Taking small steps to address the big problem of family violence during COVID-19 – an Insider look at WaterAid’s approach for staff

4 min read
Jenny Mori group photo
Image: WaterAid

I have spent my career focusing on preventing and responding to violence against women. Just months after joining the WaterAid team, we plunged into COVID-19, and I knew we needed to act quickly as family violence was rising. I knew I could bring my experience to strengthen our approach to preventing and responding to family violence. WaterAid has been taking small steps to both safeguard against family violence and support our staff, and we hope this helps others do the same.

Family violence isn’t inevitable, yet it's a common reality and can impact any women no matter her social status, education or culture. Globally 1 in 4 women have experienced physical abuse, and many countries in the Asia Pacific region have much higher rates, along with weak or limited services and access to justice.

As COVID-19 has spread across the globe, so have social isolation and lockdown measures, which mimic the same tactics that many perpetrators of violence use – isolating people from their support networks and the services that could support them. This is why it is so urgent that workplaces step up to support their staff and partners.

WaterAid Australia has had a Family Violence Policy since 2016, and with COVID-19 and working from home, it is as important as ever.  These are the steps we have taken to bring it to life.

  • Survivor-led response - supports survivors to have confidentiality and make informed decisions about how they would like to be supported in their workplace
  • Zero tolerance to inaction - ensures if staff are aware that someone is experiencing or at risk of family violence, they are obligated to take action on this.
  • Maintaining employment - WaterAid taking all steps possible to support a staff member maintain their employment.

A key need for people experiencing or leaving violence is practical support, and these are some of the key things we do:

  • Providing referral information to specialist services for ongoing support and safety planning.
  • Family violence leave and other types of leave.
  • Flexible work arrangements and necessary changes in work tasks, to increase safety and reduce stress.
  • Implement safety measures to support a safe work environment and minimising exposure to violence (such as key pass entry office, change of phone number or email if the survivor s being harassed).

Organisational commitment and policies are essential, however, the ability for staff respond to family violence and have the skills to respond are essential. Since the start of COVID-19, we have had three key actions:

  • A Global Family and Domestic Violence Guideline was developed to guide the WaterAid approach, including principles of managing a disclosure, making a referral to services, simple “do’s and don’ts” as well as reporting guidelines.
  • A global webinar was run to share and promote the guidance note and was one of the highest attended webinars, and staff shared their learnings and challenges, creating buy-in and galvanising family violence as a key issue for us.
  • The Australian people managers participated in a hands-on family violence workshop and gave the team an opportunity to explore their own perceptions and a safe space to explore the best approach to respond and support staff and each other.
Jenny Mori group photo

WaterAid PNGs Jenny Mori (centre) has been leading the way in responding to family violence for our staff and partners. Rates of family violence are very high in Papua New Guinea (PNG), with 56% of women experiencing physical violence, and 72% of men believing using violence in certain circumstances in acceptable.

As well as being an outspoken advocate in the office, Jenny also led the development of a Policy and Procedure for WaterAid PNG. Jenny teamed up with another INGO, to create a women’s group chat using a local messaging service, so women can share safety and security information, context updates and essential resources. This group has been a practical way to increase awareness of services and is an important part of changing the social norms to end family violence.

The journey as a gender justice organisation is an ongoing one for WaterAid, and we aim to keep collaborating with family violence organisations and advocates. Our next step will include ensuring all Country Programs have a policy and to continue pushing ourselves to do the internal work in supporting violence-free communities. We hope you can join us!

A poster showing communities learning about domestic violence
A poster used in community awareness raising
Image: WaterAid

Our Watch Workplace Equality and Prevention - https://workplace.ourwatch.org.au/why-do-this-work/

In Australia, if you are impacted by family violence, or would like more information contact:
National Family Violence support agency - 1800Respect  on 1800 737 732
National crisis support agency - Lifeline on 13 11 14
If you or someone else is in immediate danger call Police on 000

If you'd like to connect with WaterAid and Pip Robertson, please email [email protected]