Bangui — The Central African Republic (CAR) is seeing a surge in gender-based violence (GBV) since the COVID-19 virus pandemic and measures to control it began, with reported injuries to women and children spiking by 69 percent, a new UNDP-led study finds.
Although a national strategy aims to reduce GBV, child marriage, and female genital mutilation, statistics even before the pandemic began were grim—with 11,777 cases identified in 2019, up 174 percent from 2014. Landlocked and impoverished, CAR also ranked second-highest in gender inequality globally, according to UNDP’s 2019 Gender Inequality Index (GIN).
Especially in rural areas, women tend to be poorer than men— 81 percent, compared with 69 percent men—and has the second highest maternal mortality ratio in the world.
Despite its vast natural resources, CAR is consistently ranked among the world’s least healthy countries, with one of the lowest levels of human development, reflecting indices such as access to education, opportunities, jobs, essential services, health care, and technology. Some 2.6 million people, or more than half the population, require humanitarian aid and protection, UN officials say, while a partial closure of borders with Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of the Congo is driving up the cost of imported goods, including basic food items.
Measures to mitigate COVID-19, such as school and business closures, have meanwhile increased the domestic burdens borne by women and girls and sharply reduced their earnings, increasingly the existing vulnerabilities, confining them to homes they often share with their abusers, and limiting access to support and health services.
Since April, GBV has increased by an estimated 10 percent, while reported injuries to women and children have increased 69 percent, rape by 27 percent, and other assaults by 45 percent, according to a June report by crime analysts with the UN stabilization mission in CAR (MINUSCA). Since the first case of COVID-19 was reported in the country, 97 percent of GBV victims have been female and 76 percent underage.
“Even before the pandemic, women in CRA faced major gender-based inequalities, such as to access education and opportunity and the chance to participate in economic and political life,” Natalie Boucly, UNDP Resident Representative in CAR, said. “We know crises can exacerbate violence in home as well as other violence against women and girls. This is a critical time to prioritize support sytems and access to justice.”
Cyber-violence is also on the rise, the report said, with more people confined at home and spending more time online. It called for scaled-up efforts to protect women and girls in this area as well.
UNDP recommendations to address GBV include:
• Scaling up awareness campaigns to promote gender equality and fight GBV.
• Raising awareness of police and legal services to address GBV.
• Boosting capacity among civil society organizations to support survivors and monitor cases.
• Educating women and girls to protect themselves from online violence and harassment.
• Scaling up government capacity to process and prosecute cases.
• Launching an emergency fund to increase social protections, notably targeting informal workers hit hard by the pandemic and measures to address it.
• Using economic and financial measures to support businesses, micro-enterprises, and individuals suffering economically as a result of the crisis.
UNDP activities on the ground
In June, UNDP launched an effort with civil society organizations and the Government to educate the public on the increased risk of violence resulting from the pandemic. It created billboards, community radio messages, and social media posts on recognizing, preventing, and responding to GBV.
UNDP is also advocating for greater women’s participation in managing the pandemic and ensuring that data collection and analysis on COVID-19’s impact include its gender dimensions—and that social and economic support programs target young people, women, and other vulnerable people.