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Filippa Dahlback (left) is a UN Youth Volunteer fully funded by Sweden assigned to UNHCR in the city of Boa Vista, Brazil.

Protecting refugee women at greater risk of gender-based violence due to COVID-19

Did you ever imagine that an unprecedented pandemic would affect the world during our lifetime? At the time of writing, the World Health Organization (WHO) has reported more than 3.5 million cases of COVID-19. Of these,1.5 million are in the Americas. Filippa Dahlback, a Swedish sponsored UN Youth Volunteer with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in Brazil, shares UNHCR’s approach to preventing sexual and gender-based violence in its COVID-19 response.

While the elderly, people with disabilities and refugees are all at high risk, COVID-19 has also led to a surge in sexual and gender-based violence. This is alarming for Filippa, who works with UNHCR on prevention and tailoured response.

Women are at risk of physical, psychological and emotional violence. These risks could increase due to confinement, increased anxiety and deterioration of mental health. --Filippa Dahlback, UN Volunteer Associate Protection Officer with UNHCR, Boa Vista

As part of her work in community-based protection, Filippa protects the rights of survivors of sexual and gender-based violence. She monitors UNHCR shelters for insight into how women are at greater risk due to the COVID-19 pandemic. She also supports women out of shelters who have become more vulnerable to risks they already face as refugees, due to quarantine measures for example, and identifies means to mitigate, prevent and respond to these.

Men and women face different challenges as refugees during the COVID-19 pandemic. Women, who are often caregivers and single moms struggling to support their children, are at greater risk of domestic violence. They lose job opportunities, and they lack access to psychosocial support and sexual and reproductive health services. --Filippa Dahlback

UNHCR Brazil has worked with other UN agencies, non-governmental organizations and government departments to provide the basic hygiene and cleaning needs of refugees. 

If I’m making the world a little bit better for at least one person, then it's worth it. It's always been the natural choice for me. --Filippa Dahlback

In addition to identifying and assisting the vulnerable, UNHCR and its partners relocate confirmed COVID-19 cases to cleaner and safer protection and care areas (APC). This falls under Operação Acolhida, an initiative bringing together several government and UN entities in response to the Venezuelan influx to Brazil, co-lead by UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

Amidst the pandemic, UNHCR has donated 2,000 beds and 250 refugee house units to the protection area. The agency has also supported the development of architecture projects. It has collaborated with the armed forces to identify those particularly vulnerable to COVID-19.

Before becoming a UN Volunteer, Filippa volunteered with the Red Cross in Sweden. She also worked with a non-governmental organization that provides foster homes, education, and health services for children at risk in Bolivia. Her passion for serving inspired her to become a UN Volunteer.

This article was prepared with the kind support of Online Volunteers Nichool Castro and Anderson Ezie.