COVID-19 pandemic’s response and recovery phases.”

Through their recent knowledge synthesis project, funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, Khanlou and her team are producing knowledge outputs to help inform mental health support for racialized women at risk of GBV. One example is their publicly accessible Information Sheet that addresses risk factors and systemic challenges, and offers suggestions for service providers. It was co-written with academic and community partners on the project.

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