History has demonstrated that crises such as disease outbreaks affect women and girls differently to men and boys, and in ways that place women and girls at greater risk of gender-based violence (GBV), particularly in contexts where gender inequality is already pronounced. This can include, for example, increased exposure to intimate partner violence due to tensions in the home under confinement conditions. Economic issues can also place women and girls at higher risk of sexual violence and exploitation.
In many settings across the globe, reported GBV incidents have increased since the COVID-19 outbreak, including in countries most directly affected. In other settings reports have diminished, signalling concerns about whether or not survivors can access care and support. Even in ‘normal’ times, the majority of GBV incidents remain unreported due to lack of safe, ethical and quality response services as well as survivors’ fears of stigmatization, reprisal, and lack of information on how to seek help. In settings affected by COVID-19, these limitations may be compounded by a number of factors, including restrictions on movement, increased isolation, caregiving responsibilities, financial stressors and/or fears of being exposed to COVID-19 when seeking services.
Ensuring that women and girls can access GBV support services in the context of COVID-19 remains a critical and lifesaving activity. However, maintaining the health and wellbeing of GBV caseworkers — and also abiding by regulations aimed at stopping the spread of the pandemic — presents challenges for face-to-face GBV response services. A flexible and adaptive approach is needed to ensure that life-saving services continue without compromising the safety of GBV caseworkers or survivors.