By Edith Mecha
In many countries Covid19 social distancing measures are showing promising results. However, the unintended consequence, as noted by Dorcas Erskine (UNICEF), is that victims of gender-based violence (GBV) are confined in homes that are potentially unsafe.
Research from Center for Global Development observes that times of pandemics and disaster are linked to a myriad risk factors for increased violence against women and children. While the violence statistics might be lower than reality because of under-reporting, it is believed 1 in 4 women are victims of GBV. In Kenya, the Gender Violence Recovery Center and the National Council on Administration of Justice have recorded an increase in cases of domestic violence and sexual offences perpetrated by close relatives and guardians. Now the government is warning Kenyans against taking the law into their hands. This leaves much to be desired as the world observes the Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention month. Clearly, staying at home is proving a nightmare for many women and girls.
There is a big concern around the situation surrounding GBV during the pandemic. With schools closed, organizations encouraging remote working, and loss of jobs, most families are experiencing stress. While stress shouldn’t cause GBV, evidence shows it could certainly increase the frequency and severity. Abusers have more tactics at their disposal when victims can’t easily get away from home. Victims, in fact, feel frightened, caged and helpless in the prevailing circumstances.
With the uncertainty of this pandemic, finding readily accessible help and resources for GBV victims is now more important than ever. These social distancing directives make it difficult for them to seek help. If you know someone who is going through abuse please let them know help is still available. Even though it may not be face-to-face, it’s still available remotely. All the systems that were there pre-coronavirus such as shelters, health care, police, courts, and advocates are intact and at their disposal.
In this apparent confusion, everyone in the community plays a critical role in providing safety for survivors. With combined efforts we can combat GBV and the pandemic.
Here are ways we can be of help to survivors of GBV.
If you know a friend, relative, neighbor, colleague is generally isolated and you believe their partner could be abusive, now is the time to stay connected. Inform them that you are a part of their support network and that they can reach out, either on the phone or via video chat.
Some other ways to help:
- Call 911, 999, 112 for them
- Call helplines and hotlines to verify they are working then share with them
- Listen and do not judge them
- Find if they have someone close who is safe and whose presence could reduce the tension between them and abuser
- Ask if you would take walks outside while maintaining social distance
- Help them coin a word, phrase or signal that they need help
- Share with them resources on online counselling, safe spaces, legal and medical support
- Accompany them to get help
If you’re unsure of what to say or how to go about speaking with a victim/survivor, here is a simple guideline called TALK by RAINN.
Start by Thanking them for telling you; Ask how you can help; Listen without judgment; and Keep supporting.
Make it a personal responsibility to help mitigate any known incidents of GBV.
GBV Service Providers
This new normal is causing a shift in the way GBV organizations and advocates support victims. Many have come up with innovative ways and measures to still help the victims. Here are some measures from a number of organizations in Africa that have proven useful:
- Creating new hotlines and crises lines
- Offering information and free counselling through telephone and online chats and texts
- Sharing individual lines for people to reach them easily
- Dissemination of GBV help information on social media, tv, local radio, posters
- Advocating for the protection of women rights, establishment of emergency shelter
- Collating data of all GBV service providers and sharing with victims
- Recruiting more community-based counsellors
- Designing a comprehensive referral mechanism
- Creating mobile apps to link people to GBV services
- Working with police to ensure victims get protection orders
- Offering free legal services
Listen here for more practical responses.
With the increase of cases many shelters are overwhelmed with the numbers and are now experiencing a shortage of supplies. You can help by sending them a food voucher and dignity kits.
The government, being a crucial player in fighting GBV during this pandemic, could help reduce a potential escalation of the scourge in homes during this quarantine. Here are some of the globally adopted actions:
- Establishing national GBV crises hotlines
- Including GBV services as an essential service
- Providing screening services in shelters before admission of victims inorder to prevent transmissions
- Establishing state run emergency shelters all over the country to accommodate the rising numbers
- Incorporating women in finding solution to GBV in this season
- Training police, local and civilian administration on how to handle GBV victims in a friendly and caring way
- Offering free psychosocial support services for victims and GBV service providers
- Investing in well-structured rescue centers all over the country
- Investing in a rapid response, reporting and social protection mechanism
- Encourage the issuance of court orders that address the family if removal of perpetrator negatively impacts on their economic welfare
- Strengthening economic opportunities for women so they can be independent
- Further encouraging the use of expeditious virtual mediation and arbitration on GBV issues by the judiciary
Gender based violence remains an issue that could spill over and disturb family systems and cause community discordancy. It is not a good thing. Each of us could play a proactive role in averting this situation.
If you are experiencing violence at home, you can call the National hotline in your country for help.
In Kenya call 1195, South Africa – 0800 428-428 and call-back service by dialing *120*7867#, Germany – 0800 22 55 530 / 0800 011 6016, and USA – 1−800−799−7233. Worldwide: Check out more resources here.
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