Violence During Quarantine: Looking Inward

By  Ketzalli Rosas (México)

Translation: Diego Pérez Damasco (Costa Rica)


The covid-19 pandemic forced us to stay at home, to be indoors. And that act of looking inward led a team of 66 people, including journalists, fact-checkers, designers, illustrators, translators, and filmmakers to collaborate on Violence During Quarantine. This cross-border and regional investigation collects and analyzes data from 19 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean on how gender-based violence against women occurred during the government imposed social isolation measures, aiming to reduce the impact of the virus on the region’s health systems.

Networking was essential.

Brazil had just confirmed the first case of SARS-CoV-2 in Latin America on February 26, 2020, when most of the countries in the region began to declare quarantine. In parallel, different international bodies raised the alarm with which they warned that isolation would lead to a possible increase in gender violence cases.

That concern triggered this investigation.

Two young journalists, Nicole Martin, from Argentina, and Carlos Mayorga, from Colombia, were the ones who, without ever having spoken to each other before, began to inquire about their countries’ figures. Calls for help were increasing. Being members of Distintas Latitudes’ Latin American Network of Young Journalists – an initiative to identify, train, and promote young talent throughout the region- they proposed an investigation that would offer a regional insight into a latent problem, even without a pandemic.

Thus, a team of 30 journalists from Latin America and the Caribbean began working, most of them members of the LATAM Network and Chicas Poderosas. Also, 17 illustrators. Everyone working in a network, ad honorem.

The objective: explain how laws in these countries worked regarding gender-based violence, how the states had reacted to the emergency, the actions they implemented, the increase in the numbers of calls for help, complaints, and the number of femicides.

After a month of work, the result was the publication – on April 30, 2020 – of a microsite with a panoramic report of the region that included expert opinions on the possible structural solutions to the problem, four data visualizations, and 19 journalistic articles of the situation of each country investigated. Also, a bank of testimonies so that women who so wished could share their stories anonymously. Fifteen news outlets in Mexico, Colombia, Argentina, Cuba, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Paraguay took up our publication.

The challenges were diverse: to standardize the data; the access to public information in full quarantine when everything was closed; establish contact with civil society organizations, which were on the front line helping; the journalists themselves were in isolation and, most importantly, not re-victimizing women who, perhaps, at that time were experiencing sexist violence.

But we had to go deeper.

Thus, the second part of this investigation was born. We were determined to expand and deepen the data on calls, complaints, and the number of femicides for the first four months of quarantine -from March to June 2020- in each of the 19 countries investigated. This time frame was just before some Latin American governments began to make social isolation measures more flexible.

We made requests for information – we did not get a response at all – and we contrasted the data with those provided by civil society organizations. Analyzing violence against women based on patterns became essential to be able to explain and examine State policies.

We also conducted interviews with international organizations such as UN Women and the OAS, among others, to have a regional view of the situation and to be able to detect the failures and successes of governments. Violence During Quarantine seeks to be a reference point for consulting the Latin American panorama on violence against women during the covid-19 pandemic. It is an investigation that, we consider, we can continuously update because, in such an adverse scenario, nothing guarantees that we can find ourselves locked up at home again soon.

Likewise, in memory of all sexist violence victims, we selected six stories using regional and intersectional feminist criteria to include profiles of women who were murdered in the first month of quarantine. Also, we prepared a memorial in tribute to the 361 women who were victims of femicide during the same first month of quarantine in each of the 19 Latin American countries that we investigated. As a way of documenting who they were.

For this new phase of Violence During Quarantine, we expanded the team. We included fact-checkers to verify the femicides databases, which mostly consist of media monitoring reports. We also hired translators to offer the main contents in English and Portuguese, thus turning global research into a global one. Having it in Portuguese also allows including Brazil, a country which sometimes is excluded from regional research due to its language. Analytical journalists also contributed, together with the video makers, to the creation of explanatory audiovisual pieces. This time, we sought funding, and we won the Howard G. Buffett Fund for Women Journalists of the International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF). Thanks to this fund, we can now pay the salaries of those who worked in this investigation from July to October.

Thus, Violence During Quarantine forced us -the team- to stay at home, to delve into the web of violence against women. To occupy that time of looking inward to tell and make visible the sexist violence that requires action, even amid a global health crisis.