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In Focus: Ending violence against women in the context of COVID-19

[We] have to ensure grass-roots and feminist organizations are fully funded.” — Sivananthi Thanenthiran, Arrow, Malaysia

Article table of contents:

One Year On: The Impact of COVID-19 on Violence against Women and Women’s Rights Organizations on the Front Line

ONE YEAR ON: Second virtual stakeholder meeting on the impact of COVID-19 on violence against women and organizations on the front line of responses (announcer)

UN Women event calls for support for front line organizations responding to violence against women during the COVID-19 pandemic

Women’s organizations – first responders discuss the impact of COVID-19

Women’s organizations on the front line: UN Trust Fund Stakeholder Virtual Meeting on Impact of COVID-19 on ending violence against women

UN Trust Fund's stakeholder community exchange on COVID-19 impact to violence against women protection system (announcer)

UN Trust Fund responds swiftly to COVID-19 crisis

UN Trust Fund grantees' support services to survivors essential more than ever during COVID-19

One Year On: The Impact of COVID-19 on Violence against Women and Women’s Rights Organizations on the Front Line

‘[We] have to ensure grassroots and feminist organizations are fully funded’ – Sivananthi Thanenthiran, Arrow, Malaysia

Yesterday, during the 65th Commission on the Status of Women, UN Women and the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women (UN Trust Fund), together with the Governments of Sweden and Canada, met virtually to examine the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the work to prevent and end violence against women and girls.


A year after the first such virtual meeting on the topic, participants discussed the critical role of civil society and women’s rights organizations on the front line.

Asa Regner, UN Women Deputy Executive Director, kicked off the event by saying that women’s rights organizations “were the first to alert us [to] how measures to curb the spread [of COVID-19] were increasing violence against women”, and confirmed UN Women’s and the UN Trust Fund’s ongoing support for this vital work.


We promptly adjusted our shelter services to ensure COVID protocols [were met].” — Rashmi Singh, Programme Director of the International Foundation for Crime Prevention and Victim Care in India

Sharing experiences

Government representatives and participants discussed and celebrated the leadership from women’s rights organizations.

Karina Gould, Minister of International Development, Global Affairs Canada, who moderated part of the event, said that “Canada’s COVID-19 response has prioritized addressing sexual and gender-based violence, promoting sexual and reproductive health and rights and supporting women’s rights organizations.”


In remarks, H.E. Per Olsson Fridh, Sweden Minister for Development Cooperation said, ”Recognizing and supporting the important role of Women’s Rights Organizations and Civil Society Organisations in front line COVID response as well as for long term work for Gender Equality and Women’s and Girls’ Rights is a key priority for Sweden implementing a Feminist Foreign Policy."

Closing the first part of the event, Alicia Herbert, OBE, UK Special Envoy for Gender Equality, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, United Kingdom said “Violence against women and girls is a long-standing emergency, which we must address with absolute urgency. ”


H.E. Mr Martin Seychell, Deputy Director DG INTPA European Commission remarked, “We believe in a transformative approach which put survivors at the centre. […] Let’s listen, support and work closely with women’s movements and youth organizations.”

Representatives of several UN Trust Fund grantees described the pandemic’s impact and how their organizations have responded.


Rashmi Singh, Programme Director of the International Foundation for Crime Prevention and Victim Care in India said that its helpline received almost 60 times more calls than normal at the height of the pandemic, as domestic violence services were excluded from the list of essential services. “We promptly adjusted our shelter services to ensure COVID protocols [were met],” she said.

Meliha Sendic President of the Center of Women's Rights in Bosnia and Herzegovina discussed how women survivors of violence often struggled to access justice. A video, played during the event, amplified the voice of a survivor during the pandemic, showing how the Center is improving life for women.


Role of Flexible Funding

A key message that emerged in the event from the experience of women’s organizations was the need for core, flexible and long-term funding. Participants highlighted the response of the UN Trust Fund, such as the implementation of its flexibility through its five-point action plan, and other funders during the pandemic.

Gaudence Mushimiyimana co-founder and Executive Director of the Rwandan Organization of Women with Disability said that additional core funding from the UN Trust fund in response to the challenges of the pandemic enabled the organization to pay for health insurance for staff, buy and distribute materials to reconnect with communities, and provide food and hygiene products to girls and women with disabilities.

Meliha Sendic referenced support from UN agencies, donors and partners in 2020 “without which thousands and thousands of women would be homeless, left without basic means for life and health, injured, separated from their children, or murdered."

Participants further discussed how best to resource feminist movements and women’s rights organizations into the future.

“Flexibility is good and core support is even better”, commented Lisa Mossberg from the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida).

