In June 2020, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) released a report entitled The Shadow Pandemic: Gender-based violence among Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. Using data collected from IRC women’s centres and health programme sites between July and December 2019, the IRC found that despite the enormous social, cultural, and psychological barriers women and girls must overcome when reporting incidents, prior to the onset of COVID-19, one in four women and girls screened in Cox’s Bazar was a survivor of gender-based violence (GBV).

This new update brief offers new data from IRC and partner programme sites from January - October 2020, a period of time in which women and girls faced new protection risks, mental health issues, and a reduction in available services in the camps, in addition to significant new barriers to reporting incidents of GBV. IRC GBV screening data in this report suggests that despite the significant pre-existing barriers to reporting incidents of GBV outlined in our June Shadow Pandemic report, and in the face of the substantial new barriers posed by COVID-19, reported rates of GBV among Rohingya in Cox’s Bazar remain shockingly high, particularly among women and girls in their own homes.

The IRC’s analysis finds that the majority - 94 percent - of recorded GBV incidents in this time period were perpetrated by intimate partners, a significantly higher rate than the 81 percent average indicated in the June Shadow Pandemic report. The primary form of GBV reported by women and girls remained physical assault, with spikes in recorded in GBVIMS data found particularly during April, the first month following lockdown in Cox’s Bazar, and September, shortly after GBV prevention activities had restarted, suggesting a clear link between availability of GBV services and the ability of women and girls to report GBV incidents.

Summary of recommendations:

  • UN agencies leading the protection working group, and GBV sub-working group, as well as the Strategic Executive Group in Dhaka should use all opportunities to advocate to the Government of Bangladesh to ensure centre-based GBV prevention and response services are designated as “essential” (with necessary social distancing) to enable survivors of GBV to access services and heal and recover. In addition, all UN sector leads should ensure appropriate protection and GBV mainstreaming to mitigate the risks women and girls face in accessing essential services.
  • The GBV sub-sector should offer sensitisation sessions, training, and technical support on GBV programming and standards to the Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner’s (RRRC) office, including the Camp-in-Charge, to establish a more consistent and informed approach towards GBV programming.
  • Donors should ensure funding for the GBV response is prioritised in donor strategies and that funding levels are increased for the 2021 Joint Response Plan (JRP) to ensure the expansion of life saving GBV programming.
  • International donors should work with the Ministry of Women and Children’s Affairs, as well as UN agencies and local and national women’s rights organisations, to agree a strategy for the localisation of the Rohingya GBV response.