This Guidance Note aims to provide certain key points to be considered by the front-line GBV service providers for ensuring timely, dignified and safe GBV service provision in the time of COVID-19 with its heightened risks. This document is a living one to reflect the evolving situation, and will be continuously updated based on partner’s feedback and best practices shared.
GBV Risks and COVID-19
There are reports of increases in GBV incidents in the countries most affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. For example, domestic violence organizations have observed that extended quarantine and other social distancing measures have increased the reports of domestic violence, as a result of household stress over economic and health shocks combined with forced coexistence in narrow living spaces (VAWG Helpdesk report, March 2020). There are also reports of a growing number of attacks on female healthcare workers, which have the potential to increase as health facilities struggle to provide adequate care to everyone who requires medical assistance (VAWG Helpdesk report, March 2020).
There is little documented evidence on the specific impact of epidemics on GBV in humanitarian settings; however, we know that epidemics compound with existing gender inequalities, confinement and self-isolations increases risks of gender-based violence (specifically domestic violence and intimate partner violence due to high tension in the household) and sexual exploitation and abuse. Restrictions of movements, cities in lockdown, forced quarantine measures may impede GBV survivors’ access to services and significantly impact GBV survivor’s individual safety plan. Schools, community centers, WGSSs and places of worship could be closed down impacting GBV survivor’s ability to cope with stressful situations. There has 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 in IDP sites, where population density is high; water, sanitation and hygiene provision is 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 life-saving care and support for GBV survivors (i.e. Clinical management of rape and mental health and psychosocial support) may be disrupted or significantly affect GBV-related services previously available in health and other sectors. Health service providers may be overburdened and preoccupied with handling COVID-19 cases (COVID-19 Outbreak and Gender: Key Advocacy Points from Asia and the Pacific).
GBV case workers might become unable to meet and assist new survivors and will need to adopt new modalities to follow-up with old cases. They may be choosing to stay at home to protect their children and family members instead of working or they might be forced to stay at home by local authorities.