Six critical areas for action on prevention, response and ethical data collection beyond the pandemic highlighted
(Florence, 24 June 2020) Nine UN agencies today jointly released a statement providing critical guidance on addressing worrisome rising levels of violence against women and girls during the COVID-19 pandemic. The statement follows the UN Secretary General’s widely supported appeal for nations to prioritize prevention and redress of violence against women and girls as a central part of their national pandemic response plans.
The inter-agency statement addresses 6 essential actions to protect women and girls from violence during the pandemic:
- Make urgent and flexible funding available for women’s rights organizations and recognize their role as first responders
- Support health and social services to continue their duty of care to survivors of violence against women and to remain accessible, especially to those most likely to be left behind
- Ensure that services for violence against women and girls survivors are regarded as essential, remain open and are resourced and made accessible especially to those most likely to be left behind
- Place a high priority on police and justice responses
- Put preventative measures in place
- Collect data only if it is clear that it is needed, it will be used to improve services/programmes and ethical and safety standards can be met
Why is this statement important now?
146 UN Member States and Observers who have already expressed support for the new measures will benefit from the statement’s practical steps on how to ensure victims and survivors are safe and receive the support they need now and in future.
“It’s important to understand how the measures put in place to contain COVID, albeit absolutely necessary, are impacting the levels of different forms of violence against women (VAW) and violence against children (VAC) – particularly violence in the home,” UNICEF Innocenti’s gender and development manager, Alessandra Guedes, who contributed to the statement in collaboration with other UNICEF colleagues, said.
One of Guedes’ contributions to the statement, jointly with UNICEF colleagues, was to ensure that “girls” were visible throughout the statement to underscore how gender inequalities increase vulnerabilities throughout life. “The experience of violence is gendered, it impacts boys and girls, men and women differently throughout the life course and we need evidence that takes into account the way that violence changes over the span of a life. We recognize that we needed gender-transformative strategies to address violence against children and that children depend on women’s safety and well-being. They are interconnected,” Guedes said.
As Guedes stressed on UNICEF Innocenti’s recent expert panel webinar on violence in the home before, during and after COVID-19, there has been increased attention to potential rises in the levels of violence in the home since the COVID pandemic started. However, Guedes added that “violence is not ‘caused’ by COVID – it has been magnified and unveiled by COVID. At a time when people are very much staying home this hidden form of violence is coming out in the open and therefore this goes beyond a COVID-only response that we hope to see long-term action on.” This distinction is important and requires that measures put in place to prevent and respond to violence against women and children are sustained over time beyond the pandemic.
Research on violence against women and children in the context of COVID-19
The sixth critical area for action – Collect data only if it is clear that it is needed, it will be used to improve services/programmes and ethical and safety standards can be met – is especially relevant to the work UNICEF Innocenti does as a research office for children.
The statement cautions against unnecessary data collection of women’s experiences of violence as it may put them at increased risk. “This is a crucial recommendation because it recognizes that researching experiences of violence against women or children must follow clear, ethical, safety and methodological practices to ensure we do no harm. The pandemic has led to an increased interest in researching the impact of COVID on levels of different forms of violence. However, it’s important that we recognize that, obtaining accurate data and promoting respondents’ and research teams’ safety absolutely requires that we follow the lessons we’ve learned about how to carry out violence research in an ethical and methodological sound manner,” Guedes said, adding “knowledge is crucial to evidence-based policy and program development, but it’s better to have no data than to have ‘bad data’.”
What should researchers be doing?
Guedes emphasized that researchers should “follow very closely the do-no-harm mandate – we need to ensure privacy, confidentiality and access to services for those who have experience violence and would like such support. If we can’t do that then we should not be doing research because it would not be worth the risk.”
“We also need to have clarity about what questions we are trying to answer and how we will use the data to guide action that improves survivors’ lives” she added. Guedes and colleagues authored two important UNICEF Innocenti think pieces on the topics of remote data collection on VAW and VAC during COVID-19 with more insights on considerations and best practices:
1. Remote data collection on violence against women (VAW) during COVID-19: A conversation with experts on ethics, measurement & research priorities (Part 1)
2. Remote data collection on violence against children (VAC) during COVID-19: A conversation with experts on ethics, measurement & research priorities (Part 2)
- Read the Inter-Agency Statement on Violence against Women and Girls in the Context of COVID-19
- LEADERS’ STATEMENT Violence against children: A hidden crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic
- Remote data collection on violence against women during COVID-19: A conversation with experts on research priorities, measurement and ethics (Part 1)
- Remote data collection on violence against children during COVID-19: A conversation with experts on research priorities, measurement and ethics (Part 2)
- Five ways governments are responding to violence against women and children during COVID-19
- Violence in the home before, during and after COVID-19