H.E. Per Olsson Fridh, Sweden Minister for Development Cooperation also spoke in the event on 24 March 2021.


Knowledge Exchange and Recommendations

The event included an opportunity for experts from UN Trust Fund-funded women’s rights organizations and governments to exchange knowledge from their experience during the pandemic, and recommendations for moving forward to improve work to end violence against women and girls.

Mohammed Elkholy from Al-Shehab Foundation for Comprehensive Development in Egypt said this crisis shows that “women today are tomorrow’s decision-makers”, and said that more funding should go to “make sure that the current social protection schemes are inclusive and gender-sensitive.”

Sivananthi Thanenthiran, Executive Director of Arrow in Malaysia, stressed: “We have to ensure we enable as many marginalized groups to participate and be involved.”


A vaccine won’t eradicate violence against women.” — Aldijana Sisic, Chief of the UN Trust Fund

Looking forward

“Change in addressing violence against women and girls begins with communities,” said Eunice Ndonga Githinji Executive Director of the Refugee Consortium of Kenya. “We applaud those who dared to be counted in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis; local NGOs and women’s rights organizations as front line responders, who had to remain and deliver despite daunting challenges.”

Moving forward, Aldijana Sisic, Chief of the UN Trust Fund, said that once again civil society and women’s rights organizations had been the first responders to a health crisis. “A vaccine won’t eradicate violence against women”, she said; the work of these organizations will continue to be vital.

To this end, the UN Trust Fund will soon announce the award of USD15 million to projects dedicated to ending violence against women and girls in the context of COVID-19.


* Key points from the meeting contribute to the International Women’s Day theme of “women in leadership”, the 65th Commission on the Status of Women and the UN Secretary-General’s call for investment in women’s rights organizations as part of the political engagement strategy in the pandemic.


Announcer: Second virtual stakeholder meeting on the impact of COVID-19 on violence against women and organizations on the front line of responses (posted 17 March 2021)

Meeting information:

Date: 24 March 2021

Time: 08:00 Eastern Time (USA and Canada)


Click here to register

Click here for the Agenda


On 24 March, a year after a first virtual meeting, UN Women and the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women (UN Trust Fund), together with the Governments of Sweden and Canada, will again meet virtually to examine the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the work to prevent and end violence against women and girls, and how civil society organizations and women’s rights organizations on the front lines are leading this work.

Three representatives of UN Trust Fund grantees will present updates on the protracted impact of COVID-19 and how their organizations have been responding:

  • Meliha Sendic, President of the Center of Women's Rights, Bosnia and Herzegovina

  • Gaudence Mushimiyimana, co-founder and Executive Director of the Rwandan Organization of Women with Disabilities

  • Rashmi Singh, Programme Director of the International Foundation for Crime Prevention and Victim Care, India.

All three previously presented on the impact of COVID-19 in the UN Trust Fund’s first convening.

Attendees will also share knowledge, particularly on:

  • how civil society, women’s rights organizations and women are beingenabled to fully participate in and lead national response and recovery efforts; and

  • how and what is needed to enable women’s rights organizations to best exercise their expertise and role as first responders to women and girls at risk of violence.

The meeting is a side event of the 65th session of the Commission for the Status for Women (2021) and reflects part of its theme of ending violence against women.

Key points from the meeting will contribute to the International Women’s Day theme of “women in leadership” and the UN Secretary-General’s continued call for investment in women’s rights organizations as part of the political engagement strategy in the pandemic.


UN Women event calls for support for front line organizations responding to violence against women during the COVID-19 pandemic

We must provide resources for women’s civil society organizations on the front lines’ – UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

On 29 September, UN Women hosted a high-level event alongside the UN General Assembly to highlight the achievements and challenges of the global response to increased violence against women and girls during the pandemic. It also launched the UN Secretary-General’s engagement strategy on gender-based violence.[1]


The event, “Gender-Based Violence in a COVID-19 Context: ‘Activating Collective Responses, Innovative Partnerships and Proven Policies'", allowed front line organizations to share their experiences and included frank panel discussions involving representatives of civil society organizations, private foundations, government actors and leaders of the UN Women Action Coalition on Gender-Based Violence.


Voices of civil society organizations

Front line organizations funded by the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women (UN Trust Fund) featured prominently in the event. They described what they had done, lessons learned and what is needed while working to respond to and address violence against women and girls during the pandemic.


Norah Ngwa, Coordinator for the Rural Women Center for Education and Development in Cameroon, explained how localized efforts by small, women’s rights organizations had ensured that women and girls were at the forefront of the work.


