Charting the way forward: A summary of “Violence Against Women and Girls Data Collection during COVID-19”

By Kathleen O’Brien


The COVID-19 pandemic has exercised a multitude of effects on women all over the world. An important piece in the understanding of such effects lies in the procurement of data that is specific to women. Obtaining data that is reflective of gender plays a valuable role in the process of advocating for pertinent issues and the creation of meaningful policy (1)(2). UN Women and the World Health Organization have released a document entitled Violence Against Women and Girls Data Collection during COVID-19 which highlights important considerations for the acquisition of data during this challenging time (2). Key elements of this document will be summarized below.

COVID-19 has had an impact on violence against women and girls (VAWG) through a variety of avenues. As we engage in physical distancing and work to contain the virus, women face increased risk of situations in which they are stuck with abusers (2). Moreover, with closures or alterations made to businesses and services, as well as an inability to connect with loved ones in the usual fashion, those who are facing VAWG may struggle in their search for the necessary supports to help them navigate these horrific situations (2).

Acquisition of data related to VAWG and the COVID-19 pandemic helps to establish a better understanding of the current trends in VAWG, the impacts of the pandemic on support services for women, and the ability of women to connect with services given the current climate (2). This information can not only inform the creation of initiatives and policies, but also provides guidance on how to respond should similar circumstances take place in the future (2). While the acquisition of data is important, the ease with which it can be acquired poses a barrier. For the individual collecting data, barriers may stem from a lack of access to in-person means of data collection, which they would usually have at their disposal, along with a potential inability to securely store data (2). On the part of those experiencing VAWG, barriers exist surrounding safe disclosure of information in the context of technological devices (2, 3). Given these issues, it is noted that “prevalence data on VAWG during the COVID-19 pandemic, therefore, will likely not be collected.”(2, p2).

For those who are undertaking this collection of data despite these barriers, it is important to establish what sources of data are already out there and could be of service to you (2). If you are collecting new data, it is important to adhere to “The globally agreed ethical and safety principles for data collection on VAWG…”(2, p3) outlined in Putting Women First: Ethical and Safety Recommendations for Research on Domestic Violence against Women (4). Furthermore, when planning to pursue this data collection, it is essential not to invoke any harm to the participants (2). You must determine the best way to collect your data as well as who to collect your data from (2). Those who are trying to quickly ascertain data related to the repercussions of COVID-19 on groups of people (for example, economic repercussions) should not be directly asking women to report on violence they have suffered (2). If this information must be acquired, asking about the individual’s sense of being safe in more general contexts is a preferred approach to promote patient safety (2). Finally, this document concludes with a message regarding the need to “Advocate for the needs of women and girls who are often marginalized” (2, p4).

For more details and to read the full document, please visit: https://www.unwomen.org/-/media/headquarters/attachments/sections/library/publications/2020/vawg-data-collection-during-covid-19-compressed.pdf?la=en&vs=2339.

(1) Duerto Valero S. Why are gender statistics important? [slides on Internet]. Nadi: UN Women; 2019 cited 2020 Apr 28] [about 18 screens]. Available from: https://www.unescap.org/sites/default/files/Why%20are%20gender%20statistics%20important.pdf

(2) UN Women, World Health Organization. Violence against women and girls data collection during COVID-19. [Internet]. [Place unknown]: World Health Organization, United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women; 2020 [cited 2020 Apr 28]. Available from: https://www.unwomen.org/-/media/headquarters/attachments/sections/library/publications/2020/vawg-data-collection-during-covid-19-compressed.pdf?la=en&vs=2339

(3) Safety Net Project. Technology Safety [blog on the Internet]. Washington: National Network to End Domestic Violence. [date unknown]. Using technology to communicate with survivors during a public health crisis; 2020—; [cited 2020 Apr 30]; [about 5 screens]. Available from https://www.techsafety.org/digital-services-during-public-health-crises

(4) World Health Organization. Putting women first: Ethical and safety recommendations for research on domestic violence against women. [Internet]. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2001 [cited 2020 Apr 29]. 31p. Available from: https://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/65893/WHO_FCH_GWH_01.1.pdf;jsessionid=1C27E94650A6E14520D13B1B74ABAB54?sequence=1

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