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International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women 2020

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Why work on Gender Based Violence is critical during the COVID-19 pandemic

We are in the middle of not one, but two global public health emergencies. COVID-19 has forced governments worldwide to impose a range of restrictive measures to curb the spread of the virus, which has resulted in a surge in another deadly pandemic – Gender-Based Violence (GBV). According to the World Health Organization, one in three women experience GBV in their lifetime. This violence is often perpetrated by intimate partners behind closed doors. While the national lockdowns imposed by Governments have undoubtedly saved many lives, for women and girls experiencing intimate partner violence, the consequences of reduced mobility and restricted access to critical support services have been devastating. This is evidenced by reports of soaring demand for emergency hotline and shelter services, as women and girls seek refuge from the violence they are experiencing at home. There are also reported increases of other forms of GBV including violence and harassment against women and girls in public places and against informal women workers.  We know these figures mask much higher numbers of violence against women and girls, as GBV is often normalised and it well-documented that as being chronically underreported.  

It is critical that governments act now to prevent and respond to GBV during the COVID-19 pandemic. GBV is a serious public health emergency which threatens the lives and wellbeing of women and girls. GBV is also a grave human rights violation which has devastating and far-reaching consequences, not just for survivors and their immediate families, but for communities, and the development of nations and their economies.

Our recommendations to governments  

In lieu of the disproportionate and devastating impact COVID-19 has had on the lives of women and girls, and in support of the UN Secretary General’s UNiTE BY 203 To End Violence Against Women and Girls Campaign and the Global 16 Days Campaign (focused on ratification of the International Labour Organisation Convention on Violence & Harassment, and raising the voices of women informal workers), we urge governments worldwide to:


  • Prioritize funding for GBV prevention and response services as part of national COVID-19 fiscal packages.
  • Make flexible funding available to women-led and girl-led organizations, who are on the frontline of GBV prevention and response during the COVID-19 pandemic.


  • Issue national zero tolerance statements for GBV, which make clear that GBV perpetrated during the COVID-19 pandemic will not be tolerated.
  • Launch social norm and behaviour change campaigns which address gender inequality and the harmful social norms at the root of GBV.


  • Ensure GBV response services are designated as lifesaving and therefore essential to maintain during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Ensure GBV survivors can continue to access justice and there is no impunity for GBV perpetrators.


  • Support institutions providing GBV prevention and response services to collect and analyse data to enhance service delivery during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Our expertise

SDDirect is a leading supplier of GBV expertise to bilateral donors, international trusts and foundations, multilateral agencies, and civil society. We work to ensure GBV policymaking and programming is informed by high-quality research and evidence on what works to effectively prevent and respond to violence against women and girls.

Links to our COVID-19 GBV-specific resources can be found by visiting the SDDirect COVID-19 Blog Series here.

Examples of our broader portfolio of work on GBV include:

  • Tithetse Nkhanza: SDDirect provides the technical leadership for UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office’s flagship £19m GBV Prevention and Response programme in Malawi – Tithetse Nkhanza. This programme aims to both reduce the prevalence of violence against women and girls in Malawi, while at the same time improving the quality of services available to survivors and their access to justice.
  • GBV AoR Helpdesk: SDDirect is contracted by UNICEF to manage the GBV AoR Helpdesk, a unique research and technical advice service which aims to support humanitarian actors working to prevent and respond to violence against women and girls in emergencies. In addition to providing rapid technical support to frontline responders, the Helpdesk also produces a suite of knowledge products which capture the latest research, evidence and learning in the field of GBV in emergencies.
  • RESPECT Women: Preventing Violence Against Women Framework Implementation Guide: The RESPECT Women Framework was developed by UN Women and the World Health Organization to guide policymakers and practitioners on designing, implementing, monitoring and evaluating programmes which aim to prevent violence against women and girls. SDDirect was commissioned by UN Women to develop a suite of materials to support with its implementation at national level.
  • What Works to Prevent Violence Against Women Programme: The What Works to Prevent Violence Against Women and Girls Programme was a flagship programme commissioned by the then UK Department for International Development which invested an unprecedented £25 million over 5 years to research on GBV prevention. SDDirect was core member of a research consortium led by the Medical Research Council of South Africa in partnership with the London School of Tropical Hygiene and Medicine.
  • Violence Against Women and Girls Helpdesk: The Violence Against Women and Girls Helpdesk was an expert advice and research service for the then UK Department for International Development and other UK Departments. SDDirect ran the VAWG Helpdesk for 7 years, as part of a consortium comprising the International Rescue Committee, Action Aid, Womankind Worldwide and the Institute of Development Studies.
  • Guidance for the Private Sector on Gender-Based Violence and Harassment (GBVH): SDDirect has developed a set of practical guidance material to help companies and investors identify and address GBVH risks. We were commissioned by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), International Finance Corporation (IFC) and UK development finance institution CDC Group to produce a main guidance note, with accompanying sector briefs in public transport, manufacturing and construction. Further sector briefs will follow in early 2021 on addressing GBVH in agribusiness, education, and the hotel, catering and tourism sector.

For more information, contact Kate Bishop, GBV Principal Consultant, at

For further information about the Global 16 Days Campaign coordinated by the Centre for Women’s Global Leadership please visit