Preventing gender-based violence through innovative approaches in the context of COVID-19
Gender-based violence (GBV) affects nearly 1 in 3 women globally in their lifetime. While both men and women experience GBV to varying degrees, women are disproportionately affected, which both reflects and reinforces deeply rooted inequalities and discriminatory norms and beliefs. In addition, certain groups including girls and women from poor, rural or Indigenous communities; refugees and migrants; those who are or are perceived to be LGBTQI; and women and girls living with disabilities, are also more vulnerable to violence.
During times of conflict, crisis, and fragility, women and girls are extremely vulnerable to Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) and other forms of GBV. It is estimated that 1 in 5 female refugees or women displaced by an emergency experience sexual violence.
After the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 outbreak a global pandemic in March 2020, violence against women and girls, and particularly domestic violence, escalated around the world. The pandemic has exacerbated risk factors for GBV, such as unemployment and economic insecurity, and migration flows. School closures and financial and food insecurity have heightened the risk of violence for girls including sexual exploitation, harassment, and forced child marriage.
Gender-based violence is an important issue that affects everyone. It undermines health and wellbeing, and limits participation and involvement in the community. As we mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women and the 16 Days of Activism, WUSC is highlighting how we are working with our partners to address GBV in our work.
Addressing gender-based violence in our work
WUSC takes an intersectional lens to programming and strives to ensure the safety of communities, including that of women and girls, in all of our programs. We also understand how overlapping identities such as age and ethnicity can further marginalize the most vulnerable populations, including refugees.
GBV has implications for our programming areas. For example, in our education programming, schools can play a central role in challenging the negative gender and social norms and unequal power dynamics that drive GBV. For schools to be truly protective, create normative change amongst students and staff, and address gender inequalities, they must apply strategies to prevent and respond to violence.
Many of our projects, including BRIDGE (in Iraq), WE-LEAD (in Jordan), AGENCI (in South Sudan, Syria, and Uganda), and LEAP and KEEP (in Kenya), address GBV in their programming. These projects all implement activities that are specifically designed to prevent GBV. Within these programs, the most common activities are awareness raising at the household, school, and community level; life skills (such as community-based girls groups or clubs at schools); and training with project staff and partners. We aim to prevent GBV in schools, in communities, the workplace and beyond. We often partner with other organizations who specialize in GBV prevention and work within existing referral systems for GBV response.
Other programs, such as our Student Refugee Program and our Volunteer Cooperation Program IGNI+E, focus on training partners, volunteers and students on safeguarding, sexual harassment and PSEA to ensure that we do no harm in our programming and that we reduce the prevalence of GBV whenever possible.
In the case of our LEAP project, WUSC is implementing an innovative new approach to prevention of violence called Power to Girls which was developed by Beyond Borders in Haiti based on a tested and proven effective approach called SASA, developed by Raising Voices. LEAP is one of the first projects to implement this adaptation which focuses on prevention of violence against girls as opposed to women. Power to Girls uses a combination of girls’ groups which focus on individual agency and empowerment, parental/community engagement to promote girls’ power and prevent violence against them, and teacher training to foster a supportive environment for girls’ safety and empowerment at school.