What happened after COVID-19 hit: Malawi

Alepher Matemba Banda: Learning to identify abuse and assist survivors of violence during COVID-19


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.

Alepher Matemba Banda. Photo courtesy of Alepher Matemba Banda
Alepher Matemba Banda. Photo courtesy of Alepher Matemba Banda
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Most of the calls I receive on the hotline these days concern challenges that clients are facing with the outbreak of COVID-19. Many pregnant women are worried because they do not have resources to prevent contracting the virus. At the same time, girls are concerned about unplanned pregnancies due to scarcity of family planning methods in health facilities.

I provide information on COVID-19 symptoms, locations of test centres and preventative measures, using a computerized system. Our clients, who are mostly pregnant women and adolescent girls, call through a toll-free line.

We also receive calls from [victims] of gender-based violence. I have been working at Chipata cha pa foni for three years. Before being trained on gender-based violence, I couldn’t identify different forms of violence and serve our clients who were facing violence. If I suspected cases of violence, I used to report the cases to my supervisor. I couldn’t even provide any temporary assistance to the [victim]. The training was an eye-opener for me.

Now when listening to a client on the phone, I can identify survivors of gender-based violence. I can recognize what type of violence they are experiencing and help them without re-victimizing them. I know about the police victim support unit and other organizations that I can refer survivors to.

I am so proud to be able to help a woman or girl take charge of her body, monitor her health and be safe.”

UN Women responds through programmes on the ground

Along with economic and social stress, restricted movement and isolation measures during COVID-19 have increased the vulnerability of women and girls to sexual and gender-based violence in East and Southern Africa. This is happening at the same time that support services are being disrupted.

In Malawi, thirty-one-year old Alepher Matemba Banda is a nurse responding to a hotline at Chipatala cha pa foni, a national health helpline. Banda was among 40 helpline nurses and technicians who received training in gender-based violence and health, through a UN Women initiative funded by the UN Multi-Partner Trust Fund Office. She learned to recognize signs of abuse and how to safely and ethically provide information, support, and referrals to pregnant women and adolescent girls, using an online system during COVID-19.

The programme aims to reach 4 million women and adolescent girls in Malawi with information on life-saving services.