What happened after COVID-19 hit: Bolivia

Yobanca Fernandez Flores: “Many women faced violence; some did not survive”


Even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, 243 million women and girls globally were abused by their intimate partners in the past year. Since the pandemic, with lockdowns measures, countries around the world have seen an alarming rise in reporting on violence against women, especially domestic violence. UN Women is working with women on the front lines who are responding to the shadow pandemic of violence against women and girls every day. “What Happened after COVID-19 hit”, brings you some of their stories, and how our programmes are backing solutions that leave no one behind.

Yobanca Fernandez Flores. Photo: UN Women/Débora Fernandez
Yobanca Fernandez Flores. Photo: UN Women/Débora Fernandez
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Suddenly everything closed: the streets, the offices, and the stores. All of us were locked in, but for some, it was a nightmare.

Many women faced violence; some did not survive. They were so afraid. They couldn't go out, and I felt helpless because I couldn’t reach them. I started looking for alternative ways of supporting them.

Since we couldn't visit women in their homes anymore, we started using WhatsApp to contact them. We have some lawyers and psychologists in our organization. They took the lead because they were the ones who started attending to the women since public services were not functioning well.

The crisis also created financial problems. Together with my team, I began to raise funds to finance small projects to help unemployed women who were survivors of violence. We even distributed food.

The COVID-19 pandemic was something new in our lives; violence against women was not. Even so, we had to find new ways to protect and help women facing violence during the pandemic.”

UN Women responds through programmes on the ground

Yobanca Fernandez Flores has been a women’s rights activist for more than 35 years. She is also the National President of the Community Promoters for the Prevention of Gender-based Violence in Bolivia. Together with hundreds of women leaders in the country, the Community Promoters have formed a network of advocates who provide direct support to victims and survivors of gender-based violence during the COVID-19 pandemic.

;For many women in abusive relationships, staying home became the greatest risk when the lockdown measures went into effect. A number of women’s organizations reported rising calls for help from women and noted that the violence had become more brutal. For migrant women, the situation was equally dismal, as they were stranded between borders in temporary camps.

Liliana Fuentes  Photo: UN Women/Débora Fernandez
Liliana Fuentes. Photo: UN Women/Débora Fernandez

Flores and other community promoters had to adapt new ways of outreach and support, using technology.

Liliana Fuentes, the Director of another women’s organization, SEPMUD, appealed to the Municipal Integral Legal Services (SLIMs) – centres that provide legal and psychological support to survivors – in in more than 300 municipalities to resume their work virtually so that survivors could access some support. SEPMUD, with UN Women’s support, prepared guidance for municipal authorities on how to assist survivors of gender-based violence during COVID-19 quarantine.

With financial contributions from the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, UN Women is supporting local institutions and women’s organizations across Bolivia to maintain essential services for survivors of violence.