How to support GBV survivors during lockdown

Written by Talent Jumo, Director, Katswe Sistahood, Zimbabwe

This guide was written in 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some of the information will not be so relevant to the current situation, but we think this guide offers useful advice to SRHR advocates.

Please describe the context in which your work has highlighted these learnings?

One in three women has encountered Gender Based Violence (GBV) at some point in their lives, most by intimate partners or family members. Emergency situations like the COVID-19 pandemic have meant that people must be reliant on their families, but scores of women and girls are ‘locked up’ with their abuser. Some girls who were sexually abused early in lockdown did not get immediate help, such as emergency contraception and post-exposure prophylaxes for HIV, within the 72-hour time frame required.  Survivors either cannot go to the Police station because of lockdown or are repeatedly sent home if they try.

What did you discover about the challenges that advocates face in this situation?

We are part of the country-wide Gender Based Violence referral loop, including remote rural communities and urban, low income, informal high-density settlements. Katswe handled eight cases of sexual violence for one district within the first four weeks of lockdown, excluding unreported cases for lack of fees needed for communication and transport. 

Poverty deepens vulnerabilities. One counsellor received 14 requests for sexually transmitted infection (STI) treatment in one week, all from underage girls in one community. Adolescents and women from these impoverished households are easy prey for sex predators, leading to an increase in STI infection rates, teen pregnancies, and child marriages.

How were those challenges tackled – what was achieved?

We believe if GBV survivors are given humanitarian relief, access to community-based GBV services and economic opportunities, then they are better able to prevent and mitigate the effects of GBV in the wake of emergencies.

Our response includes:

1) humanitarian relief to mitigate suffering

2) direct intervention to support safety and protection

3) advocacy to raise awareness and promote rights

4) resilience building for post-emergency recovery.

Our main work has been providing immediate relief packages for survivors of violence, such as dignity packs, and funds for transport to and from the police station, hospital, and the courts. We improved our GBV case management to operate efficiently in crises.

We also maintain our Pachoto Peer Support system. Through the weekly online conversations, we continuously gather stories based on their lockdown experiences. These have revealed the exacerbating impact of economic stress stemming from the pandemic.

To help with this we are planning an Economic Empowerment programme to tackle urban poverty (and improve livelihoods for rural girls), involving needs-based skills training and learning sessions for women and girls, particularly teen mothers and wives, and for teens having to sell sex so The Economic Empowerment programme may also include life skills and business skills.

Our GBV advocacy also included outreach via mobile van over three weeks in the poor and densely populated settlements. Messages painted on the van and called out by loudspeaker were about COVID-19 safety but intermixed with information about support available for sexual and reproductive health (SRH) and issues arising from lockdown.  We painted on the side of the van with hotline numbers for GBV, rape, child protection and we broadcast messages about where to find help and even transport if needed. 

We are also collecting data on the impact of COVID-19 on young women’s and girls’ access to education and sexual and reproductive health rights.

What did advocates learn from this experience?

Partnerships are crucial in crafting efficient SRHR responses in emergencies.

The mobile-outreach partnerships enabled mainstreaming of sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) communication and GBV support as an essential aspect in the COVID-19 emergency response.

In emergencies such as the one we are in, it is important for advocates to keep their eye on the ball, and continuously focus on gender equality and equity indicators; so that women and girls are assured of the most basic of rights: their safety, security, dignity, access to essential services, including their access to the justice system; in the event that they experience violations.

Talent Jumo, Director, Katswe Sistahood, Zimbabwe

Talent Jumo was originally a teacher, specialising in women and health. She became a Gender Officer in the HIV programme of the Community Working Group on Health in 2005, and in 2007 she co-founded the Young Women’s Leadership Initiative, which went on to become the Katswe Sistahood. In 2012, she became the Sistahood’s director, which promotes women’s rights and knowledge about sexual health.  She is also a member of the Women for the Global Fund.

Katswe Sistahood website