Preventing gender-based violence: Adaptations and tips from the experts

AmplifyChange is proud to support grantees working to end all forms of sexual and gender-based violence (GBV).

Our grantees are leaders in the movement for a violence-free world, playing an essential role during the COVID-19 pandemic. The health crisis has created challenges for civil society organisations (CSOs) and GBV survivors. Many grantees have reported increasing levels of violence towards women and girls due to restrictions to control the pandemic and cuts in funding for support services. Local civil society groups are responding to these issues by turning crisis into opportunity, ensuring that responses are inclusive of vulnerable and marginalised communities.

To mark the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, we asked grantees to share strategies that have helped them adapt their work to support GBV survivors during the pandemic, top tips on what we can learn from their projects, and what their hopes and priorities are for the future of sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) advocacy.

For more practical tips from grantees, read our How-to guides on managing during a health crisis at AmplifyChange Learn.

NAAGAD Network, Somaliland

GBV, especially intimate partner violence, is highly prevalent in Somaliland. While official data is scarce, NAAGAD Network received reports from CSOs and humanitarian workers suggesting a significant increase in domestic violence cases, including a reduction in survivors seeking services due to lockdown measures.

  1. How did you adapt your work to protect survivors of GBV?
    NAGAAD ran community-level awareness raising through a door-to-door campaign, providing counselling to victims and survivors. The intervention focused on reducing the risk of intimate partner violence and stresses faced by women and girls during lockdown.

  2. What are your top tips for organisations working on preventing Gender Based Violence?
    During these trying times, we recommend that other grantees focus on women and girls’ access to SRHR services, such as medical and psycho-social services at the community level. Hotlines, crisis centres, shelters, and legal aid are essential for women and girls during lockdown.

  3. What is a priority for you to continue your work in the future?
    NAGAAD will continue engaging with religious and traditional leaders to improve community attitudes towards women’s SRHR and preventing GBV. We will continue advocacy as a coalition, lobbying for the approval and implementation of important policies and laws such as the Sexual Offenses law (Law 78, 2018), FGM policy and FGM bill.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, women and girls in Somaliland experienced stigmatisation on SRHR information and services due to cultural barriers. We hope to continue re-shaping community attitudes to improve SRHR for women and girls. We are pushing ahead with the implementation of the recently approved Sexual Offenses Law to ensure a reduction of violence against women. We are also hopeful to succeed in the approval of an FGM policy and FGM bill which are both currently in draft form”.

– Nafisa Yusuf, NAAGAD Network, Somaliland

Generation Initiative for Women and Youth Network (GIWYN)

AmplifyChange grantee, GIWYN at a march for ending violence against women in Nigeria. They are holding up an orange banner with the text 'End violence against women'.

“The high prevalence of rape and other forms of violence within and beyond the COVID-19 pandemic is unacceptable and must stop”.

– GIWYN, Nigeria.

GIWYN work on advocacy to reduce unsafe abortion, expanding access to information and services in Nigeria. GIWYN operate the Ms.Rosy SRHR hotline. Clients contacting the service seeking information on safe abortion also shared experiences of gender-based violence, including marital rape, sexual assault, lack of privacy or money for essentials, and threats of harassment from police. Reports of gender-based violence cases to the hotline almost tripled, from 765 per month (March 2020) to 2,265 per month (April 2020). The network also report that women and girls were unable to access essential products (contraceptives, misoprostol and mifepristone) from pharmacies, or shelters for survivors of domestic violence.

  1. How did you adapt your work to protect survivors of GBV?
    GIWYN and partners are ensuring communities are not left behind, or actively discriminated against, in the design and implementation of the government’s COVID-19 response strategy. Despite closures of their physical GBV counselling centre, GIWYN have adapted by moving services online, using webinars and virtual events. They have set up a GBV section in the office and created a working group, training staff on GBV telephone counselling. The hotline has also been redirected to a cloud service on a virtual private server so that women can access it 24 hours a day. The number and preventative messages are being shared through social media.

  2. What are your top tips for organisations working on preventing Gender Based Violence?
    Coalition and movement building are important for dealing with GBV during COVID-19 and in the future. This work involves linking to other actors such as civil society organisations, donors, and other stakeholders, including pharmacists and health facilities. Political, traditional, and religious leaders should also prioritise women’s rights using a feminist and human rights approach. Set up long-term working groups to monitor the ongoing preventive measures in emergencies to ensure women’s rights are also incorporated into policies using a feminist approach.

