There is increasing evidence from the countries most affected by COVID-19 that gender-based violence (GBV), and intimate partner violence (IPV) in particular, are increasing in both prevalence and intensity. Extended quarantines, curfews and other movement restriction measures have led to increased reports of domestic violence due to forced coexistence in confined living spaces, undoubtedly exacerbated by the additional anxieties arising from the pandemic, including those related to the economic and health consequences.
Among refugee populations and other at-risk groups, those risks are further amplified given existing vulnerabilities, with loss of livelihoods and cash opportunities increasing the risks of sexual exploitation and abuse. Reports also indicate an increase in online sexual harassment as people spend more time on social media and other on-line platforms. Additionally, restriction of movement, lockdowns, and forced quarantine measures inevitably increase the impunity already harboured by perpetrators, in addition to impeding access to services by GBV survivors, thus impacting their individual safety plans.
UN Secretary General António Guterres has reiterated the global call for women to be protected from violence during the COVID-19 crisis and beyond, urging the international community to enact measures to address the “horrifying global surge in domestic violence” directed towards women and girls, linked to lockdowns imposed by governments responding to the pandemic. The Secretary General clearly stated that “local support groups are paralyzed or short of funds,” which signals the need for greater investments in online services and civil society organizations.
In the Syria crisis region,2 as in the rest of the world, GBV risk mitigation, prevention and response remain a shared responsibility of different stakeholders, with GBV specialists leading on the provision of technical support and critical GBV services. GBV services remain part of the essential service package in health emergencies. In this respect, donors have a critical role to play towards ensuring that GBV services remain available to and accessible by women and girls, in complementarity with the efforts of individual governments.