How to do primary prevention work on gender-based violence during a pandemic?

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Una mujer muestra su mano como signo de detener Una mujer muestra su mano como signo de detener

Preventing gender-based violence (GBV) is possible and feasible. The most effective prevention models use comprehensive approaches to eliminate the causes and risk factors that exacerbate GBV, such as gender inequality, having witnessed or suffered abuse in childhood, limited economic opportunities, and conflicts and tensions within spouses and partners.

A vital component of these models is the implementation of community mobilization activities. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there are significant challenges to conducting these activities. People are not yet comfortable attending meetings, discussions, activities, training and face-to-face events, which are critical to these mobilization strategies.

Organizations working in Latin America and the Caribbean have shed light on the issue. For example, the NGO Raising Voices, well known for its violence prevention work, conducted a global study to understand how organizations working on GBV prevention are coping under the current pandemic.

The study found that organizations have seen an increase in demand for their services. And despite the challenges of confinement, scarcity of resources, lack of experience in implementing online programs, and lack of trained human resources willing to work in a situation such as this, among other factors, 53% of organizations continued to carry out their gender-based violence prevention programs.

How were they able to do this? Their actions were fully rooted in the community, they built trust with the people they worked with and were able to remain flexible in the face of circumstances. In doing so, they focused on community outreach to families, working in smaller groups, conducting home visits, and maintaining all biosecurity measures.

In addition, Raising Voices developed guidance notes and tools for community mobilization to help other groups sustain their activities during the pandemic.

Another important experience is the adaptation of the prevention program "One Victory Leads to Another" to the reality of the pandemic, implemented by the NGOs Women Win and Empodera in Brazil, with the support of UN Women and the International Olympic Committee.

This initiative aims to use sport as a tool to promote gender equality and the elimination of GBV. The main implementation challenges during the pandemic have been the lack of internet access by participants, the lack of private spaces to talk, and the reduced availability of children and adolescents to participate in the program, given the increase in family responsibilities.

Strategies carried out to adapt the program to the new context were to maintain close contact with program participants through their cell phones and provide them with headsets for greater privacy; the creation of WhatsApp groups to continue with participatory groups; and the provision of food vouchers to alleviate the economic pressure faced by families.

In terms of working with men and boys, the NGO Promundo Global has adapted its programs "Programa P," which promotes co-responsible and non-violent fatherhood, and "Programa H|M|D," which involves adolescents in transforming inequitable and violent gender norms related to masculinity. The training has been adapted to online formats, developing virtual platforms and connecting with remote learning specialists to create interactive video games around gender stereotypes.

Nonetheless, the challenges for implementing primary prevention programs for GBV during the pandemic remain enormous. In addition to those previously mentioned above, other challenges are: lack of secure spaces for the execution of both virtual and face-to face activities, that online programs do not guarantee the protection of confidentiality and privacy of the beneficiaries, and the ability to reach women and children in the most marginalized areas who do not have access to internet or digital tools.

For the World Bank, it remains critical to continue to promote good practices and innovative solutions in the short, medium, and long term that help eliminate gender- based violence beyond the challenges imposed by the current context. 

More Information on these experiences here.


Maria González de Asis

Practice Manager of Social Sustainability and Inclusion for Latin America

Manuel Contreras-Urbina

Senior Social Development Specialist for the Latin America and Caribbean on gender-based violence

Diana Catalina Buitrago Orozco

Consultant on Gender-Based Violence for Latin America and the Caribbean region

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