Pakistan: Multiple threats to women and girls living with disabilities during COVID-19


Adapting to reach women and girls living with disabilities in Pakistan
Social mobilizer raising awareness on health and hygiene during COVID-19 in Muzaffargarh. Photo: Mudasar Abbas. 

The global COVID-19 pandemic has further marginalized women and girls living with disabilities in Pakistan. In addition to socio-economic barriers, they are facing increased violence and marginalization as both formal and informal protection mechanisms have been disrupted and diverted.

In Multan and Muzaffargarh districts of Punjab province, the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women (UN Trust Fund) is supporting Christoffel-Blindenmission Deutschland e.V. (CBM) and its partner Bedari, a local women’s rights organization, to strengthen disability-inclusive practices within their broader work to end violence against women and girls.

Anbreen Ajaib, Director of Bedari, says that domestic violence has risen sharply during the pandemic:

“On average we are receiving 100 calls a week of domestic violence [through the helpline], mostly intimate partner violence and involving beating of children.”

She adds that women and girls living with disabilities are particularly at risk:

“[They depend] on their abusers for personal care, mobility or communication – all leading to gross under-reporting [of domestic violence].”

Moreover, the pandemic has led to the suspension of CBM’s facilitation of disability-specific identity cards, which women and girls living with disabilities need to access government social protection schemes, including cash support.

Rapid response to maintain services

CBM and Bedari have rapidly adapted their work in response to these unprecedented challenges especially on the ground. Bedari is ensuring that measures to address violence against women and girls are included in the COVID-19 response at community level, and its field personnel are coordinating with communities to provide immediate support or referral services to survivors of violence.

“In order to swiftly adapt and deliver such efforts, NGOs must innovate and create well-structured operational systems that enable them to find alternative ways to deliver their services,” said Nadia Kreshchuk, Operations Analyst at the UN Trust Fund.

Simultaneously, Bedari is delivering tele-health and online psychosocial support through its regular helpline programme, and working with men to stop them resorting to violence in stressful situations, while continuing longer-term support with CBM’s facilitation. Its work also includes:

  • lobbying the local authorities for effective responses to reported cases of violence against women and girls;
  • strategizing with other NGOs and the media to amplify voices of women and girls living with disabilities who are survivors of violence.

The UN Trust Fund is ensuring “utmost flexibility” for grantees to adjust project activities and is calling for these front-line organizations to be supported during the COVID-19 crisis.