COVID-19 and a pandemic of gender-based violence

Annual Report 2019-20

Dr. Nazilla Khanlou establishes best practices for supporting the mental health of racialized victims of gender-based violence during the pandemic

Gender-based violence (GBV) is a global problem that has devastating effects on the mental and physical health of women. 

Physical distancing and quarantines create circumstances where abuse victims are cut-off from social support networks and unable to leave their homes, putting women experiencing violence from intimate partners or family members in an especially vulnerable position.

Incidents of GBV increased by as much as 30% in Canada as a result of the pandemic and racialized women are being disproportionately affected.

Faced with this starting increase in violence, Dr. Nazilla Khanlou and her team have endeavoured to identify social determinants of GBV and identify best practices for service providers assisting racialized women during the pandemic.

Supported by a grant from the Canadian Institute of Health Research (CIHR)’s Knowledge Synthesis Grant: COVID-19 Rapid Research Funding Opportunity in Mental Health and Substance Abuse, Dr. Khanlou and her team have performed an analysis of the many social systems that impact racialized populations and the systems of support provided to them. They have applied that knowledge to establish recommendations for service providers on how to deliver the best possible mental health support to racialized women experiencing GBV.

“We are a multidisciplinary team and are fortunate to be working closely with our community collaborators and knowledge users on the project with extensive experience in addressing GBV and providing services applying a trauma-informed and intersectionality informed lens,” says Dr. Khanlou.

One major aspect of their findings is the importance of taking a survivor-centric approach. This means focusing on the wellbeing of the survivor and respecting their agency and dignity. The team underlines the need to listen to survivors and understand that their needs may be different from what providers expect. They also advise providers to be aware of the local services and the referral pathway to get survivors the care they need and want through a safe and trauma-informed approach. During the pandemic, it’s especially important to plan to offer care remotely.

Dr. Khanlou’s research has also produced several policy recommendations, including addressing GBV as a public health issue, integrating gender-responsive programming to COVID-19 responses, and applying critical race, intersectional, human rights and community-based approaches. She also emphasizes the need to follow UN guiding principles for data collection, including data on race, gender, sex, and ethnicity.

“Our guidelines apply an upstream approach and recognize the multi-system factors that impact the mental health of racialized women at risk of GBV during COVID-19 pandemic’s response and recovery phases,” says Dr. Khanlou.

As the pandemic continues to impact our society, the guidelines Dr. Khanlou and her team have produced will provide a valuable resource for those working to battle gender-based violence.