For the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, we are handing over the mic to women and men on the front line, those who are battling COVID-19 and the pandemic of violence against women and girls that’s relentless and rising. These are the voices of survivors, essential workers, and leaders, telling us what’s urgent, and how we can stop the escalating violence, recover and rebuild from COVID-19.
Psychologist María Adelaida Suárez during a visit to a woman she serves in the gender pairs initiative. Photo: Ombudsman’s Office of Colombia
We’ve had ‘gender pairs’ throughout Colombia (with the exception of two departments Guanía and San Andrés), since 2016.
Gender pairs consist of psychologists and lawyers who support gender-based violence survivors with free psychological and legal support, to prevent revictimization and to get justice.
The women we serve are resilient and have learned to overcome the various forms of violence they have experienced.
That makes me feel deeply happy, not only as a professional, but as a woman. Seeing them succeed in spite of everything gives me the courage to go on and say: ‘this work is worthwhile’.
Our work has become even more challenging because of the pandemic.
Although before this health crisis we were attending to some cases virtually and had a close working relationship with women’s organizations in the territories, we have had to give out our personal telephone numbers so that survivors can contact us 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, because the violence has exacerbated.
However, many of them do not have a cell phones, especially rural women, which has made reporting violence more difficult for them.
Reaching them, reassuring them that they are not alone has been a great challenge because of the distance. Some women have also told us that line 122 of the Prosecutor’s Office, which is used to file complaints, has stopped working.
What can you do to help?
- We must all commit to preventing acts of violence and discrimination against women and girls to reduce inequality and enable them exercise their right to live free of violence.
In the department of Meta, where I handle psychological counselling as part of a gender pair initiative, domestic and intimate partner violence has escalated and women cannot access reproductive health services.
At the end of the day, my reward for all this work is that women know that there is someone who accompanies them and listens to them. This work fills my heart and spirit; it has changed my life.
UN Women works to support survivors of gender-based violence through programmes on the ground
María Adelaida Suárez, a psychologist by profession, is part of the “gender pairs” initiative, which has since 2016 paired survivors of violence in communities with psychologists and legal experts.. The initiative was developed by UN Women Colombia and the Ombudsman’s Office of Colombia and is funded by the United Kingdom.
To date, gender pairs have supported more than 14,000 women who have experienced violence. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, data from the Ombudsman’s Office indicate that gender pairs have assisted at least 1,700 women who reported domestic violence.