Providing services to survivors of gender-based violence during COVID-19

UN continues to provide life-saving services for survivors of gender-based violence during Zimbabwe’s COVID-19-related lockdown

“Our work with Spotlight Initiative to end violence against women and advancing women’s rights is not stopping during the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, our contribution to the fight against the COVID-19 is to ensure that we continuously monitor and bring forward cases of gender-based violence through our members,” said Director of Zimbabwe Women’s Bureau, Ronika Mumbire.

Women are largely affected both physically and emotionally while they are also at higher risk of infection as they respond to the crisis. Data from previous outbreaks’ emergency response efforts often divert resources from essential services, exacerbating ordinary lack of access to services, including pre- and post-natal health care, as well as contraceptives. UN Women Country Representative, Delphine Serumaga maintains that it is essential to address the immediate needs of women.

“Everybody thinks that the world stops just because we have Covid-19 amongst us. No! That is not true. All other essential services must continue. It is imperative to ensure that women have an escape route when they are faced with abusive situations, while other individuals who are witnessing abuse must have adequate knowledge to advise or report such situations,” she said.

Life-saving services for survivors of gender-based violence continue to be offered during Zimbabwe’s COVID-19-related lockdown, such as those offered by Bubi Shelter in Bubi district. This provides, not only shelter for survivors, but has also helps improve the reporting of cases.

As part of the nation’s COVID-19 response efforts, UNFPA Zimbabwe is working closely with civil society organizations and the Ministry of Women’s Affairs Community and Small to Medium Enterprises Development (MWACSMED) to ensure the continuation of GBV services. CSO partners include Musasa Project, Adult Rape Clinic, Family AIDS Counselling Trust, Family Support Trust, FACT, ZAPSO, ZICHIRE and World Vision.

These efforts include equipping all supported GBV facilities – static and mobile one-stop centres, shelters and safe spaces – with COVID-19 infection, prevention and control (IPC) supplies. IPC supplies include masks, gloves, thermometers, temporary isolation tents for GBV survivors with suspicious symptoms, and extra transport support as alternatives to limited availability of public transport for survivors being referred to higher levels of care. These measures are critical to ensure that survivors receive the services they need, while also mitigating against the risk of exposure to COVID-19.

As a safe haven, Bubi shelter has become a beacon of hope in the community. It shows what can be achieved when there is solidarity against the crime of violence against women and girls. The facility brings together religious leaders, councillors, and men and women from the community to discuss how to end GBV against women and girls in the community, explained Ward Councillor Mbizo Siwela.

We are very happy and grateful for the shelter as it is doing a good job in checking and supressing GBV.

“The shelter has helped bring to light the plight of the girl child through community forum meetings, where issues relating to prevention of and response to gender-based violence are shared,” he said. “We are very happy and grateful for the shelter as it is doing a good job in checking and supressing GBV. The shelter has helped improve reporting of GBV cases.”

Currently housing 15 survivors and 4 accompanying minors, the facility shelters women and girls who have experienced GBV, mostly at the hands of those who are supposed to love and protect them.

“Enduring this type of violence is not an easy experience,” said Dr. Julitta Onabanjo, UNFPA Regional Director for East and Southern Africa, during a recent visit to the shelter.

“We must ensure that perpetrators are prosecuted and that this leads to convictions. We must never allow this to happen as a community. We must also ensure that perpetrators are prosecuted and that this leads to convictions,” she said.

The majority of GBV cases registered at Bubi shelter involve adolescent girls. The facility has also emerged as a strong link in the referral system, ensuring that survivors get a comprehensive package of care. Bubi equips the survivors with skills and knowledge on how to deal with GBV, thus training them to become community ambassadors ready to help others who might potentially experience violence.

The Covid-19 pandemic has had a tremendous effect on gender-based violence due to resultant socio-economic stresses. Cases of gender-based violence have been on the rise globally, as well as in Zimbabwe.

In a normal month, the Musasa Project Call Center receives approximately 500 calls from survivors of sexual and gender-based violence. Within a week of the lockdown being enforced in Zimbabwe, however, we have received 592 calls from women and girls experiencing GBV.”

This increase in GBV cases is worrisome, but organizations such as Musasa Project are working tirelessly to ensure that women and girls receive the help and services they require to overcome abuse. For instance, Musasa Project has continued to provide safe spaces to survivors of GBV who need to seek shelter away from their abusive homes.

Through the joint global Spotlight Initiative of European Union and the United Nations is providing assistance to organizations such as Musasa Project to ensure survivors of GBV have access to quality GBV services. This support will prove to be even more critical as cases of GBV rise rapidly due to the pressures of the COVID-19 pandemic.

To report for sexual and gender-based violence, contact immediately the following toll-free hotlines available 24 hours:

Musasa Project: 08080074

Zimbabwe Women Lawyers Association (ZWLA): 08080131