Cruel paradox of violence in pandemic

Welcome to SOCIAL CHAIN, a newsletter about important stories that deserve your attention and action—written by me, Daria.

What happened?

Increase in gender-based violence in refugee camps due to pandemic: already unsafe and toxic environment of refugee camps for women and girls all over the globe had dramatically worsened with COVID pandemic.

What is the story?

In a statement, the U.N. Refugee Agency attributed the spike in violence in at least 27 countries to “a lethal mix of confinement, deepening poverty and economic duress” caused by the pandemic.

An increase in the abuse of women and girls became an alarming issue all over the world during the first lockdown and continue during the second. To be locked in the same house with an abuser for long periods costs a lot of pain and blood, and sometimes life to many women even in developed countries. Living in precarious conditions of refugee camps exacerbates the situation many times.

“Jobs have been lost, tensions are rising, intimate partner violence is escalating, livelihood opportunities are scarce and movement restrictions are making it difficult for survivors to report abuse and seek help.”

Refugee women often lack access to public health facilities and other critical social services and are reliant on services available through NGOs and UN agencies. But COVID has forced many of those services to close and in camps from Kenya to Bangladesh, humanitarian workers have been unable to visit refugees or organize prevention activities.

While data has been slow to emerge, with displaced women often afraid or unable to seek help, some patterns are becoming clear:

  • Colombia’s Ministry of Health reported a nearly 40% increase of GBV incidents affecting the country’s Venezuelan population between January and September of this year, compared to the same period last year.

  • The Global Protection Cluster noted in August that gender-based violence was occurring at a higher incidence in 90% of its operations, including in Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq.

  • International Rescue Committee's recent survey shows that three-quarters of refugee and displaced women in three regions of Africa reported an increase of GBV in their communities.

  • In the Central African Republic, where a quarter of the population is displaced, one gender-based violence incident is recorded every hour.

Different reports also confirm that “economic hardship caused by the pandemic had also heightened women and girls’ exposure to violence and exploitation outside their homes. This included harassment and violence by military and police officials, especially when violating curfew, as longer queues and increased need forced some women and girls to walk long distances”.

Social distancing requirements meant they could not use traditional safety measures such as walking in groups.

The need for enhanced hygiene practices due to COVID-19 resulted in women and girls, primarily girls under the age of 14, traveling more frequently to collect water, which further exposed them to violence.

"Reducing exposure to the virus can increase exposure to violence," - cruel paradox of pandemic noted by Nicole Behnam, senior director for violence prevention and response for the International Rescue Committee.

Why care?

  • 73% of the women had reported an increase in domestic violence, 51% a rise in sexual violence, and 32% a leap in early and forced marriage during Covid-19 and the associated lockdowns, reported by The Telegraph;

  • For every three months, the coronavirus lockdowns continue, an additional 15 million women are expected to be affected by violence - estimated U.N. Women;

  • Calls to domestic violence hotlines have increased by 153 % in Colombia and 56% in Zimbabwe.

What to do?

It is not easy to reach local NGOs that work in the field in Africa or Latin America, there are always communication and technical obstacles. That’s why I suggest you look at these international NGOs that work globally supporting those in the field. They all have many years of experience and an extended network of local partners who wouldn’t survive without their help.

  • Learn how cash and voucher assistance can be effective in addressing gender-based violence and support Women’s Refugee Commission ;

  • Join the #16Days - a campaign to end violence against women. Learn more, follow and share to raise awareness;

  • Donate to Project HOPE to support women in Columbian refugee camps;

  • Sponsor a sister with Women for Women: support one woman’s journey to a new life, you will be able to follow her progress and send personalized notes;

  • Get involved with the activities of Women For Refugee Women or get inspired and organize your own fundraiser or activity in the camps near you;

  • Support women refugees in Calais France with Help Refugees.

What’s next?

Read a book by Dina Nayeri THE UNGRATEFUL REFUGEE, where she tells her personal and other refugees stories about their journey.

“With surprising and provocative questions, The Ungrateful Refugee recalibrates the conversation around the refugee experience. Here are the real human stories of what it is like to be forced to flee your home, and to journey across borders in the hope of starting afresh.”


Follow a heart-breaking reality of nine people in northern Kenya refugee camp shown in the book by Ben Rawlence CITY OF THORNS.

“To the charity workers, Dadaab refugee camp is a humanitarian crisis; to the Kenyan government, it is a 'nursery for terrorists'; to the western media, it is a dangerous no-go area; but to its half a million residents, it is their last resort.”

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