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Recognising the gendered impact of COVID-19


April 29, 2020 • 7 min read

As with any emergency, Safeguarding, and specifically Protection Against Sexual Violence and Abuse (PSEA) is a central part of GOAL’s response to COVID-19. The impact of COVID-19 on behaviour is largely unknown, but it will likely bring changes and social disruption that may lead to increased risks of Sexual Exploitation and Abuse (SEA), writes Mandy Yamanis, GOAL's Global Safeguarding Advisor.

GOAL will strive to maintain our standard Safeguarding practices during these uncertain times, with focus being given to the following key areas:

  • GOAL’s dedicated Safeguarding focal points will conduct initial or refresher training for staff and partners, circulating our Child and Adult Safeguarding Policy and Code of Conduct and reminding them of the need to comply.
  • HR practices in emergencies (as outlined in our Global Background Check SoP) will be applied for all new staff hires.
  • In addition, beneficiaries will be made aware of the expected behaviours of GOAL staff and partners. Information Education Communication (IEC) materials will be made available highlighting key messages on Safeguarding and we will include a dedicated reporting hotline and e-mail address, WhatsApp number, SMS number, and suggestion boxes on our remote channels. These channels are of vital importance during the COVID-19 outbreak, with the ability of stakeholders’ to interact with GOAL on a face-to-face basis limited.

Recognising gendered impacts during this time

Disease outbreaks invariably have gendered impacts with women and girls’ health, safety, and economic position disproportionately affected. In addition, there is an increased risk of gender-based violence and intimate partner violence. Globally, 1 in 3 women worldwide have experienced physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner or sexual violence by any perpetrator in their lifetime.

Women who are displaced, are refugees, and who are living in conflict-affected areas are particularly vulnerable. While data is scarce, reports from around the world including China, the United Kingdom, the United States, and indeed Ireland suggest an increase in domestic violence cases since the COVID-19 outbreak. [1][2] According to one report, the number of domestic violence cases reported to a police station in Jinzhou, a city in Hubei Province, tripled in February 2020, compared to the same period the previous year. [3]

Social norms put a heavy caregiving burden on women, increasing their risk of exposure and reducing time for other activities such as education and livelihoods. The economic impact of COVID-19 is likely to fall most significantly on women, who are often in unwaged or informal work. In addition, economic pressures arising from the spread of COVID-19 may lead to harmful practices for women and girls, such as child marriage or an increase in transactional sex.

Impact for men

Negative emotions, including fear, anger, uncertainty over the future and livelihood implications can exacerbate stress and potentially increase aggressive behaviour. Targeting men with key messages, along with providing suggestions on positive coping strategies whilst supporting mental health and providing psychosocial support will minimise the feeling of being overwhelmed.

Impact on children

COVID-19 can quickly change the context in which children live. Quarantine measures such as school closures and restrictions on movements disrupt children’s routine and social support while also placing new stressors on parents and caregivers who may have to find new childcare options or forgo work. Particularly for children living in households where intimate partner violence and/or child abuse is occurring, the risks are acute.

Certain children within the household may be prioritized for online or remote learning, preventing other children from partaking in education activities. Girls, for example, may be excluded and required to take on multiple caregiving roles and (additional) domestic care work. Prolonged school closures, therefore, increase the risk of girls dropping out as the longer they stay at home the less likely they will return to education. In addition, young and adolescent girls are more at risk of domestic violence and forced marriage.

A survey conducted with a total of 106 female and 89 male participants on the impact of COVID-19 [4] in GOAL’s LINK project in Turkey highlighted that school closures have led to children feeling ‘imprisoned’ and not wanting want to study through distance learning, leaving families unsure how to manage this situation. Parents/caregivers have stated that restrictions in movement and not being able to leave their houses have impacted their lives and lead to ‘Increased disputes, particularly among children in Sanliurfa’ and ‘increased stress, in dealing with children and yelling at them.’

Distance learning opportunities set by the Ministry of Education is only applicable for a small minority of the surveyed participants. Many were found to have no information on how it is implemented. Many caregivers reported that they do not believe in the efficiency of the distance education system through TV or internet. There were also families who did not have TV at home and children who have limited Turkish skills were reported to benefit only a little and get frustrated / demotivated.

Impact on the elderly

The survey highlighted the impact that the restriction of movement is having on the elderly. Households headed by elderly and widows reported that they have lost all access to services, not going out for shopping or able to apply to social assistances thus creating stress and a feeling of loneliness and boredom. A few elderly respondents shared that they are not visited and supported by their neighbours as they used to be before the Corona pandemic broke out.

Economic Impact

Given the significant impact of restrictions that will be placed on communities, this will also include households affected by loss of income with little/no savings or assets, resulting in a rapid deterioration in their vulnerability.

It is known that conflict-affected and displaced populations are more vulnerable in refugee camps and some countries in Africa.  They have inadequate access to health care, water, soap, sanitation and fewer resources at their disposal. In tent settlements in Turkey, for example, the main sources of water for refugees are fountains, where they need to walk and wait in the queue among many other people, without social distancing in place. Water shortages are frequent and when there is water flow it is very weak.

GOAL’s response

GOAL’s programming will support Risk Communication and Community Engagement (RCCE) by ensuring the delivery of consistent and simple-to-understand COVID-19 messages through trusted mass media channels and the implementation of GOAL’s evidence-based community engagement approach, Community Led Action (CLA).  Using this approach, GOAL will place a strong emphasis on incorporating women’s needs, voices and knowledge throughout implementation and include them as decision makers to improve outbreak preparedness and response.

GOAL will undertake a rapid gender analysis (using existing gender information) to inform their program design, and a gender lens will be incorporated into market assessments, service mappings etc.  In addition, GOAL will draw on previous experience and also target men and boys with messaging, and where possible, CLA community mobilisers will have gender equal representation.

Furthermore, GOAL will train community mobilisers to ensure that action plans will include interim care for vulnerable children and appropriate referrals for those severely affected, and identification of protection issues and referral pathways, especially for GBV. GOAL will map GBV and Psychosocial (PSS) providers which are available and still functioning and the information relayed to the communities on referral pathways.

Whilst working with relevant stakeholders, GOAL will train COVID-19 responders to be aware of the risks and health consequences of violence against women (VAW) and receive training on how to safely and confidentially support victims of GBV and helping women who disclose abuse by offering first-line support and relevant medical treatment. First line support includes: listening empathetically and without judgment, inquiring about needs and concerns, validating survivors’ experiences and feelings, enhancing safety, and connecting/referring survivors to trained GBV actors.


[1] Melissa Godin, “As Cities Around the World Go on Lockdown, Victims of Domestic Violence Look for a Way Out,” Time, March 18, 2020

[2] Women’s Aid UK, “The Impact of COVID-19 on Women and Children Experiencing Domestic Abuse, and the Life-Saving Services that Support Them,” March 17, 2020

[3] Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian “China’s Domestic Violence Epidemic,” Axios, March 7, 2020,

[4] COVID-19 Impact Survey Report, 27 – 31 March 2020, Adana, Gaziantep, Sanliurfa,Turkey Programme