Hidden in the dark: why we must invest in monitoring public programs to reduce gender-based violence

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Woman in a public office in Peru. Woman in a public office in Peru.

Before COVID-19, gender-based violence affected one in three women in Latin America and the Caribbean. But the pandemic has worsened this situation. Emerging data reveals a dramatic increase in the level of gender violence and child abuse across Latin America. Staying at home is not a safe place for everyone. 

Government measures to contain the spreading of the virus have stuck many women, girls, and boys at home with abusive members and isolated them from people and resources that can help them to deal with violent situations . Additionally, the economic, financial and health related stress in the household increase tensions and contribute to the risk of violence.

A steep increase in calls to helplines has been reported across Latin America since the start of the pandemic, which likely provides just a partial view of what is happening behind closed doors across many households in the region. In some countries, data is outdated, incomplete or not existent at all.  For example, in El Salvador there was a 70% increase in the number of reports of violence against women when compared to 2019. In Honduras, a weekly increase of 4.1% in the number of reported cases of domestic and intra-family violence has been registered.

Beyond closed doors

Violence against women has not only increased at home but also in the public sphere . Violence perpetrated against health care workers has increased during COVID-19 times. In many Latin-American countries, women comprise the majority of the health workers and caregivers who are on the frontlines of the global pandemic, and they are also at risk of violence.

The public health crisis and the direct and indirect impacts of the containment measures have put pressure on fiscal resources, limiting the availability of resources to ramp up support to victims of gender-based violence and increase prevention measures.

This narrower room for response has also exacerbated the problem. In particular, women’s shelters have been reaching their capacity or unable to take in new victims or have been temporarily converted into homeless shelters by authorities. Many multilateral institutions, like UN Women, have also expressed concerns about the potential for vital gender based violence health services to be diverted to deal with the outbreak.

The negative economic effects of gender-based violence limit the economic growth potential of the countries. It is estimated that violence against women economically costs between 1.6 % and 6.4 % of the gross domestic product of the countries of the region, almost 1.5 times what on average governments spend on education .

In this context, the urgency to efficiently reduce gender violence has become more evident, and the need for recommendations based on causal evidence has become crucial.

The case of Peru and the focus on monitoring and evaluation

Peru is not the exception in terms of gender-based violence (GBV). Two out of three women reported to suffer violence, and only one third of those women sought help. This sad reality is true for women in Peru regardless of the region where they live, their socioeconomic level or their age.

The report “10 mensajes sobre la violencia contra las mujeres en el Peru. Un análisis de las inversiones publicas en esta agenda” shows that, in response to this situation, the government doubled the investment to reduce gender-based violence between 2018 and 2019,  involving around 10 different sectors and institutions.

This increase in resources allowed to expand the range and scope of interventions, covering around 100 cross-sectoral activities on both prevention and attention and protection services. Many of the interventions have been grounded on what has been proven effective at the international level. However, the study also identified ample space to better understand what was working in the context of Peru and what was not.  

To better understand the effectiveness of these type of government programs in reducing gender-based violence and to strengthen the evidence towards more effective programs, it is critical that they include an agenda for monitoring and evaluation. A monitoring and evaluation component can feed the chain of evidence-based policy, making the reduction of GBV a more affordable and more likely reality for developing countries. 

With the deep recession caused by the COVID-19 crisis and the fiscal implications it has had in many countries, and with the hidden impacts it is likely having on worsening the gender violence situation, it is ever more important to have a clear view of how to best use resources to address this problematic. Development partners, civil society, academia, and the private sector have an important role in complementing the efforts of the public sector.



Maria Eugenia Davalos

Senior Economist, Poverty and Equity Global Practice

Maria Emilia Cucagna

Development Economist, Poverty GP, LAC

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