People around the world are experiencing and witnessing a unique and challenging moment in history due to COVID-19. After its identification, in less than three months it crossed boarders and reached many more countries. By March 11th, 2020, the WHO declared it a global pandemic. Since then, it is threatening our survival and changing the life and the systems we knew. The COVID-19 Pandemic is requiring us to think and act in so many new ways.
As in any crisis and emergency situation, we are observing how the pandemic is taking an extra toll on women. As governments issue out guidelines and measures to control the spread of the virus; women are at a risk of being isolated at home with abusive partners. We are hearing reports from various sources, of an increase of intimate partner violence. Further, on the streets, the increase military and police presence and decrease of regular movement in the community, is placing women at greater risk for sexual violence and other forms of violence against women (VAW). Despite this, many services for women are either suspended, scaled down or de-prioritized. Interventions to support women are needed more than ever before.
The pandemic has caught the whole world off guard, many institutions were not aware of the threat and therefore did not have an emergency response plan in place. The world is now working around the clock to understand and figure out solutions. Activist organizations working on women’s rights in general and violence against women prevention in particular, are thinking on their feet and responding to the rapidly changing realities for women. Even those who had prior experiences in emergency programing are finding it difficult, because this pandemic came with its unique dimension, the global nature of COVID-19, the impact on ordinary life and the requirement to observe social distance. This prompts us to be creative and find ways to helping women, maintain gains and continue the work towards creating safer world for women and girls.
Countries are impacted differently, and communities are in various levels of lockdowns. There cannot be a one size fits all approach; we could consider ideas along the spectrum of VAW prevention and response. Organizations could consider the following actions:
Starting from within:
Organizations need to center themselves and place themselves on a stronger ground to operate by minding the teams and infrastructure. First and foremost, ensuring staff regain emotional stability and adjust to new ways of working. The organization can put up systems and processes to encourage staff to practice safety and self-care. They could adjust work schedules and expectations on performance and productivity, developing relevant and realistic plans. This can require significant time and investment from organizations as they shift to working remotely e.g. laptops, access to internet, etc.
Interventions to center women’s safety:
Times like this call for the spirit of togetherness and provide opportunity to intensify solidarity. The ideas suggested below can be done as a single organization or collectively.
- Advocate to ensure the national and subnational pandemic response plans identify the gendered dimensions of COVID-19, ensuring that women’s safety and agenda are prioritized. Calling for actions that address the contributing factors to violence and mitigating the risk for women, e.g. sustaining livelihoods, banning alcohol sale during lockdown, etc.
- Ensure VAW response and other SRHR services are classified as essential services and continue to operate, while observing safety measure to protect staff and clients.
- After a careful situational analysis on the spread, the guidelines and available services, the following prevention efforts can be considered:
- disseminate information on the increased risk for women, and the available support services, and encourage community members to reach out to those who are experiencing abuse or are at a risk of violence.
- share information with community members that inspire them to practice respectful and healthy relationships as partners or members of family; and share tips on how to handle stress and conflict if they arise.
- Using traditional and social media channels to share information and facilitate discussions on topics that promote women’s safety.
While none of us were well-prepared for this situation, we all have dared to show up, to support ourselves and others. We might not know all of what is required to center women’s priorities, we can pause, reflect, try, and adjust as needed. Thinking optimistically, the pandemic might offer an opportunity for new ways of preventing violence against women.
Share with us what you are doing to prevent and respond to COVID-19 in your VAW programming. Please click here