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Responding to GBV cases in times of COVID-19: the powerful role of 'Linha Verde' emergency hotline operators

 

“Linha Verde 1458 will offer a fast and safe response to women who suffer violence during COVID-19. It is a source of pride for me, as well as for my co-workers, to know that we are helping those who do not know where to go, especially during this period of COVID-19,” highlights telephone operator, Maria Helena Cesário Rafael. 

Maria Helena is one of the telephone operators for Linha Verde 1458 (LV1458), a toll free hotline in Mozambique launched in May 2019 in the aftermath of Cyclones Idai and Kenneth as a feedback mechanism for humanitarian assistance recipients. As the response to the 2019 Cyclones enters a new phase one year on,  and in response to emerging issues and concerns, the hotline will now include information and support on gender-based violence in settings beyond humanitarian crises.

This expansion is being driven by the recognition of the increased risk of domestic violence faced by women and girls around the world in the context of COVID-19. This is largely due to heightened tensions in the household, unprecedented movement restrictions, and the disruptions of critical protection services and social protection structures. Research by UNFPA predicts that there will be at least 15 million more cases of domestic violence around the world in 2020 for every three months that lockdowns are extended.

Following a training led by UNFPA, 18 Linha Verde phone line operators are now equipped to handle GBV cases during the pandemic, filling a gap in GBV support services that can be delivered remotely.

 

When victims/survivors, family or community members call the line to report GBV cases, operators can provide first line psychosocial support, inform callers about existing services, refer cases to focal points for case follow-up and mandatory reporting, and inform callers about practical protection measures that can be taken to reduce risk and harm in cases of violence during isolation.

"Worldwide the COVID-19 pandemic is exposing women and girls to higher risks of violence. By accelerating the scale-up of Linha Verde 1458 operations in Mozambique, we can enhance our response to abuse and violence in times of COVID-19, improve inter-agency coordination and consolidate the link with government institutions and essential services for sexual and gender-based violence,” shares Valeria Cardia, Programme Analyst/GBV specialist - Spotlight Initiative, UNFPA Mozambique.

In addition to establishing referral pathways for GBV assistance and training operators on response to GBV cases, UNFPA also supported LV1458 to develop GBV prevention messages, which were sent via SMS to approximately 76,000 contacts of the LV1458 database, of whom the majority were men, resulting in an increase in calls related to GBV.

 

To increase women’s accessibility to the Linha Verde hotline, particularly for those living in resettlement centers in Sofala and accommodation centers in Cabo Delgado, cell phones were donated to UNFPA-trained GBV activists who can now help others access safe and quality information and support, as well as to facilitate reports of possible irregularities in the humanitarian response.

"As a Linha Verde 1458 operator, it was necessary to have the training to deal with cases of violence, in order to make referrals that can help a woman to get out of the violent situation safely,” shares Maria Helena.

These efforts complement UNFPA’s support to the Government of Mozambique to ensure that health and social service professionals can provide fixed as well as remote support services and ensure that this critical response service continues to be offered with quality and safety, and no woman or girl, regardless of her location or circumstance, is left behind. 

As former First-Lady and activist Graça Machel has said in a recent opinion piece for The Guardian, this moment presents us with an opportunity "to reimagine and redesign our societies to be safe, vibrant and equitable. We are proving that we can come together as a united human family to holistically tackle Covid-19; let us apply an equally comprehensive, vigorous and unrelenting focus to eradicating gender-based violence as well." 

About Linha Verde 1458:

Led by the World Food Programme (WFP), UNFPA and other UN agencies, government ministries and NGO partners currently support the hotline by streamlining referral pathways and case management, and training operators, who run the hotline every day of the week, on how to respond to various issues. 

Receiving between 4,000 and 15,000 calls a month, the operators - half of whom are women, and speak 15 local languages - receive complaints and provide citizens in Mozambique with information related to food security, health, shelter, sexual exploitation and abuse, corruption, fraud, protection issues, aid questions, and more.

To complement existing mechanisms and ensure a diverse flow of information between affected communities and service providers, LV1458 has linkages with the National Institute for Disaster Management (INGC), Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Services (MGCAS), Ministry of Health (MISAU), Ministry of Education (MINED) and the Government's Anti-Corruption Office (GCCC), among others.