Written by Gabrielle Szabo, Senior Policy and Advocacy Adviser on Gender Equality
On April 6, 2020, the UN Secretary General called for a global ceasefire on all forms of violence in response to what he called a “horrifying surge in violence against women and girls in the home”. More than 140 governments responded to the call. Yesterday, just short of the six-month anniversary of the Secretary-General’s announcement, the UN answered civil society calls for accountability by launching its COVID-19 Global Gender Response Tracker. This is a critical step forward, providing precious new data at a time when policy-makers, advocates and researchers are struggling to keep up with rapidly changing circumstances.
What can the tracker tell us?
The tracker currently looks at 2,500 policy measures enacted by governments in 206 countries and territories and will be continually updated. It is a remarkable example of the value of collaboration between governments and UN agencies, and an important step in support of accountability to women and girls. The tracker examines the introduction of ‘gender-sensitive’ policy measures and responses to violence against women and girls, efforts to promote their economic security and address unpaid care burdens (like childcare and chores).
Global analysis shows us that low and high-income countries all over the world are implementing gender-related measures in response to COVID-19:
- Almost 80% (164) of countries and territories surveyed had introduced measures considered gender-sensitive in response to COVID-19 – a total of 992 measures.
- More than 70% (704) of those measures were intended to address violence compared to just 17% (177) aimed at economic and social security and 11% (111) aimed at addressing unpaid care work.
- Two-thirds (63%) of measures to address violence concerned services, including helplines and shelters, and the next most common measure was awareness-raising (18%).
- Poor and fragile countries and territories are the least likely to have introduced both measures to address violence and gender-sensitive measures in general.
And what about girls?
We know that girls face high-levels of gender-based violence, including age-specific violence like child marriage. But adolescent girls in particular, too often fall through the gaps between child protection and gender-based violence services. Girls are also more likely to shoulder excessive burdens of unpaid work, particularly in times of crisis. So, what does the tracker tell us about how governments are addressing girls’ needs?
The tracker is not age-disaggregated but back-of-the-envelope analysis by Save the Children shows that girls are specifically referenced or addressed by just 16% (33) of the 206 countries/territories analyzed – on quick inspection, many of these measures have girl-specific elements and cannot simply be accounted for by the tendency to refer to “women and girls” collectively.Just three of these 50 measures (in Chile, Mexico and Uganda) relate to social protection, all of the others address violence.
What sorts of measures are governments taking?
Measures range from helplines and shelters to women only police emergency response teams (Jordan), awareness-raising activities, panic buttons on smart phones (Guatemala), virtual court hearings (Barbados) and safe spaces (Afghanistan, Bolivia), to additional leave for working mothers (Mexico), bicycles for gender-based violence service providers (Malawi), issuing of alerts for missing women, girls and boys (Guatemala), support to access menstrual hygiene products (South Africa), and inclusion of women’s organizations in government briefings (Uruguay).
Do any countries stand out?
Any number of countries could be identified as standouts, but some exciting examples include:
- Egypt, which has the highest number of girl-specific measures (4) of any country/territory including new remote referral hotlines, continuation of family court hearings despite suspension of other court hearings and measures to continue and adapt efforts to end harmful practices, specifically female genital mutilation (FGM) through the pandemic.
- Uganda, one of just three countries to include girls’ empowerment programming for economic and social protection through ‘Girls Empowering Girls’, an urban cash transfer and mentoring programme for adolescent girls that has adapted to allow remote enrolment, delivery and mentoring.
- Bangladesh, Cambodia and Kenya, all of which have introduced measures to reduce harmful practices including child marriage and FGM that exclusively or primarily affect girls and are projected to increase as a result of the COVID-19 crisis.
- Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) – despite being a fragile state, DRC is one of just 8% (48) of countries analysed to make violence against women and girls an integral part of their national and local COVID-19 response plans.
With this growing wealth of information at our fingertips, governments must take the opportunity to learn from each other and adapt and improve responses to COVID-19. And advocates must make use of this new accountability tool. Closer examination will be required to understand the extent to which girls’ age-specific needs are being responded to, including in relation to their rights to education and sexual and reproductive health.
The next iteration of the tracker will include a women’s leadership measure. This is an exciting development and will be a real test of governments’ commitment to girls’ right to participate. A global ceasefire on violence against girls is still far from a reality. As we celebrate International Day of the Girl and work toward #GenerationEquality, we must use this new tool to ensure that girls voices are at the centre of decision-making processes, through COVID-19 and as we work together to build back safer.
Save the Children will continue to monitor
content from the Global Gender Response Tracker as part of our own live-tracker
looking at the impact of COVID-19 on children.
 These percentages are based on searches for the term ‘girls’, ‘child marriage’ and ‘FGM’ and ‘female genital mutilation’. Inclusion of the search term ‘child’ would have significantly increased the number of countries and measures considered to be specifically addressing girls and a closer analysis would be needed to determine whether these measures specifically addressed the needs of girl children.