On the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women and the start of the global 16 days of activism against gender-based violence (GBV), UNRWA pays respect to its staff who moved swiftly and resolutely at the onset of the global pandemic to meet the needs of GBV survivors.
UNRWA saw first-hand the impact of early COVID-19 containment measures, including movement restrictions, particularly on women and girls. For example, the number of GBV survivors identified through UNRWA services dropped by more than half in March and April in some fields, while at the same time the severity of physical assault and psychological abuse reported increased.
Despite the difficulty of continuing their work during lockdowns, UNRWA staff pivoted to offer remote assistance, WhatsApp check-ins and adapted referral pathways. UNRWA health clinics are using physical distancing and personal protective equipment (PPE) and delivering remote mental health and psychosocial support and to address GBV as part of the COVID-19 response. The Agency’s Staying Safe Online campaign as part of its work on Addressing Violence against Children will incorporate animation to build awareness with all UNRWA beneficiaries, including children, youth and parents, to work together to enjoy safe, online experiences.
These efforts have not been in vain. In the first months of global restrictions, between March and July, UNRWA assisted nearly 1500 GBV survivors, the vast majority seeking assistance between May and July following the initial decline.
Even before the global impact of COVID-19 became visible, violence against women and girls was an issue of pandemic proportions that continues to deny the right to live in safety and dignity, including in one’s own home.
UNRWA is operating at full capacity but with inadequate resources, and funds are now urgently needed so staff can continue to deliver essential services without disruption. With the Agency’s cash flow at their lowest levels since 2012, and with needs of refugees critically high because of the impact of COVID-19, the risk for GBV survivors become acute if support to them is threatened. Only if sufficient funding is received will the Agency be able to continue to support Palestine refugees most at risk, and for whom the consequences of GBV will continue well beyond the current pandemic.