UNDP’s regional response to gender-based violence during the COVID-19 pandemic

December 1, 2021

Suva, Fiji
- The UN Development Programme (UNDP), UN Women and projects partners joined efforts in the first multi-country livestream event on Facebook on 25 November to mobilize the UN system, government partners, civil society and women’s rights organizations to advocate for a world free of violence against women and girls.

The event officially inaugurates the start of the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence (GBV). Within the global theme, the UNDP Pacific Office campaign for 2021 is titled “End Violence against Women Now! Respond, Innovate and Leave no One Behind to Orange the World”.

Through the three-day livestream events organized on Facebook between 25 November (the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women) and 10 December 2021 (International Human Rights Day), UNDP Pacific Office aims to raise awareness on prevention actions against GBV and the existing response GBV services that are available in the region. As in previous years, the colour orange represents a brighter future, free from violence against women and girls.

According to the latest estimates, nearly one in three women aged 15 years and older, around the world have been subjected to physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner, non-partner or both, at least once in their lifetime.

In Pacific island countries, violence against women and girls is among the highest in the world. National research shows high rates of GBV lifetime experience in Tonga (79 percent), Fiji (72 percent), Vanuatu (72 percent) and Solomon Islands (64 percent).

The recent COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated all the risk factors for Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG), including unemployment and poverty which reinforced many of the root causes such as gender stereotypes and harmful social norms.

There has been a significant increase in reported violence in countries in the Pacific region during COVID-19 lock-downs,” said UN Women’s Fiji Multi-Country Office Representative, Sandra Bernklau during the opening remarks.

In Fiji, there was a recorded 606 percent increase in calls to the national Domestic Violence helpline between February - April 2020. In Tonga, the women’s crisis recorded 54 percent increase in the number of cases coming in during that period. In Samoa, there has been a 150 percent increase in helpline calls in 2020 compared to the same time in 2019.

In her presentation, Ms. Reijeli Mawa, EVAW Desk Officer at the Ministry of Women, Children and Poverty Alleviation in Fiji, provided an overview of available referral mechanism and governments specific actions to prevent GBV during the lockdowns. 

“We encourage women and girls to take advantage of the existing GBV prevention and response services such as the REACH buses, coming directly to your communities,” added Thomas Bali, from Ministry of Women, Children and Poverty Alleviation in Fiji.

Speakers, panelists and attendees during the first livestream event on November 25th, 2021. (Photo: Fiji TV/Tevita Nawadra)

Fiji TV studio hosting the Livestream Event (Photo: UNDP)

The event was also an opportunity to hear from civil society and women’s rights organizations’ experiences. The executive director of SISTA in Vanuatu, Yasmine Bjornum, funded under the Spotlight Initiative, shared important field lessons learned on how to improve access to high-quality, comprehensive and multisectoral GBV services, and how to involve male champions to challenge the current narrative.

“Violence is not a custom. Respect is a custom,” she stated.

The discussions highlight the need to prioritize funding for a minimum package of services that include GBV prevention and response in COVID-19 fiscal stimulus packages, and to make flexible funding available for women’s rights organizations working at the nexus of COVID-19 and gender-based violence.

“We all need to join hands with the aim of creating awareness and take action on ending violence against women and girls, in partnership with government and civil society. The building better and building forward together for post COVID-19 should have a focus on GBV prevention and response and ensure women and girls leave a world free of violence,” said Levan Bouadze.

“COVID-19 has exacerbated all the risk factors for VAWG, including unemployment and poverty, and reinforced many of the root causes such as gender stereotypes and harmful social norms,” added Sandra Bernklau. 

As the 16 Days of Activism against GBV kicked-off, there is a need to undertake explicit measures so that access to services for survivors of GBV are maintained as essential during COVID-19 lockdowns and other crisis affecting the region.

“The Pacific Region is facing a whole crisis with COVID-19 and climate change. Going forward, we must be aware of the intricate interconnections between gender-based violence and crisis,” said UNDP Bangkok Regional Hub Gender Team Leader, Koh Miyaoi.

A powerful “End Violence Against Women Now!” called out by all participants under the guidance of the moderator, Anne Pakoa, closed the first livestream event “RESPOND”.

The second event on 2 December 2021 titled “INNOVATE”, had speakers sharing best practices, lessons learned and challenges in our fight against GBV through technology and participatory approaches.

You can find more details here: Respond, innovate & leave no one behind to 'Orange the World' | UNDP in the Pacific

For media queries, please contact:

Michela Lugiai, UNV Gender Specialist, UNDP Pacific Office in Fiji; email: michela.lugiai@undp.org

Setaita Tavanabola, Communications and Knowledge Associate, UNDP Pacific Office in Fiji; email: setaita.tavanabola@undp.org or tel: +(679) 3227 523