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Yangon, Myanmar – Though COVID-19 does not discriminate, it has a devastating impact on safety and wellbeing of women and girls, making them more vulnerable. There is increasing evidence from the countries most affected by COVID-19 that gender-based violence (GBV), especially intimate partner violence (IPV), is increasing. Extended quarantines, curfews and other movement restriction measures, combined with fear, tension and stress related to COVID-19, have led to increased reports of gender-based violence. UNFPA globally estimates that there would be additional 15 million GBV cases for every 3 months the lockdown continues.

“The essential services which the survivors require are reduced as resources are diverted to respond to the overall health crisis and service providers are also restricted from providing usual services due to control measures,” said UNFPA’s GBV programme specialist Eri Taniguchi.

According to Myanmar Demographic Health Survey (2015-2016), 21 percent of ever-married women have experienced spousal violence and the most common type of spousal violence is physical violence. In Myanmar, violence against women is widelyperceived as a domestic issue rather than a public issue. The pandemic control measures could create more risk for women and girls in Myanmar to be exposed to the different forms of gender-based violence including domestic violence. Therefore, it is important that women and girls can access reliable GBV services even in this time of emergency.

Local CSO case worker providing gender-based violence
services in Kachin State.  © UNFPA

“We have established a helpline to report violence either by survivors or community. In addition to helpline, we provide safety for women and girls who have experienced violence through One-Stop Women Support Centre (OSWSC) which provides service where the survivors can get safety and psycho-social support. Those were achieved due to the Government’s collaborative effort with UN agencies as well as with national and local women’s committees,” said Director General of Department of Social Welfare Dr. San San Aye.

UNFPA, the United Nations sexual and reproductive health agency, has been working closely with the Government of Myanmar, NGO and CSO partners to ensure availability of and accessibility to critical GBV services such as case management, safe house and psychosocial support. UNFPA provides technical support to GBV partners to adapt GBV services to COVID-19 situation, especially shifting towards remote services through phones, provide personal protection equipment (PPE) for GBV case managers.

During COVID-19 outbreak, safe house and helpline are critical lifeline for GBV survivors. The GBV helplines are open to the public 24 hours during the pandemic. Being the first line responders to the survivor, the helpline staff has to know the basic gender based violence concept and  communication skills to engage with survivors, including active listening. They also have to be fully aware on the updated information and basic knowledge on COVID-19 related information.

Upon request by Department of Social Welfare (DSW), UNFPA organized online training on GBV in emergencies for DSW safe house and helpline staff. More than 40 participants from across the country joined this training online and they learned practical tips and skills to adapt GBV service provision to the COVID-19 situation, including how to take a crisis call, safety planning, updating GBV referral pathways, safe house operations during COVID-19, remote psychological first aid, staff/self-care, etc..  Dr. San San Aye, Director General of DSW, added, “As a service providing department, we are strengthening the staff capacity with UNFPA’s technical assistance. I really have a high expectation from this training.”

Daw Ngwe Zin Thant from Department of Social Welfare shared her experience, “This GBV online training changes our regular way of work. As a helpline staff, it helps me understand which assistance the survivor needs most on the ground in this COVID-19 situation, and see how she might feel as a survivor and how I can provide services remotely. Through this knowledge and techniques, regardless of movement restriction and challenges during pandemic, I feel much confident to respond to GBV reporting and help the survivors to ensure they receive our services effectively.”


The initiative is part of the Women and Girls First Programme, which is supported by Australia, the EU, Finland, Germany, Italy and Sweden.