How we are working with partners to prevent gender-based violence (GBV) during the COVID-19 pandemic
Around the world, nearly 1 in 3 women are affected by gender-based violence (GBV) in their lifetime. While men, women, girls, and boys all experience GBV to varying degrees, women and girls are often disproportionately affected.
GBV includes, but is not restricted to sexual, emotional, and psychological violence, early and forced marriage, domestic violence, female genital mutilation, honour killings, and sex trafficking. In addition to women being disproportionately affected, certain groups are more vulnerable to violence, including, but not limited to, girls and women from poor, rural or Indigenous communities; refugees and migrants; those who are or are perceived to be LGBTQIA+; and, women and girls living with disabilities.
Gender-based violence and the COVID-19 pandemic
There is strong evidence that during times of conflict, crisis, and fragility there is a significant rise in GBV, rates of early and forced marriage, unwanted pregnancies, and school drop-out for girls. Some of the reasons for this increased vulnerability of women and girls include weakened regulatory mechanisms, increased economic pressures, and fear, stress, and uncertainty that in turn spark violent behaviour.
Almost nine months have gone by since the first pandemic-related lockdowns and curfews were mandated around the world. Since then, lives have been disrupted, livelihoods and education activities have halted or slowed, healthcare systems have been continuously overburdened, and uncertainty about what the next few months will bring has led to increased instability in many communities. Amidst this uncertainty, the pandemic has also highlighted existing inequalities around the world–while we have all been impacted by the crisis, we are not experiencing it equally.
It is unsurprising then that since COVID-19 was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization in March 2020, violence against women and girls, and particularly domestic violence, has escalated around the world.
As of October 2020, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) reported that across 15 African countries, 73% of displaced women reported an increase in domestic violence, 51% reported a rise in sexual violence, and 32% reported a rise in early and forced marriage during COVID-19 and the associated lockdown. In Canada, at the start of the pandemic 1 in 10 women reported being extremely concerned about the possibility of violence in the home, and now that we are well into the pandemic, helplines in most provinces across the country are reporting a surge in calls to report and seek help for violence.
WUSC’s approach to Gender-Based Violence
WUSC takes an intersectional approach to our programming. We understand how intersecting identities – such as age, gender, and ethnicity – can further marginalize the most vulnerable populations.
For instance, recognizing that girls in refugee settings and host communities were at a double disadvantage when the pandemic hit, we worked with our partners to rapidly shift our programming in Kenya with two goals in mind: 1) to ensure that girls could stay safe and continue learning during the lockdown, and 2) to ensure that girls do not face various forms of GBV, such as forced marriage, that might prevent them from returning to school.
With funding from the Global Affairs Canada and the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) via the Girls’ Education Challenge (GEC), we shifted our programming in the following ways:
- Providing cash transfers to 3,412 vulnerable girls and their families in our target populations, aimed at reducing economic pressures & disincentivizing early marriage, child labour, and transactional sex.
- Developing new radio programs in partnership with Africa’s Voices Foundation to reach broad audiences, particularly to spark conversations about domestic violence and early marriage during the pandemic. Through our interactive radio programs, community members also expressed concern about the safety of girls and the importance of protecting them during this time.
Gender-based violence is an important issue that affects everyone and has many implications for people’s participation and well-being in society. In all of our programs, we strive to ensure the safety of communities, especially that of women and girls.
In Jordan for example, even though women are among the most educated in the region, the country has one of the region’s lowest female economic participation rates, with only 14% of women looking for work. One of the barriers to women entering the workforce is unsafe and unaffordable transportation, and a key concern for women during their commute to work is sexual harassment. Based on the research we conducted in Jordan in 2017/18, we presented our key findings and recommendations for policy-makers to support women in overcoming this barrier and enter the workforce more easily.
As women become more economically empowered, they might also face an increased risk of GBV due to upsetting traditional gender roles i.e. women as caregivers and nurturers, and men as providers, leading to retaliatory violence from male family members. GBV is therefore an important cross-cutting theme throughout our economic opportunities programming in Jordan. We raise awareness on the issue together with our partners through various initiatives and activities, social media campaigns, advocacy, and training.
As we shifted to an online platform for our training programs in Jordan in the wake of the pandemic, together with our partners we recognized the potential risk of harassment to women, and so we developed an online code of conduct and complaints system to mitigate GBV and other types of bullying and harassment during online activities. Once the lockdown was lifted and graduates undertook internships, we made sure to make phone calls and visits to check for exploitative work conditions, and to ensure that interns knew about the complaints system for issues like sexual harassment.
What can you do?
Expand your knowledge on this topic by watching our recent webinar, the North & South Panel Exchange to learn how WUSC and other like-minded organizations are responding to GBV during the COVID-19 pandemic.