Gender-based violence is a problem of human rights, public health and development. It is also a problem that has had devastating effects for women and girls during the COVID-19 pandemic. This real-time emergent learning brief has been prepared for UNICEF country offices and practitioners as they respond to gender-based violence during the pandemic. Drawing on evidence from current country experiences, the brief identifies emerging risks related to gender-based violence; highlights programme responses and adaptations; and outlines key points for programming, advocacy and systems change.
COVID-19 has exacerbated the ‘shadow pandemic’ of gender-based violence. During lockdowns, women and girls who experience violence at home have been trapped with their abusers. This has led to a spike in femicide in some countries. Lockdowns also mean that some women and girls cannot access accurate information and services which were not always easily accessible even before the pandemic. In some places, organizations and localities providing services related to gender based violence have reassigned facilities to address COVID-19 instead. Some organizations and services struggle to provide effective protective personal equipment (PPE) to their frontline workers, many of whom are women. In some settings, programmes to combat gender-based violence are simply unable or not allowed to operate. No matter what the specific circumstance, the bottom line is that services to respond to gender-based violence are largely unavailable or inaccessible to women and girls at the very moment when they need them the most.
For these reasons, programming around gender-based violence has been an important component of UNICEF’s advocacy and work during the COVID-19 crisis. Since the onset of the pandemic, UNICEF has trained more than 83,000 UNICEF and partner staff in gender-based violence risk mitigation and safe referral strategies for survivors. Colleagues working in all sectors must continually adapt to meet the needs of survivors and mitigate gender-based violence risks because the pandemic (and government responses to it) are still evolving. The rest of this brief outlines the emerging gender-based violence risks and programme responses during COVID-19. The conclusion makes the case for adequate financing; inclusion of strategies to address gender-based violence into broader planning and cross-sectoral responses; and a commitment to longer-term systems strengthening.