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Gender and protection must be addressed in international response to COVID-19


July 10, 2020 • 5 min read

As the world grapples with the unprecedented COVID-19 public health crisis, GOAL is committed to doing everything it can to protect some of the world’s most vulnerable populations in the Global South.

GOAL is calling for a community centred, integrated approach to be at the heart of the international response, and on the international community to urgently work together to prevent the loss of life and livelihoods by focusing on actions in six key areas.

Gender and Protection

COVID-19 will exacerbate existing challenges for women and girls economically, physically, and socially. The United Nations Population Fund Agency (UNFPA) has issued a stark and sober warning on the impact COVID-19 will have on women and girls.

It is predicted that a staggering 31 million additional cases of gender-based violence can be expected to occur because of lockdown measures globally.

GOAL is ensuring children have access to safe drinking water, Oromia Region, Ethiopia

As livelihoods are curtailed or lost, children lose out on vital school feeding programmes and women and girls struggle to access services and are more at risk of violence in the home. In addition, COVID-19 threatens to disrupt the much-needed delivery of sexual and reproductive health (SRH) services in humanitarian and fragile settings. GOAL is training COVID-19 responders to be aware of how to support victims of Gender-Based Violence (GBV) and child abuse safely and confidentially. GOAL teams are working closely with health facilities and outreach workers to establish and strengthen community-based protection structures and referral systems for those at risk and in need of protection and support. Equally, GOAL teams are including guidance for health staff on child-friendly communication and implementing special measures to support children’s psychosocial well-being when undergoing treatment and quarantine.

GOAL has established feedback and complaints mechanisms for reporting Gender-Based Violence and other issues. GOAL is also offering psychological support to health workers, most of them female, that may face stigmatisation, fear, and trauma due to COVID-19.

GOAL is asking that:

  • Women and girls be at the centre of all responses to the crisis. There is evidence that COVID-19 is compounding and amplifying gender inequality in all its forms. Governments and civil society must ensure the protection of those woman most at risk of violence, exploitation, and discrimination, including minority groups, and migrant refugee and internally displaced populations.

    GOAL funded Magoti Mothers Group, Malawi. Normally produce sanitary pads, are now producing face masks.

  • Ensure that sexual and reproductive health services are fully funded within COVID-19 appeals and donors make particular reference in proposal calls.
  • National governments must urgently be supported to work with communities at a local level to prevent a sharp rise in gender-based violence and child abuse cases and ensure the continuation of protection services.

Case Study: GOAL and Promobile survey highlight GBV concerns in Zimbabwe

As GOAL increases awareness of GBV in Zimbabwe during COVID-19 lockdown, organisations supporting women and young girls record spike in cases across country

Since March, GOAL Zimbabwe has been utilising various media platforms as part of a COVID-19 awareness campaign across the country. Over 4.5 million vulnerable people in Zimbabwe have now been reached with various national radio messaging, mobile unit campaigns and social media awareness messaging. As well as COVID-19 preventative measures, such as handwashing and the use of face masks, GOAL Zimbabwe also integrate gender-based violence (GBV)  and child protection messaging into the campaign, and promote GBV and child protection toll-free helplines.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, various international organisations such as the UN have been calling for increased awareness of violence against women and young girls, as sanctioned lockdowns and isolation can increase cases of GBV.  In Zimbabwe, concerns relating to GBV and COVID-19 have been realised, as an organisation supporting women called Musasa say that GBV cases have greatly increased there in recent months. Musasa, an organisation in Zimbabwe which aims to prevent violence against women and young girls, say that GBV cases have spiked in Zimbabwe since lockdown began.

GOAL providing GBV training, Chipinge District Zimbabwe

When speaking to Zimbabwe’s Herald newspaper last April, Musasa’s Project Director Precious Taru confirmed that between March 30th  and April 9th, Musasa received 764 gender-based violence (GBV) cases across all its platforms. In one month, Musasa say they normally record 500 to 600 cases and the figure of 764 registered on April 9th was recorded in just 11 days.

As part of GOAL’s COVID-19 awareness campaign, GOAL Zimbabwe partnered with mobile advertising company Promobile. The campaign with Promobile involved large distinctive mobile units travelling through rural communities in Zimbabwe, delivering vital COVID-19 messaging to hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people. As part of their collaboration, GOAL and Promobile recently surveyed over 7,000 people across a number of  districts in Zimbabwe. The survey was completed using an app developed by Promobile. Over 75 % of  those who took part in the survey were female. The findings give an insight into how issues relating to GBV are understood within the country. When questioned on what constitutes forms of abuse for GBV and Child abuse, emotional abuse ranked the lowest. On the knowledge of toll-free support lines, 94%  were unaware of the existence of a GBV toll-free line, with 80 % being unaware of a toll-free line for child abuse victims.

Worryingly, when respondents were asked if they knew anyone in the community who had suffered from GBV or child abuse, 17 % answered ‘yes’ to knowing someone who has suffered by GBV, and for child abuse, this figure was 14%. Gabriella Prandini, GOAL’s country director in Zimbabwe, said the figure of 17 % (GBV) and 14%  (child abuse) is quite high. ‘‘If we consider that that these percentages are based on a survey done on 7,075 individuals, then these percentages represent 909 children and 1,202 women, and this is something of real concern,’’ she added.

The GOAL Country Director said the awareness campaigns run by GOAL have been very successful and it’s vital that the promotion of the toll-free lines for GBV protection is increased further. She added that GOAL will now look to establish strong links with both Musasa and Childline on the back of its awareness messaging campaign.

GOAL Zimbabwe has been using radio broadcasts as part of its COVID-19 awareness campaign since March. With funding from Irish Aid, radio awareness messaging was secured on two national radio stations and on ‘prime time’ slots. Radio campaigns will continue from July to September on two national radio stations and on a provincial radio station, funded by USAID. The mobile campaign with Promobile commenced on April 4th. To date, the mobile unit campaign has reached over 2.3 million people in five districts of Zimbabwe, in just three months. GOAL Zimbabwe has also been actively using social media as part of the awareness campaign.