Kenya Council of Imams and Ulamaa

Kenya Council of Imams and Ulamaa use their AmplifyChange grant to support advocacy for eliminating sexual and gender-based violence towards girls and women, with a focus on preventing FGM/C. Restrictions on movement and gatherings in the country prevented physical outreach and campaigning. Networking and service delivery were also restrained as efforts and resources were diverted towards COVID-19.

  1. How did you adapt your work to protect survivors of GBV?
    The organisation re-aligned activities and enhanced the capacity of staff and volunteers to respond in compliance with the COVID-19 prevention guidelines. This has allowed staff to provide support for both the physical and mental well-being of survivors during the lockdown period. They also sought new and strengthened partnerships to leverage resources and coordination, improving service delivery for victims and survivors of GBV within the community.

  2. What are your top tips for organisations working on preventing Gender Based Violence?
    Improve the capacity of your staff to adapt to the new ‘norm’. This should include adaptation of improved monitoring and evaluation tools that relate to the current situation. Use any time where you are unable to complete your project activities wisely to build on your organisational capacity.

  3. What is a priority for you to continue your work in the future?
    Using targeted activities to mitigate GBV for girls and women and ensure that their SRHR needs are addressed during the pandemic.

“With established co-ordination – and the building of strong partnerships, funding, and networking – opportunities exist to prioritise and make SRHR a reality for our girls and women within the pandemic and beyond”.

– Kenya Council of Imams and Ulamaa.
Group photo of Kenya council of Imams and Ulamma raising voices against gender-based violence, holding banners.

Golden Centre for Women’s Rights (GCWR), Uganda

“SRHR is a class issue. Poor women are more likely to be affected by unaffordability, inaccessibility, unsafe abortion, and maternal morbidity. While we look at promoting SRHR, let’s also think about how the economy affects access to sexual and reproductive health”.

– GCWR, Uganda.
AmplifyChange grantee, Golden Centre for Women's Rights, Uganda.

Golden Centre for Women’s Rights Uganda (GCWR) work on eliminating GBV among female sex workers and promoting and increasing access to SRHR. Sex workers’ rights have been violated during COVID-19 with control measures being used a pre-text to close civic space. GCWR report that in the space of 2 weeks, over 116 sex workers were arrested in different parts of the country: “Efforts to respond to COVID-19 threaten human rights due to the brutal enforcement of restrictions by military and police forces. Most marginalised groups, especially women who engage in sex work, have become a target”.

  1. How did you adapt your work to protect survivors of GBV?
    GCWR has strengthened its offering of virtual advocacy and activism. In line with their ‘Violence is Not Culture’ project, social media platforms have been used to call out injustices and educate communities about SRHR, GBV and COVID-19. The organisation documented the experiences of sex workers, including 40 short stories of violence against community members.

    Other project adaptations include: disseminating over 400 messages on accessing SRHR and ending violence during the pandemic in English and local languages; providing a door-to-door bicycle delivery service for SRHR information, contraception, ART and PREP refills; Virtual Reproductive Health counselling, anxiety support and referrals for GBV survivors; collaborating with feminist organisations (including Akina Mama Wa Afrika, Choose Yourself/Girl Talk Africa, and Afro Womanist) to create safe spaces for sharing learning and self-care for women human rights defenders; a 3-day training for 35 female sex workers on SRHR and preventing GBV; and fundraising for the establishment of a shelter to provide essential supplies for survivors. They are also in the process of developing a ‘Resilience Toolkit’ for sex workers.

  2. What are your top tips for organisations working on preventing Gender Based Violence?
    Integrate training on sexuality, pleasure, liberation, and sex positivity into your programming. The negative perceptions associated with sex are the ones that affect access to sexual and reproductive health services because they instil fear and shame. Such notions are deeply engrained in societal values relating to sexuality. We must promote conversations around sex positivity and pleasure that are inclusive of LGBTIQ persons, unmarried women, sex workers and persons with disabilities. It starts with consent.

ActionAid The Gambia and the Network Against Gender-Based Violence (NGBV)

Fallu Sowe, National Coordinator, NGBV, The Gambia.

“Like other pandemics that disrupted human lives in the past, SRHR issues will remain with us after the COVID-19. However, making SRHR information and services accessible to adolescents during and after the pandemic could be the turning point in our advocacy”.

– Fallu Sowe, National Coordinator, NGBV, The Gambia.

ActionAid The Gambia work with the Network Against Gender-Based Violence (NGBV) to prevent sexual and gender-based violence and increase access to comprehensive SRHR services across the country.

