Governments across the world must act urgently to prevent and tackle the rising rates of violence against women and girls during the COVID-19 crisis by putting stronger measures in place such as opening shelters and hotlines as emergency services and supporting police and the justice sector during lockdowns.
Guidance from UNDP, Gender-based violence and COVID-19, also recommends developing new protocols to provide support via phone or online platforms rather than in person, expanding immediate response services in order to save lives, and most ensuring that steps to prevent gender-based violence are in every COVID-19 response plan and budget.
“Now more than ever there is a need to send a strong message that violence will not be tolerated, those who carry it out will be brought to justice, and survivors will be heard and supported,” said Raquel Lagunas, UNDP Gender Team Acting Director.
The impacts of the COVID-19 on women and girls include rising rates of domestic or intimate partner violence, while lockdowns and physical distancing may be particularly hard on survivors of gender-based violence, who may already be economically dependent on their abusers.
Together with other UN agencies, UNDP is working with more than 40 governments around the world to prevent and address gender-based violence during the crisis.
From the beginning of the COVID-19 Crises in Serbia, UNDP Serbia and the Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Serbia held regular consultations having in mind the possible escalation of violence and problems that may be encountered in implementing the institutional response to violence against women. The High Court Council classified cases of domestic violence (including protective measures for the victims of violence) among those that the courts continued to deal with even during the state of emergency, specifying that such cases will continue being prosecuted before courts of law without delay.
What is more, UNDP Serbia supported 20 public prosecutors from 8 prosecution districts in Serbia to organize on-line multi-agency meetings for processing newly reported and ongoing cases of domestic violence. Multi-agency cooperation is regulated by the Law on the Prevention of Domestic Violence in Serbia and binds the responsibility of three state bodies: police, prosecutors and centers for social work, but also includes other institutions such as healthcare and the education system, employment services, and civil society organizations. Thanks to this support, significantly more cases of domestic violence were considered and more individual plans for victim support and protection were developed than in previous months.
We provided 3 centres for victims of sexual violence and rape with sanitation packages and protective equipment and supported them to open additional phone helplines for women survivors of gender-based violence.
UNDP Serbia also helped the Autonomous women’s centre, which provides legal and psychological assistance to women survivors of violence, to increase their SOS helpline capacities. During the state of emergency this SOS helpline received 6 times more calls for assistance that usual.
We support the group "Journalists Against Violence" (Novinarke protiv nasilja) in spreading the messages about the available psycho-social support provided by SOS help-lines, in developing advice for women in situation of violence, in creating a social network campaign to encourage citizens to report violence in their neighbourhood, as well as in responding to media coverage of violence against women and sexism.
UNDP is coordinating with UN sister agencies and development partners, for example, through the Spotlight Initiative, a joint EU-UN partnership to end violence against women and girls. The global, multi-year initiative is targeting 50 million direct beneficiaries across five regions and more than 25 countries.