From where I stand: “Stay home and stay safe—but what if home is where she feels unsafe?”


Sia Kukaewkasem is an advocate, social worker and survivor of domestic violence. For most people in Mae Sot, north of Thailand, she is a “big sister and friend” who listens and cares for others. With four billion people around the world sheltering at home, many women are trapped in isolation with abusive partners, unable to access life-saving resources and support systems. In some countries, cases of domestic violence have risen by 30 per cent. Sia’s work is needed now more than ever.

Sia Kukaewkasem, pictured speaking at the HeForShe University Tour at Chulalongkorn University in Thailand on 9 September 2019.   Photo: UN Women/Pathumporn Thongking
Sia Kukaewkasem, pictured speaking at the HeForShe University Tour at Chulalongkorn University in Thailand on 9 September 2019. Photo: UN Women/Pathumporn Thongking

The COVID-19 global pandemic is difficult for everyone, but this crisis hits harder where social protection is thinner.

Migrant women were already one of the most vulnerable groups in our society, and now with the pandemic, their lives have gotten more difficult, especially for those who are experiencing domestic violence. We say, ‘stay home and be safe,’ but what if home is where she feels unsafe?

Mae Sot, the small city where I live and work, has a large migrant population from Myanmar. Many of them live in small houses packed with kids and no running water. The more often they wash their hands, the more often they need to go fetch water, increasing their risk of getting the virus. Washing hands is a luxury for many of the families that we work with.

Before this pandemic, the Freedom Restoration Project organized peer support groups with women who faced domestic violence. We can no longer do this because of travel restrictions and physical distancing, so the risk of violence for those who are stuck at home with perpetrators increases. 

Just last week we got a call from one of the women in our peer support group. Her friend needed help. The young mother of a five-year-old and 11-month-old was being hit by her husband. She wanted to leave but had nowhere to go and couldn’t leave Mae Sot with the borders closed. Shelter and other services in the area are limited; we rented a room for her and the kids and provided them with food.

Now, in addition to providing mental and emotional support, we are also providing food because many families have lost their jobs or have less work because of the COVID-19 crisis.

Migrant women face an even higher risk of experiencing violence during this time, as they are often a blind spot when it comes to social protection. Despite the current challenges, our peer support groups have continued communicating with each other and standing up for each other.Please reach out to your friends, keep your key contacts with you, and check if services are available near you to keep everyone safe from the coronavirus and domestic violence.”


SDG 5: Gender equality

Sia Kukaewkasem is social worker and a survivor of domestic violence. In 2016, she founded the Freedom Restoration Project to help migrant women and survivors of domestic violencethrough education programmes and community empowerment. She has worked with UN Women to advocate on these issues in multiple forums. Since the introduction of COVID-19 quarantine measures in Thailand, Sia and her organization have changedhow they approach counseling and added food support as needed. Find out more about how the shadow pandemic of violence against women and girls is escalating during the COVID-19 crisis and what you can do to help.