Sharp rise in violence

The second UN Trust Fund brief on the COVID-19 impact confirmed that women and girls are being disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 crisis, with violence against them continuing to rise at alarming rates. Simultaneously, support services for survivors of this violence are being diverted or discontinued.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the violence “affects everyone and damages everyone.” He added:

“We need to increase accountability and question attitudes and approaches that enable violence.”


Raising support

Echoing his message, UN Women’s Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka called for support for civil society and women’s rights organizations who are often first responders to the urgent needs of women and girl survivors and at risk of violence:

“The pandemic has forced us all to think differently and re-build better […] Innovation and organizations like these are key to our response.”


With this in mind, she announced the launch of the UN Trust Fund’s 24th Call for Proposals specifically seeking applications from front line civil society organizations that are responding to the rise of violence against women and girls in the context of the pandemic.

Baroness Liz Sugg CBE, the UK’s Minister for Overseas Territories and Sustainable Development and the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy for Girls’ Education, announced additional funding for the UN Trust Fund to “deliver real change on the ground”.


Shared experiences

Rashmi Singh, Programme Director of the International Foundation for Crime Prevention and Victim Care (PCVC), which runs services for individuals affected by domestic and interpersonal violence in India, explained that calls to its helpline fell at the outset of the pandemic. They soon realized that, “if [women] are in the home with [their] abuser, [they] had less space to make those calls.” So they immediately went out and publicized the hotline and began working with survivors. “We reached out to all of them”, she said.

Rashmi Singh also stressed the importance of donor flexibility, such as the policies enacted by the UN Trust Fund, in creating an enabling environment to allow PCVC to adapt to the crisis situation.

The event ended by calling on UN Member States, civil society, the private sector, philanthropists and international organizations to commit to achieving concrete results in ending gender-based violence.

[1] https://www.unwomen.org/en/news/stories/2020/9/press-release-focus-on-violence-against-women-at-the-un-general-assembly


Women’s organizations – first responders discuss the impact of COVID-19 (posted 12 June 2020)

Grassroots organizations currently supported by the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women (UN Trust Fund) came together in virtual meetings to discuss in detail the impacts of the COVID-19 crisis on violence against women and girls, and on their own organizations.

The two meetings, which followed a virtual gathering of all UN Trust Fund grantees on 16 April, involved nearly 100 participants representing 40 organizations in French-speaking countries/territories and in Latin America and the Caribbean.


Women and girls at heightened risk

Julienne Lusenge, Director of the Fund for Congolese Women, summed up one of the key problems of the lockdown measures being imposed worldwide:

“The […] idleness of men expose[s] women and girls to the risk of domestic, sexual and gender-based violence during confinement […] Women become easy prey.”

She added that in her country, loss of income has forced some parents to send their young daughters to beg on the streets, putting them at grave risk of violence. She noted that, as had happened during the Ebola crisis:

“Women must travel long distances in search of water, unprotected and therefore at risk of contamination.”

Hassan Naji of the Ennakhil Association in Morocco described a rise in domestic violence and the number of children witnessing such violence during the lockdown. He warned:

"If we do not intervene, it risks generating a new generation of violence.”

He added that many violent husbands are exploiting the lockdown to punish wives who had previously initiated divorce proceedings or filed complaints against them.

Several participants at the meeting said that women and girls already at heightened risk of violence – such as those living with disabilities, indigenous women, and lesbian, bisexual, transgender women and girls – are being disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 crisis and are often invisible in reports on violence during the pandemic.


Challenges facing front line organizations

Participants noted that front line organizations, many of which are small and women-led, have been hit hard by the pandemic just when they are needed most. They described the challenge of maintaining crucial services for marginalized women and girls while operating with scarce resources. Liz Meléndez, Executive Director of Centro de la Mujer Peruana Flora Tristán in Peru commented:

“During COVID-19 and in the post-pandemic context, it is essential to strengthen women's organizations, so that they monitor the government measures, increase their community response capacities, re-invent themselves to become more resilient in times of uncertainties.”


Sandra Hollinger, a Portfolio Manager of the UN Trust Fund, added:

“The central role of women’s rights organizations becomes clear during this COVID-19 pandemic. These organizations are often first responders for women survivors of violence and offer indispensable support for women and girls in response to the risks that they face. This is all the more important in this context where support systems are overstretched.”

The UN Trust Fund is committed to resourcing the lifesaving work of women’s organizations as first responders in providing services to women and girl survivors of violence during the pandemic.


