New York, NY, June 8, 2020 — New data from the International Rescue Committee (IRC) and partners show a dramatic increase in reports of gender-based violence across Latin America since the COVID-19 pandemic. In El Salvador, reports have increased 70% since the pandemic, and in Mexico femicides increased by 65% between March and April. Our IRC information hub for essential services saw a 30-fold increase in searches related to gender-based violence protection since the pandemic.
Recent IRC and partner data shows substantial increases in reports of gender-based violence across Latin America since the COVID-19 pandemic, which are all likely under-estimates:
- El Salvador - Nearly 200 complaints of violence against women were reported by the Organization of Salvadoran Women for Peace from March 17 to May 22, a 70% increase of reports compared to 2019.
- Mexico - Chihuahua state, where the IRC operates in 17 shelters, reported a 65% increase in femicides between March 2020 and April 2020.
- Colombia - According to the Presidential Counselor for Equity for women, during the first days of the national quarantine there was a 51% increase in cases of domestic violence against women.
- Venezuela - For the month of April 2020, there was a 65% increase in femicides compared to April 2019.
- Honduras - Since the pandemic, the number of reported cases of domestic and intra-family violence increased by 4.1% per week.
The IRC operates a multi-platform information hub with two-way messaging, “CuentaNos,” where users in El Salvador and Honduras (and soon Guatemala) can seek information and service providers for essential services, such as health, education, and gender-based violence protection, as well as critical information on signs and symptoms of COVID-19. CuentaNos data as of May 31 reveals drastic increases in searches and requests for help due to gender-based violence since the onset of the pandemic:
- In February, before the pandemic, 1,574 unique users visited CuentaNos’ Facebook page on gender-based violence. In May, that number jumped over 30-fold to 38,902.
- Through two-way communication on WhatsApp with the technology Twilio, CuentaNos users can reach out to trained IRC moderators for support. In March, one user reached out for gender-based violence support, while in May, 121 people reached out for support.
- The top three searches across CuentaNos’ website in May 2019 were, in order: employment, children’s and youths and education. During the month of May in 2020, the top three searches changed to, in order: COVID-19 and health services, women and employment.
Meghan Lopez, the International Rescue Committee’s Regional Director of Latin America, said, “In the wake of COVID-19, women and adolescent girls, many of whom were already experiencing forms of violence are now taking on double and triple responsibilities all in confined spaces 24 hours of the day, some completely stuck with their perpetrators and in increasingly vulnerable situations, without any respite. This, coupled with services closed due to quarantine and lockdown -- 95% of local and government response services are closed in El Salvador, for example -- puts women and girls at high risk of serious harm or death. Greater funding to support efforts -- such as the IRC’s Women’s Protection and Empowerment efforts from Mexico to Northern Central America to Venezuela -- will ensure women and girls who are experiencing GBV have accessible and safe response services they need during this crisis through psychosocial support and that they have information on the proper referral pathways for shelter and clinical care for gender-based violence.”
The IRC has ramped up support and unveiled innovative strategies to combat gender-based violence across Latin America since the pandemic:
- El Salvador - In addition to the IRC’s service mapping program CuentaNos, the IRC’s El Salvador team has started a new initiative to respond to the urgent needs of women and girls at risk of GBV. The program provides access to information regarding referral pathways for GBV survivors and protection services, the provision of life-saving, safe multi-purpose cash transfers and basic supplies, and immediate crisis psychosocial support for women and girls at risk of or experiencing GBV via messaging or telephone.
- Mexico - The IRC launched, together with local authorities and civil society partners, a public health awareness and psychosocial support campaign for shelters at the Mexico-US border in Ciudad Juárez, benefiting 17 shelters and nearly 10,000 people. The IRC has also worked with local partners to set up a hotel for asylum seekers in Ciudad Juárez to quarantine for 14 days before moving into shelters. In the shelter, women can receive virtual case management.
- Colombia - The IRC is providing small group and individual psychosocial support in Medellin, with staff wearing PPE and following proper social distancing. In the IRC’s clinic in Cucuta and in communities, the IRC is also providing group sessions to prevent gender-based violence.
- Venezuela - The IRC is supporting partners providing a hotline for gender-based violence survivors to call and receive psychosocial support, referrals and service options.