How to respond to increased gender-based violence during COVID-19

Women queuing to use a handwashing station at Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya

Public health measures to restrict movement and limit or ban public gatherings in order to contain COVID-19 have created significant challenges for CARE’s work tackling gender-based violence across the East, Central and Southern Africa region.

Lockdowns and overnight curfews have made it harder to respond to cases of gender-based violence, provide GBV case management and carry out referrals to services and support networks for survivors.

We’ve also had to scale back activities such as women’s and girl’s safe spaces, GBV prevention group education, community-level activities, and training of service providers and duty bearers.

And COVID-19 has also proved particularly difficult for local partners we work with, such as grassroots women’s rights organizations, which have limited funds to adapt their work and ensure safety for staff and the women they work with.

At the same time, CARE country offices are reporting greater needs for GBV prevention and support, due to increases in GBV incidents, increased tension and domestic violence, an increase in women’s unpaid care burden, women’s decreased access to health services and insufficient voices of women in COVID-19 decision-making.

So how is CARE doing things differently now?

  • In Rwanda, we established a Task Force to co-ordinate with partners to prioritise GBV activities that could be undertaken remotely (due to the country being in total lockdown).
  • In South Sudan, we allowed implementing partners to adjust their budgets to adequately plan and procure the materials they needed (including masks and hygiene kits) to continue their GBV community and co-ordination work.
  • In Somalia/Somaliland, we developed an online platform through which women, girls and other at-risk groups were directly consulted to define the best approaches to minimising women’s GBV vulnerability and risks in light of COVID-19.
  • In Zambia, we involved refugee community leaders in GBV risk identification to ensure that no one was left out.
  • In Tanzania, we created a new toll-free hotline number in the country for reporting GBV and child abuse.
  • In Zambia, we created and widely publicised a 24-hour emergency line for reporting cases, and we accompany emergency cases to service providers to ensure survivors receive adequate provision.
  • In Burundi, Rwanda, and Uganda, we integrated risk communication messages in information to women’s VSLA (savings group) members; in Burundi, we used text messages to target select group members, who then agreed to share this information with other VSLA members without phones.
  • In Somalia/Somaliland, we continued GBV case management by phone where available, combined with face-to-face support for those in life-threatening situations, using PPE for caseworkers and survivors and practicing social distancing.
  • In South Sudan, we created an isolation space to support GBV case management.
  • In Malawi, we strengthened the capacity of GBV Victim Support Units at police stations and in the community.
  • In Ethiopia, we assigned GBV focal point staff to COVID-19 quarantine facilities, who facilitate GBV referral and response.
  • In South Sudan, Malawi, Rwanda, Tanzania, Somalia/Somaliland, and Zambia, we used a variety of media to communicate COVID-19 awareness and GBV prevention messages: radio talk shows, roadshows, public address systems, door-to-door distribution of leaflets in different languages, radio jingles, public service messages on TV, Twitter and Facebook. We found that integrating GBV messages with COVID-19 messaging was an effective way to increase awareness of GBV prevention and support.
  • In South Sudan, we provided households with more fuel-efficient stoves to reduce frequent movement by women and girls to collect firewood, which exposes them to sexual abuse, including rape.
  • In Ethiopia, we undertook safety checks at aid distribution sites to ensure safe access for women, reduce protection risks, and monitor and immediately mitigate GBV risks.
  • In the DRC, we supported women-headed households and GBV survivors with emergency food.
  • In Kenya, we hosted online scenario-building meetings with women’s rights organisations, to support the implementation of their work and their recovery and response efforts.
  • In Uganda, we identified that COVID-19 was highlighting the gaps in GBV service provision in the countr, and provided rapid response grants to women’s rights organisations to enable them to respond to GBV.
  • In Rwanda, we collaborated and worked with existing community structures – local leaders, community health workers, village agents – who have permission to move around locally, to transmit GBV, gender equality, and COVID-19 prevention and response messages.

Find out more in this special edition of the CARE East, Central and Southern Africa region newsletter, CARE in Action:

CARE IN ACTION in ECSA: special issue on COVID and GBV

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News and stories are provided by CARE staff working to support our emergency responses and long-term development programmes.