Following Secretary-General António Guterres’s call for an end to violence in war zones and in homes, the heads of 10 United Nations agencies have issued a joint video statement to raise awareness about the alarming global spike in gender-based violence during the covid-19 pandemic.

The Spotlight Initiative video draws attention to growing reports of violence against women and girls. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, IOM Director-General António Vitorino, UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay, UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore, ILO Director-General Guy Ryder, UNODC Executive Director Ghada Fathi Waly, UNFPA Executive Director Natalia Kanem, UNDP Executive Director Achim Steiner and WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus all took part. They called on men to stop perpetuating violence once and for all, and for male allies to stand up to protect the rights of women and girls.


The video is part of the Initiative’s global #WithHer campaign to highlight the prevalence of violence against women and girls around the world.

Before the pandemic, one in three women experienced violence in her lifetime. Increased stress levels, economic and food insecurity, unemployment, and movement restrictions caused by COVID-19 now put even more women at risk.

In parts of China, police reported triple the number of domestic violence incidents during the lockdown compared to the same month the previous year, while in South Africa, police received 87,000 gender-based violence complaints in the first seven days of lockdown alone. Domestic violence in Brazil increased more than 430 per cent between the months of February and April, according to a study carried out by the Public Security Forum of Brazil and the firm Decode Pulse. True rates of violence are likely higher, as domestic violence is typically under-reported. This is happening at a time when accessing services has become even harder for many women.

Spotlight Initiative is advocating for governments to include women and girls in their COVID-19 response plans and for women’s shelters to be considered essential services. Country teams are working to move services and campaigns online, to scale up support to civil society organizations, and to ensure that women can continue to access sexual and reproductive health care throughout the pandemic.