Bogota's supermarkets become safe spaces for women to report abuse

BOGOTA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Women in Colombia’s capital city facing domestic abuse can seek help in hundreds of supermarkets and pharmacies as part of a new campaign launched on Wednesday to tackle the rise in gender violence under the coronavirus lockdown.

The program involves more than 630 supermarkets from three different chains and the Farmatodo pharmacies in Bogota where store managers are being trained in how to respond to women seeking help and how to contact the police.

Bogota, a city of 8 million people, and the rest of the country have been in strict lockdown since late March in a bid to stem the spread of the coronavirus that has infected about 4,350 people and killed at least 200 across Colombia.

Domestic violence should not be regarded as a problem that goes on “behind closed doors,” said Diana Rodriguez, head of women’s affairs at the Bogota mayor’s office that came up with the initiative.

“We launched a new strategy #SafeSpaces, so that women who are experiencing violence in the home can report this and be helped,” she said in a statement.

“No woman should have to stay with her aggressor, institutions are ready to support women. We should be at home but in homes without violence,” she said.

Posters about the campaign have been placed on shop windows and advertised on social media.

Women at home with their abusers during lockdown find it hard to call for help, while tensions over the simplest household chores to weightier concerns like losing a job can easily escalate into violence, experts say.

In Bogota, the government-run domestic abuse hotline has received an average of 471 calls and WhatsApp messages a day - a 160% increase since the quarantine started.

Across Colombia, 13 women have been murdered since the lockdown started, many killed by their boyfriends or husbands in their homes, government figures show.

Countries worldwide have reported increases in domestic violence under coronavirus lockdowns, a development the United Nations has described as a growing “shadow pandemic.”

In Latin America where a macho culture fuels violence against women, governments including Chile, Mexico, Argentina and Colombia have expanded hotlines, added messaging services and kept shelters and family courts open to help victims.

In Buenos Aires, where calls to the government-run abuse helpline have risen by 60% during the lockdown, an initiative was introduced for women to use the code word “red mask” to report domestic violence to pharmacists.

Similar initiatives have been adopted in Spain and France.

Reporting by Anastasia Moloney; Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit