The Yukon government is going to provide 325 cellphones with four-month service plans for free to women in vulnerable situations, starting Monday.
It’s in response to changes to everyday life as the world deals with the spread of COVID-19, which could entail women having to stay at home longer with someone who is violent.
Aja Mason, director of the Yukon Status of Women Council, said she expects domestic violence to increase.
“The whole idea is that the accountability that often happens when we are out in the world and exposing ourselves to other people socially will be completely removed because we’ll be in isolation,” she said.
“It’ll be a lot easier for abusers and predators to take advantage of people who are potentially living in vulnerable or precarious situations.”
Adding to the potential problem is that women’s shelters in Yukon are expecting staffing shortages, Mason said.
Her organization, with the help of women’s shelters and First Nation health centres, will distribute the phones.
As more restrictions on services have come into effect, including the closures of libraries, the organization saw an increased need in access to cell phones and the internet, Mason said.
The phones provide access to support services, benefits, and other help.
“The only access point [a woman] might have to safety is through either an internet or a phone connection,” Mason said.
According to a Yukon government press release about the phones, “rates of violence against women in Yukon are three times higher than the national average.”
The press release lists Northwestel as one of the partners of the program.
The women eligible for the phones include those who are homeless, experiencing or fleeing violence, or in a precarious situation in regards to accessing resources, Mason said.
The women who get the phones don’t have to return them.
Mason’s organization is also accepting donations of working cell phones.