Almost ten months after the World Health Organization’s announcement about the arrival of the pandemic, the particular impact that it has had on the lives of women is becoming more evident every day. Along with the loss of life caused by the virus, this crisis’s most tragic expression is the escalation of sexual and gender-based violence. This increase responds to direct risk drivers such as confinement, mobility restrictions, and isolation and factors such as economic insecurity, school closings, increased household responsibilities, mental health, unemployment, and massive migratory flows.
In Chile, women’s calls to the domestic violence hotline increased by 70%, just the first week of quarantine. In Mexico, there has been a 60% increase in sexual and gender-based violence reports during the pandemic and, in Colombia, the hotline received 91% more calls than the previous year. Other countries in Latin America and the Caribbean have recorded similar alarming figures.
Have we acted firmly enough to prevent and address this parallel pandemic? Do we understand the seriousness of the physical, sexual, and psychological manifestations of the violence suffered by the victims? Today, November 25th, on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, is an opportunity for all of us to focus our efforts on this social problem and look for categorical solutions for its eradication.
Ending sexual and gender-based violence in Latin America and the Caribbean is imperative and cannot be postponed. We cannot wait any longer. An immediate response marked by collaboration, cooperation, and innovation is required.
All sectors count
First of all, we face the challenge of designing and executing initiatives from different areas of action. Traditionally, the social services, health, justice, and security sectors have led prevention and care initiatives for violence survivors. However, a multisectoral response fueled by initiatives in different sectors like transportation, employment, infrastructure, technology, and education will have a far greater impact.
An IDB sustainable urban mobility program in Curitiba, Brazil, recognized women’s dependence on public transportation and improved their safety by analyzing the built environment and infrastructure interventions and implementing awareness campaigns. Actions included gathering information disaggregated by gender on the perception of the quality of transport infrastructure; improvements in the lighting of the stops, access roads and stations of the system; installation of security cameras inside buses, stations, and terminals; Awareness campaigns to inform about complaint mechanisms and the consequences of harassing women.
In Georgetown, Guyana, an adequate housing, and accessibility program incorporated female audits or safety walks to identify spaces perceived as unsafe by women and girls, which served to design safer streets and public spaces.
These two cases illustrate the importance of preventing violence from all possible spaces, including transportation, the urban environment, and housing.
A collaborative response
Attention to this issue also requires promoting alliances and synergies that combine the will and expertise of governments, the private sector, civil society, academia, and non-governmental organizations to expand the scope and avoid duplicating efforts.
To prevent, address, and reduce sexual and gender-based violence and build constructive masculinity models, the Bank has established alliances with leading expert organizations, such as Promundo, and with governments of Caribbean countries such as Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, Barbados, Bahamas, and Suriname. Initiatives include studies on gender gaps in education and labor participation and male behaviors and attitudes towards gender. Findings have provided a better understanding of the notions of masculinities, and how these can be modified to promote respectful relationships and eradicate violent behaviors.
Different actions that get different results
Finally, innovation plays a vital role in the eradication of sexual and gender-based violence. We must improve and adapt responses to uncertain and challenging contexts, for example, through technology or through new work approaches that allow us to expand the scale of services and do so with quality. In the context of the pandemic, the transfer of many services to digital platforms has been automatic. However, we know little about how effective they can be when operating through these platforms.
In Honduras, a prevention campaign in social media, national television, and radio, led by the National Institute for Women with the support of the IDB, used behavioral sciences to promote the search for help by victims, prevent the escalation of violence to levels of femicides, and report good practices for the prevention of sexual and gender-based violence. In the first month, the campaign on social networks reached more than 800 thousand women.
In the context of the new reality imposed by COVID-19, the IDB helped develop a digital platform in Honduras to connect victims of violence with public service providers to receive online counseling, psychosocial care, and legal assistance. This innovation will allow testing the effectiveness of a model that promises to be scalable.
Initiatives with a multisectorial, collaborative, and innovative approach must be an integral part of the plan of attack to end once and for all sexual and gender-based violence that affects millions of women, families, and loved ones. It is an imperative not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because it’s a smart strategy to promote growth and sustainable development throughout the region.