  1. How did you adapt your work to protect survivors of GBV?
    As activities were suspended due to lockdown restrictions, ActionAid The Gambia and the NGBV focused on strengthening their one stop centres to ensure uninterrupted services, including counselling and psychosocial support, to GBV survivors. They also created virtual classrooms, focused on ending GBV and COVID-19 awareness, airing these education sessions on TV, radio, and across social media to start important conversations among communities restricted to their homes.

  2. What are your top tips for organisations working on preventing Gender Based Violence?
    Make your programme more inclusive by focusing on young people and other vulnerable groups, people living with HIV and persons with disabilities for example.

“This generation is proactively working so hard that I have hope that a post-COVID generation will know the early warning signs of violence and can respond in time to prevent themselves from the actual experience of sexual violence”.

– Fanta Jatta Sowe- Ag, Head of Programmes, ActionAid The Gambia.

Panzi Foundation and the National Network for Survivors of Sexual Violence, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)

Panzi Foundation and the National Network for Survivors of Sexual Violence in DRC are seeking to address the root causes of sexual violence in local communities and contribute to the adoption of a survivor-centred approach for preventing GBV by all stakeholders.

  1. What are your top tips for organisations working on preventing Gender Based Violence?
    Use this momentum to work on the digitalisation of your Network or team. Online events have many advantages, especially when it comes to visibility. Being able to allocate more funds into technology and providing individuals with more digital skills is a particularly empowering investment.

  2. What is a priority for you to continue your work in the future?

“In terms of reproductive and sexual health and rights, I hope that every woman in the DRC will be informed about her rights, including her right to her body. I hope that women will understand every angle and definition of consent and that they will know it before it gets too late, before our preconceptions guide the course of their lives. I hope that a woman’s right to her body will no longer be seen as blasphemy”.

– Tatiana Mukanire, National Coordinator of the Network

Alliance Nationale des Jeunes pour la Santé de la Reproduction et la Planification Familiale (ANJSRPF)

ANJSRPF works in Senegal to promote SRHR for adolescents and young people, to eliminate GBV and to advocate for access to safe abortion in cases of rape, incest and when the mother’s health is at risk. Their activities have highlighted the enormous difficulties that young people face in relation to their SRHR, which are likely to worsen in the current economic situation following the COVID-19 pandemic.

  1. How did you adapt your work to protect survivors of GBV?
    ANJSRPF adapted their work with online advocacy (E-Advocacy) to ensure continuity of SRHR services during the COVID-19 pandemic and avoid injustices to women and girls due to the disruption of services, including:

    • Evidence-based advocacy through the collection of testimonies.

    • Publishing a call to action

    • A short survey to monitor the impact of Covid-19 on SRHR in the most affected neighbourhoods of Dakar.

    • Sharing recommendations to better integrate key SRHR issues for adolescents and youth into WHO guidelines during the pandemic, and a cross regional webinar co-organized by Family Planning 2020, Advance Family Planning, PAI and Pathfinder – including a slide presentation at the webinar.

  2. What is a priority for you to continue your work in the future?
    Our priority is to mobilise resources to support national advocacy to increase the national budget for Adolescent and Youth Reproductive Health.

“Now more than ever, to make SRHR an integral part of policies and programmes, we need to take action to operationalise the multi-sectoral approach in order to maximise our resources, to be more aligned, more inclusive and to move towards high-impact results”.

– ANJSRPF, Sénégal .

Initiative des Jeunes Filles en Action (IJEFA)

IJEFA advocates for girls’ access to accurate SRHR information and services in DRC.

  1. How did you adapt your work to protect survivors of GBV?
    IJEFA had planned to raise awareness among young people about the risks and consequences of unsafe abortion by showing films, but due to the restrictions on gatherings and people’s reduced mobility during this period, these activities could not be carried out as planned. To get around this obstacle, our technical team was able to organise online video viewing sessions from our base, where a small number of participants could ask questions live via WhatsApp and everyone could follow the answers and recommendations online.

  2. What are your top tips for organisations working on preventing Gender Based Violence?
    To achieve gender equality, we must also combat sexual harassment and maintain access to SRHR services, including access to self-managed abortion during this global pandemic.

“Obviously the COVID-19 pandemic is a cause for concern, yet we cannot give up on SRHR; on the contrary, this is the time to arm ourselves with much more courage to ensure continued access to accurate information and to SRHR services to break the tide of violence against girls during this period”.

IJEFA team in orange.