Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported that as many as one in three women experience physical and sexual violence across their lifetimes, amounting to roughly 736 million worldwide. COVID-19 has increased those numbers. The pandemic has been a gruesome lens of sorts, revealing the weaknesses in many emergency-response and social service systems worldwide. One particular view into the far-reaching consequences of the pandemic has highlighted the disturbing rate at which women experience gender-based violence, often in their own homes. The need to combat gender-based violence has become inherent during the pandemic because it has forced many victims into lockdown with abusers.
To make things worse, vital victim support programs, such as domestic violence shelters and helplines, have had to close or limit operations. Therefore, fear exists that the pandemic may erase the progress that countries previously made on addressing social norms that harmed women and girls.
Gender-Based Violence and Poverty
Gender-based violence disproportionately affects impoverished women and girls, furthering negative socioeconomic outcomes for generations. Unplanned pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections and medical complications all negatively impact the future-income potential of already financially strained women and girls. The unprecedented breakdown in social-response programs and victims’ services highlights the need for the transformative power of education to combat gender-based violence. Nations, nonprofits and other international organizations need to utilize education tools to combat gender-based violence to fight the ‘shadow’ pandemic.
The Education Transformation: Knowledge = Personal Power
Nonprofits worldwide tout education at-risk individuals as a way to reduce and more accurately report instances of violence in all communities. A focus on providing educational tools can help combat gender-based violence by offering a long-term way to identify and eliminate biases in the identification, reporting and prosecution of abusers.
Educating health professionals and law enforcement also plays a role in reducing gender-based violence; advanced, continuing education leads to increased compassion and empathy that is essential in properly addressing the needs of victims after trauma. Furthermore, educating authorities and communities on what constitutes gender-based violence may also limit the stigma associated with reporting it.
A recent UNESCO study found that Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) was lacking in parts of the world with high rates of gender-based violence. The issue is a double-edged sword, as gender-based violence both causes and is a product of a lack of education. UNESCO’s Senior Programme Specialist in Health Education, Joanna Herat, concluded that a lack of quality education was contributing to the ‘shadow’ pandemic. Many countries, Herat says, poorly addressed sexual abuse, exploitation and rape. The trends are changing, Herat continues, and UNESCO will continue to support countries embracing quality CSE.
Social Services Superstars: International Initiatives to Combat Gender-Based Violence
The United Nations Security General’s Campaign to End Violence Against Women (UNiTe) calls for international awareness and advocacy to end gender-based violence and address the pandemic factors leading to a rise in domestic violence. As of July 2020, the Interagency Statement on violence against women and girls in the context of COVID-19 highlighted six critical areas for action:
- Make urgent and flexible funding available for women’s rights organizations and recognize their role as first responders.
- Support health and social services to operate and remain accessible, especially to those most likely to end up behind.
- Ensure that people regard services for violence against women and girl survivors as essential.
- Place a high priority on police and justice responses.
- Put preventative measures in place.
- Collect data to improve services/programs and help meet ethical and safety standards.
Several other organizations have attempted to use educational tools to combat gender-based violence. Here are a few.
McCann Worldgroup’s “The Shadow Pandemic PSA”
This one-minute-long public service announcement, narrated by Kate Winslet, highlights the upsurge in domestic violence during COVID-19. The UN Women Unstereotype Alliance developed the project to highlight homes in over 14 countries and raise awareness. “It’s a proud moment when the power of advertising is used not just to build awareness of a critical issue but also to empower people to do something about it,” says Michael Roth, CEO of Interpublic Group.
The World Bank Group and the Sexual Violence Research Initiative (SVRI) Partnership
The Development Marketplace launched this program to address gender-based violence. The organization awards international teams up to $100,000. Winners use the money to fund evidence-based research, interventions and other activities related to gender-based violence prevention. To date, the program has given $5,000,000 to teams.
– Katrina Hall