Voices from the ground: Impact of COVID-19 on violence against women

‘Women have to stay at home with their violent perpetrators and violence happens’ – Centre for Women’s Rights, Bosnia Herzegovina


Impact of covid 19 on ending violence against women and girls

As part of its initial response to the COVID-19 crisis, the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women (UNTF EVAW) surveyed its grantees to assess the impact of the pandemic and associated lockdowns.

The replies confirmed the rapid rise in violence against women and girls and the challenges faced by struggling, often civil society led, support systems. They also revealed how quickly and nimbly grantees are adapting to maintain key aspects of their projects while protecting the safety of beneficiaries and staff. An analysis of 122 grantees’ replies from 69 countries and territories, has identified some commonalties in the current experiences of women’s and civil society organizations on the front line of the COVID-19 response. Grounded in bringing forth the voices of practitioners and survivors, the analysis revealed:

Increased violence

Grantees reported an alarming increase in violence against women globally. Multiple forms of violence are being inflicted, often concurrently.

  • Intimate partner violence was cited most often, fueled by economic instability.
  • Emotional, psychological and economic violence is rising due to food shortages and unemployment.
  • Child abuse and exploitation, sexual abuse, femicide and violence in humanitarian settings are all increasing.

Some illustrative examples are:

  • In Morocco, Ennakhil Listening Centre said that economic violence has risen by 60 per cent and psychological violence by 55 per cent.
  • In Tunisia, the Association Femme et Citoyenneté reported that the national hotline for gender-based violence had a fivefold increase in calls during lockdown so far.
  • In Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Center for Women’s Rights reported how rates of physical violence are rapidly increasing as is psychological violence for survivors who are now in lockdown with their perpetrators

Key factors exacerbating violence include:

  • Food shortages within lockdowns
  • unemployment
  • economic insecurity
  • school and public transport closures
  • large migration flows.

“There are multiple pathways through which risk factors for violence against women and girls are being exacerbated by the impact of COVID-19. These highlight serious shortcomings in the provision of services and protection system for survivors of violence and those at risk, that existed even before this crisis. CSOs were already stretched and under-resourced and are now heroically responding to both increased rates of violence against women and the impact of COVID-19 ”, said Gemma Wood, Monitoring, Evaluation and Knowledge Manager at the UNTF EVAW.

Lack of support for survivors of violence

Grantees reported a lack of access to justice, health care and social protection for survivors.

  • Closed courts or arbitration only for “urgent” cases mean that survivors are struggling to obtain judicial protection, such as restraining orders.
  • Law enforcement forces are being diverted towards COVID-19 and curfew responses, so they are less able to respond to violence against women.
  • Many survivors cannot access essential medical needs, including sexual and reproductive health services.
  • Psychosocial support centres are closed or stretched.

Immediate responses by front line organizations

Front line women’s and civil society organizations, which form an early warning system for escalating violence against women, are overwhelmed. Despite this, UNTF EVAW grantees have shown incredible resilience and resourcefulness to continue core aspects of their work. Among other things, they are:

  • prioritizing the health and safety of staff and beneficiaries
  • acting as a crucial link between survivors and governments
  • maintaining or opening shelters to cope with the surge in demand
  • stalling some work, such as advocacy for legislative change, while expanding the reach of their services and prevention programmes.

Innovative adaptations responding to the current situation include:

  • In Serbia, ATINA has kept its safe houses open and used its reserve fund to help state-operated shelters that have run out of food.
  • In South Africa, Gender Links has reorganized its work to focus on what is essential or can be done virtually.
  • In Haiti, Beyond Borders has paid staff early so they can work at home effectively.

Additional resources and support urgently needed

These vital front line organizations urgently require additional funding and support for:

  • emergency requirements, including personal protection equipment
  • staff salaries, health insurance and communication
  • adjusting their project activities, timelines and budgets
  • building internal capacity.

Read the full analysis here.

Read the UN Trust Fund’s response to the crisis here.

The global response to the unprecedented challenges posed by COVID-19 needs to be immediate, appropriate, effective and ethical to ensure that women’s and civil society organizations can sustain their vital role on the front line of the response.