This document aims to provide practical guidance to support frontline gender-based violence (GBV) service providers to ensure timely, dignified and safe GBV service provision during the COVID-19 pandemic. This guidance note is a rolling document based on continually updated information and best practices. As such, information contained will be updated as necessary on a continuous basis as the situation evolves.
GBV RISKS AND COVID-19
There is increasing preliminary evidence from the countries most affected by the virus that indicates a negative impact on the trends, prevalence and intensity of GBV. For example, organizations have observed that extended quarantine and other social distancing measures have resulted in an increase in the number of domestic violence reports, driven by added household stress over health and economic risks, combined with forced coexistence in small living spaces.There are also reports of a growing number of attacks on female healthcare workers, which in turn have the potential for increase as health facilities struggle to provide adequate care to everyone who requires medical assistance (VAWG Helpdesk report, March 2020).
Additionally, restrictions of movement, lockdowns, and forced quarantine measures may impede access to services for GBV survivors, in addition to significantly impacting their individual safety plans. Schools, community centres, Women and Girls Safe Spaces (WGSS), and places of worship may also have been closed, further impacting the ability of GBV survivors to cope with stressful situations. There have also been documented reports of sexual harassment and abuse against women in quarantine facilities.
There is growing concern about the potentially catastrophic impact on vulnerable displaced women and girls should the virus spread into IDP sites, where population densities are high; water, sanitation and hygiene provisions are poor; and self-isolation is virtually impossible. The inevitable increase in fear and tensions in IDP sites increases the risk of violence against women and girls as well as their vulnerability to sexual exploitation and abuse.
It should also be noted that the predominant health aspects of COVID-19 may also have the added effect of diverting attention away from the provision of life-saving GBV services (i.e. clinical management of rape and mental health and psychosocial support). GBV case workers may eventually be unable to meet and assist new survivors and will need to adopt new modalities to follow-up with old cases, as they, too, may be be quarantined at home, either by choice or due to mandates by authorities. If confinement restricts the work of GBV case workers, this may have serious consequences for those who rely on this form of support.2 As primary caregivers to children, the elderly, and the ill, it is important to note that women face additional risks and exposure to COVID-19. Understanding this is crucial when attempting to address and mitigate — by programing appropriate measures — the multitude of risks that women caregivers face