Women’s organizations on the front line: UN Trust Fund Stakeholder Virtual Meeting on Impact of COVID-19 on ending violence against women (posted 17 April 2020)


‘We cannot leave women behind and alone’ – Meliha Sendic

In response to the worldwide health crisis, all current UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women (UN Trust Fund) stakeholders came together on a virtual platform to discuss the impact of COVID-19 on global systems to prevent and end violence against women and girls. The meeting welcomed over 280 participants representing small organizations, women’s rights organizations, civil society actors, donors, government development agencies and UN partners from around the globe.


Voices from the field

In the opening session, three panellists representing UN Trust Fund grantees described the devastating impact of lockdowns and social distancing on women, and the role of women’s organizations as first responders.

Meliha Sendic, President of the Center of Women's Rights in Bosnia and Herzegovina, said:

For women, [lockdown] means that they have to stay in home with a violent partner[...] There is no on-duty service officer to whom women and those exposed to violence can turn for help. There is no one to monitor what happens after the dark.”


Sendic stressed that in a vacuum of institutional service provision (such as closed courts and overwhelmed social protection and healthcare systems), the only place where women victims/survivors of violence can seek help are women’s organizations.


Gaudence Mushimiyimana, co-founder and Executive Director of the Rwandan Organization of Women with Disability (UNABU), said that public information about COVID-19 is not reaching women and girls living with disabilities in remote areas, who are particularly vulnerable to violence. To fill in the gaps, UNABU conducted a rapid phone assessment of beneficiaries:

Many of them reported the fear of sexual violence because movement around their houses is restricted and therefore perpetrators may take advantage.”


Rashmi Singh, Programme Director of the International Foundation for Crime Prevention and Victim Care (PCVC) in India, noted a threefold increase in reports of violence and requests for psychosocial counselling on chat apps. She also described the healthcare system’s decreased capacity to provide help to burn victims, “The hospitals are only taking the serious cases now […] The burn wards have been converted into COVID wards”. PCVC identifies this risk to women survivors and is collaborating with local hospitals, ensuring they are on the frontline of support for women survivors of violence.


Building on existing programmes

In open interventions, grantees shared how they are adapting current programmes based on what they’ve done in past health crises. For instance, Abiy Seifu from Episcopal Relief and Development in Liberia said they were enhancing existing programmes based on what they did during the Ebola crisis.

Grantees cited interventions that include flexible planning, reducing stigma and extending the reach of programmes.


Impact of pandemic

Over the course of one month, 122 of 144 grantees in 69 countries and territories shared with the UN Trust Fund their experiences of the impact of COVID-19. Their responses point to a sharp increase in violence against women and girls in multiple forms, including:

  • intimate partner violence

  • sexual abuse

  • violence against women and girls in humanitarian settings

  • emotional and economic abuse

  • assault by law enforcement

Simultaneously, women’s rights and other organizations that are first responders to violence against women and girls are themselves under enormous pressure and are operating with constrained resources because of the health crisis.


Vital women’s rights organizations are reorganizing their work while protecting the health of their staff and beneficiaries. Increased and sustained support is vital.


Swift response by UN Trust Fund

The UN Trust Fund announced a 5-point action plan to immediately support grantees during the crisis. The plan will:

  1. Acknowledge and approve delays in grantee reporting, including final and evaluation reports.

  2. Exercise utmost flexibility to enable grantees to modify or delay project activities.

  3. Share resources and guidance to help grantees navigate the public health crisis.

  4. Accept budget reallocation requests to meet core costs to ensure business continuity and minimize the negative impact of COVID-19.

  5. Approve no-cost extension requests for grantee projects.

The UN Trust Fund is also engaging in the development and operationalization of long-term support plans.


Importance of funders

Hakima Abbas, Co-Executive Director of the Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID), stressed the importance of funders responding to these unprecedented challenges:

It's important to prioritize grants to communities most affected […] including movements led by women and girls with disabilities […] and those on the front lines of rights-based approaches. Violence against women and girls is itself a crisis […] funders need to be on the side of genuine change.”


Government solidarity

Government representatives expressed messages of solidarity and presented their COVID-19 plans that include support to small women’s rights organizations. Chloe Pratt, Programme Manager of the Violence against Women and Girls Team at the UK’s Department of International Development, said that too frequently, violence against women and girls is not prioritized in humanitarian responses. She added:

Secondary impacts can be just as deadly as the disease itself […] Women should not be forgotten in this context […] supporting women’s movements is the best way to achieve lasting change.

Lisa Mossberg, Strategy Coordinator, Global Gender Equality and Women and Girls' Rights, Unit for Global Social Development at Sida (Sweden), confirmed that:

We recognize the need for long-term core support is key to stay relevant and stay flexible in a situation like this”, she said.