In this week’s “Expert’s Take” we spoke to Raising Voice’s co-founder and co-director Lori Michau about the impact of COVID-19 on violence against women and children. Raising Voices is a nonprofit organization based in Kampala, Uganda working toward the prevention of violence against women and children.
Their work strives to influence the power dynamics shaping relationships between women and men, girls and boys, and adults and children, by catalyzing social change in communities, rigorously studying and learning from their work, and sharing their experiences to shape the field.
Lori Michau: Girls and women are at increased risk for violence during COVID-19 both at home and in the community. Any violence or threat of violence in the home is exacerbated during this time because of lockdown orders where girls and women are not able to leave their homes, there is increased stress and economic hardship, and the typical coping mechanisms and support systems are weak or unavailable.
The risk of violence outside the home is also increasing because public places are more deserted, without lighting because people can’t afford to pay for electricity, and with far fewer community members around, businesses open and the regular movement of life which can be a protective factor for women and girls.
In some places there are far fewer law enforcement officers present while in others, the increased presence of police and military officers brings a new threat of violence. Finally, economic hardship increases women and girls’ vulnerability to transactional sex.
Lori Michau: Violence against women is caused by gender inequality. The current COVID-19 circumstances heighten women’s vulnerability to violence.
Until we tackle the power imbalance between women and men both at an individual and structural level, women and girls will remain at risk for violence both during and after the pandemic.
Lori Michau: SASA! programming relies heavily on interpersonal connection and engagement in communities. Ideas are shared, discussed and actions created collectively among community members with support from staff.
COVID-19 is impacting every aspect of community life and SASA! and violence against women prevention programming more generally must adapt. The first consideration is always safety – and this has additional implications at this time.
Given the crisis, it is critical that we prioritize outreach and support to women and girls at risk for violence, supporting their mental health as well as their efforts to plan for their safety during this time. All efforts must ensure the safety of community activists and leaders as they seek to support women and girls experiencing or at risk of violence.
Second, the nature of violence against women prevention discussions needs to change. This is not a time for very provocative and difficult conversations – it is a time to encourage kindness, patience, healthy relationships, and collective support and solidarity.
Third, it requires strategizing about what types of activities are possible given the government directives in each country/community. In some communities where smartphones and internet connectivity are common, virtual organizing is happening, in other communities only radio and public speakers are possible, and in others family or compound-based activism is happening. It is time to be creative!
Lori Michau: Preventing violence against women and girls is more critical now than ever. We can use this time to build connections, relationships, and solidarity during this time – even while social distancing. Further, the pandemic highlights the importance of prioritizing wellbeing and care practices, as individuals, organizations, and movements.
COVID-19 is providing an opportunity for us to focus on what is essential – our interdependence on one another and our ability to overcome adversity. This requires leadership from organizations, community leaders, and community members and a collective commitment that together, we truly are stronger.
Lori Michau: This is new territory for us all. Connecting with others, sharing, listening, and learning from communities and each other is critical at this time. Document experiences, successes, and failures.
Lori Michau: This is a difficult time that is changing us in unprecedented ways. As we adjust and find a new rhythm, many inspiring examples are emerging from activist organizations around the world–demonstrating that we can continue our activism to prevent violence against women and girls, even during COVID-19.
This amplifies the need for funding and flexibility to local and national women’s rights organizations who are at the forefront of supporting communities during this time.
Additionally, learn more about two Raising Voices interventions highlighted “What Works to Prevent Sexual Violence Against Children” in our “Solutions Spotlights” of SASA! and the Good School Toolkit.